November 10, 2013

Motherlode: Five signs that it’s time to get help for a struggling child

Been-there parents share their experiences with turning to professional support for depressed and anxious children.

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4. When disagreements about how to handle a child’s problems put a strain on your marriage or partnership.

“When your child is running your life … when you are spending an hour every few days unloading onto your best friend how frustrated you are and how you’re feeling like you ‘flunked motherhood’ … when you and your spouse are seriously at odds as to how to deal with the behavior, or one (or both) of you is regularly responding to the child’s behavior by getting completely enraged and out of control … when your other children are obviously frightened or upset by the conflict going on between you and the challenging child … time to get help.” – herzliebster

5. When you, as a parent, don’t know what to do.

“What I know now – is that before children see a therapist or counselor – it should be the parents! It’s so hard to see the forest when you have a child who cannot live it seems without chaos, when you have tried all the ideas and routines suggested by professionals and otherwise … and still you sit back and watch your child suffer, and all the things you tried to avoid happening, happen. Children need their parents to understand and to have a better idea of what to do. That’s what I wish – that someone had helped me help her.” – dal

A number of commenters suggested that the effects of reaching out for help could outlast childhood:

“One thing to remember when you’re thinking about therapy for your child: this sets early in life the expectation that what we do when we’re upset, depressed or whatever is to talk honestly about it with someone who cares. We don’t drink, take drugs, engage in promiscuity, or any other self-destructive behavior. I think this has enormous power later, when the child is no longer under your daily care.” – Karen Stone

A note of caution came from those who said, in essence, find the right person, or don’t bother. Many recounted finding professionals who seemed just as helpless as they were; or who frustrated the children or teenagers even further.

Amid the stories of successful matches between children, families and various counselors or therapists were those of both children and teenagers who refused to go or refused to return.

But parents who knew they needed help do remember what led them to ask for it, and what they learned may help those of us who still aren’t sure.

“I can identify the moment with my daughter very clearly. She was and always has been a quiet and introverted person and I let that shield me from how unhappy she was. But one day we went to the beach and a friend’s older daughter taught her to boogie board. She was 6 at the time and really enjoyed herself. But I had the horrifying realization that I hadn’t seen her actually smile in months let alone laugh. I made an appointment the next day.” – jubacat

Contact KJ Dell-Antonia at:

kj.dellantonia@nytimes.com

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