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Does my child need a therapist, or do I?

Updated: Mar 20, 2023

As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who specializes in working with kids and their parents, this can be a fine line. Many families have brought their children into therapy as the IP (Identified Patient) when in fact there are way more layers to it just being one person needing therapy.

I don't mean layers as in "it's the parents to blame" or "it's the parents who need to be in here not the kid" (written in a snarky tone), but there are often deep family layers that contribute. Layers that include the way each member views the presenting concern, how they respond when it arises, and even past trauma history that contributes.

More often, it is not just one member of the home who needs the support, its the whole fam bam. Maybe not long term. Maybe not intensive. But when one member is struggling, everyone struggles. That's the love of a family.

That being said, how can we tease out exactly who needs the support and where to start?

Typically since the parent's see their child struggling, they call a child therapist because they want to see their little one happy and thriving. Continually, even if their child gets the therapy, are the parent's 100% okay as well? Lets dive in.

Signs a parent needs therapy or additional support

  1. Oscillating moods. Look, we all wake up on the wrong side of the bed. Having moods and feelings are normal and there are many things that contribute to it. BUT, if you are finding yourself irritable, angry, feeling guilty, anxious, frequent sadness and defeat more often than not, then it may be time to reach out. When you're not feeling at your best, you're not able to respond to your little one the way they need.

  2. Not sure how to respond to your child/ren when they don't behave or respond in a way that you like. Our kid's do throw us curve balls from time to and we need to sort out the best response. They are ever changing and growing. However, if you notice that the way you are responding to them is not working and behaviors aren't changing, that may be a sign that a new level of skills need to be established for you. This point can be one where parents often put their kid in treatment instead of themselves. They see their child as not following instructions, or talking back, or making poor choices so they put it on the child. While there may be underlying things going on for your kiddo, the missing piece also often lies with the parent. Either learning new skills to help with behavioral intervention or even resolving your own views on parenting and how you think kids should act may alleviate the concerning behaviors all together. Parent coaching can be helpful here.

  3. Unable to help your child during their times of distress. Ugh, isn't it hard when we see our child outright distraught and upset. Maybe they are crying, maybe they are isolating, maybe they are putting themselves down. Then you go to help them feel better and just can't. Nothing really works and you feel like you don't know what is going on for them and how to best approach it. This can be a wonderful time to learn about child development, what behavior your kiddo is communicating, and what their love language and needs are. Kids do get upset (we will get to when it crosses the line and they need higher level of care in a minute) but when you're noticing that your ways to navigate it aren't quite what they need, it's a sign to get some support.

  4. Poor boundaries. Most people would not know they have poor boundaries because to them, it feels right. Maybe because you were raised in a home where those were what was taught or because you are fearful of something with your kids ("if they are mad at me, we won't have a good relationship"nor "If I let them get away with that they will never respect me as their parent"). However, I always like to say ITS NOT A PROBLEM UNLESS ITS A PROBLEM. So,

If you notice every time you set a boundary you don't feel comfortable with it, it's time to get some support.

If you notice that you want to set a boundary but can't do it, it's time to get some support.

If you notice that when ever you set one, you don't like how your child responds and the whole house implodes, its time to get some support.

You feel me?

Now, what about your little babes? How can we know if our child needs to see someone and get some support outside of the home?

  1. Exposure to a new stressor/traumatic incident that sparked concerning behaviors. Keep in mind that something may not be stressful in your eyes but is for your kiddo. This is where you keep a watchful eye and maintain the lines of communication open. If you're noticing that your child is acting differently, more below specifics on that in #2, then this may be a good time to get them checked out.

  2. Behaviors that are impacting their ability to function in key areas of their life. This includes school, peers, home, academics, sleep, eating habits extra curricular, etc. If you see your child struggling or acting differently in these areas for more than 2 weeks, seek an evaluation. It frequently will look like a child who becomes fearful and won't sleep, lack of interest in spending time with peers, frequent fights with family members, dropping grades and sometimes hyper-focus on getting perfect scores. If you notice your kiddo is not "like themselves" and nothing you are doing is helping, this would be a good time to look into additional support.

  3. Frequent and persistent big feelings that need co-regulation every time. The main words to focus on here are FREQUENT and PERSISTENT. This would mean your child becomes so dis-regulated, so often, and it lasts a long time. This isn't a random meltdown or bad day. This means that most days they have large outbursts where you need to intervene and they last a LONG time. Think 45+ minutes multiple times per day, a few times per week. Bring them in for an assessment.

  4. Your child is sharing they aren't doing okay, don't feel like themselves, and/or need someone to talk to. Need I say more?

At the end of the day, if you are unsure, reach out to a few providers and get their take on it. They can help guide you to the best decision for your family and exactly what is going on. The very thought that you are noticing something isn't right and feeling like you and your family need additional support is amazing and shows strength. I hope this article helped you sort our some thoughts and you land on the best options for your family.

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