In early 2017, I was hospitalized twice in a span of 3 weeks while my husband was in France on business. My two children (aged 6 and 3) expressed the expected amount of worry but seemed to bounce back quickly once their father and I both returned home and we inched our way back to “normal” life. kids therapy
One year later, my daughter’s cat died…and the sky began to fall.
She couldn’t sleep. Her tummy and head always seemed to hurt. She developed tingly hands and a habit of widening her eyes as if she were looking at something surprising. She begged to sleep on the floor of our room because she was afraid that we would die in the night and be separated forever — she needed to be able to see us every time she woke up.
Days turned to weeks; weeks turned to months. Her doctor couldn’t find anything wrong with her.
You’d think a degree in Social Work would have made the answer more obvious, and I suppose it did to an extent. I had messaged friends from my hospital bed asking for referrals for child therapists — I knew my children would need help processing what they had seen. I couldn’t walk or eat. They watched through the window as I was taken from our home by ambulance. They were shuffled from aunt to grandma and back again for my check-ups and treatments. I shrank before their eyes and lost all my hair.
The problem was that my recovery took all the resources my family had to give (and that was OK!).
But it’s never too late to do the right thing or make a healthy change. After one year in remission, our priorities shifted back. When pressed, my daughter spoke very openly about her anxiety and fear. It was obvious this wasn’t about the cat – his death merely brought to the surface everything that had been simmering in her brain. I asked if she would like to see a “feelings doctor” to help her deal with everything that was taking up space in her head, and she didn’t hesitate one moment before answering YES.
Therapy isn’t just for kids whose parents abused them and weighed them down with emotional baggage. It’s also for kids whose moms are loving and nurturing but recognize their own limitations! Good moms take their kids to the doctor when they are hurt or sick. Good moms ask for help.
Here are a few things to consider if you think your child might need more help than you feel equipped to give:
1. Be honest with yourself.
Don’t let your pride, fear, or doubt keep you from getting your child the help they need. Some circumstances are outside of your control — you might not have been able to stop this from happening, but you can control how you react and how you move forward as an advocate for your child. Don’t let guilt or denial keep you from doing what is best for them! This is something they can’t do without your help. Signs your child may be struggling with anxiety, depression, anger, or other issues that could be helped by therapy include, but are not limited to
- A change in home life (death, divorce, move, or childhood trauma)
- Constant worry, anxiety, or fearfulness
- Obsession with physical illness
- Feelings of sadness or hopelessness that persist longer than 2 weeks
- Constant anger or tendency to overreact
- Sudden drop in grades at school or loss of interest in activities/friends
- Trouble eating or sleeping
- Inability to sit still
- Frequent nightmares
- Using drugs or alcohol
- Hearing voices
- Talk of suicide
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Dieting obsessively, starving themselves, or binging
- Violence towards other people or animals
2. If you’re considering it? Go ahead and try it.
Trust your gut! It can’t hurt to try, and might help more than you can even imagine. Teaching kids from an early age to respond to difficulties in a healthy way — by finding a trusted support system to help them talk through struggles — models a growth mindset and will lessen the likelihood they will turn to other coping mechanisms such as drugs and alcohol later in life.
3. Find the right fit.
A bad therapist can do a lot of damage. Get recommendations from friends as well as your child’s doctor or other mental health professionals you know. If the first one you try doesn’t click with your child, try again. Our first appointment with a therapist was dismal. After waiting for 45 minutes in the lobby, we discovered that she wasn’t even in the building! My poor girl, who already struggled with anxiety and fears of abandonment was forgotten by the person I promised would help her.
We were hurt, angry, and right back at square one. A second referral, from a friend with a Master’s Degree in Psychology and a son who also struggles with anxiety, gave me the number of our second — and final — therapist. This woman is an angel from heaven. My daughter looks forward to each appointment and is sad when she leaves. She doesn’t even realize that her counselor is using play therapy, sand therapy, and EMDR to slowly process her feelings and reframe the narrative that constantly races through her brain…she just knows her “feelings doctor” is a safe, loving, listening ear with a kind heart.
4. Commit to doing whatever it takes for as long as it takes.
Is it possible for your child’s issues to be fixed in just a few sessions? Sure. Is it probable? No. Don’t expect your child’s therapist to fix in a few weeks what has been smoldering and festering for months or years. Similarly, don’t pressure your child into feeling “all better” on your timetable. It’s not fair, and it’s counterproductive! Six months, a year or two – in the end, it doesn’t matter how long it takes to reach your goal as long as you are making progress. A good therapist will keep you updated with your child’s progress and give you things to work on at home between appointments – stay involved and commit to walking this road with your child.