Ten years ago, Lindy Garnette faced one of a parent’s toughest challenges: She had to find psychological help for her child.
Her son, then 5, had bipolar disorder, a diagnosis that might lead to a lifetime of prescriptions, therapy and behavior modification.
“He has his good days and his not-so-good days,” said Garnette, who is now the director for children and family mental health services for the Virginia-based National Mental Health Association. “It’s still a struggle.”
Parents of children who need psychological treatment face a series of struggles. On top of the still-present stigma of mental illness, there’s the search for competent and appropriate professionals and the battle with health-insurance providers to fund the sometimes long-term therapy needed.
But, Garnett and others say, a little guidance and a lot of perseverance can make finding a good match for your child easier.
Do You Need Therapy?
Psychologist Kevin Leman’s first advice to parents is: “Don’t find a therapist for your child.”
“If there’s a problem and you want to seek outside help, you go,” said Leman, a Tucson, Ariz.-based psychologist, father of five and author of 21 books. “Rushing your kids off to the shrink is not good.”
Leman believes society is rushing to pin psychological labels on kids, a practice that lets parents off the hook and can leave kids feeling abnormal. Many parents hoping to stem sibling rivalry, fighting in school and other relatively simple behavioral issues might do well to consult a professional for parenting tips they can try at home, rather than signing the child up for sessions on the couch, he says.
“I’ve turned many a kid around without ever laying eyes on the kid in my office,” Leman said.
How do you know if your child needs outside help?
Leman suggests a child may truly need attention if “the daily tasks of life are not being met.”
Experts offer the following warning signs for depression and other common disorders in children:
- extraordinary shyness
- developmental delays
- destructive behavior
- attention-getting (“acting out”)
- sleep disturbance
- unexplained weight loss or gain
Leman uses a second test. If others teachers, coaches, neighbors or family members have alerted you to some of the above symptoms and you have already noticed them, it may be time to act, he says.