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Talk it Out

Jun 22, 2010 07:07AM ● Published by Style

As any teenager will tell you, growing up isn’t always easy.

Life’s path can be full of bumps in the road such as conflicts with friends, seemingly unreasonable demands from teachers or coaches, or increased responsibilities at home and school. In navigating daily pressures, it’s common for kids and young adults to experience occasional feelings of sadness, anger, fear and frustration, and lash out at times. But when emotional or behavioral difficulties negatively affect how your child functions at home, in school or socially, health experts say it’s time to seek professional guidance.

Recognizing Your Child Needs Help

Jessica Wolff is a licensed family therapist in Folsom, who utilizes 12 years of both inpatient and outpatient experience to help children from Rocklin to Cameron Park. According to Wolff, it’s often difficult to diagnose children who are struggling internally. Every child has different coping mechanisms for handling stress or conflict. What’s more, she says children typically don’t exhibit the same tell-tale symptoms of distress as adults.

“Kids show signs of depression or anxiety quite differently,” says Wolff. “While adults may have trouble getting out of bed, with kids, signs of depression may be that they are angry all the time, or overreact, or simply seem overwhelmed.” Wolff adds that most children and teens have a tough time recognizing their own conditions of depression or anxiety, and therefore aren’t likely to seek help from parents or teachers.

All these factors underscore the need for caregivers to be able to distinguish the physical and emotional signs that a child is struggling.

Typical Signs and Symptoms

According to Wolff, the following indicators may suggest your child is overwhelmed or hurting:

  • Significant changes in appetite or body weight
  • Insomnia or excessive sleep
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing, frequent agitation, racing thoughts
  • Inability to make simple decisions
  • Physical complaints (headaches, stomachaches, muscle aches)
  • Frequent emotional outbursts
  • Chronic boredom, lack of energy
  • Lack of interest in playing or socializing with friends
  • Irritability, becoming easily annoyed
  • Excessive crying or whining
  • A persistent sad mood
  • Heart palpitations, shakiness, shortness of breath
  • Dry mouth, teeth grinding
  • Chemical abuse
  • Reckless behavior

If you recognize these symptoms, Wolff advises calling your pediatrician. “It’s always a good idea to check with your doctor first to rule out that there might be something physical going on.” Additionally, she emphasizes the following red flags warrant immediate attention:

  • Consistent or increased defiance at home or at school
  • Excessive reckless or violent behavior
  • Talk about hurting themselves or suicide

Bringing in a Pro

In her practice, Wolff encourages concerned parents to call for a consultation. “Sometimes it’s an eye opener for parents just to talk through what they are experiencing.”

If therapy is recommended, Wolff initially meets with the whole family, not just the child. “It’s always important to try and do family therapy, to basically train the parents on how to help their child.” But for children who have gone through a trauma, like a painful divorce or loved one’s death, talking alone to a third party can be especially helpful. “Kids often don’t want to tell their parents how they really feel because they don’t want to burden them or add more pressure to the situation.”

If your child seems to be struggling along life’s bumpy road, a professional counselor can help him develop the coping skills needed to successfully stay on course.

For a list of helpful books for both parents and kids, click here.

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