Seeking help for your child
It can be difficult for parents to recognise if certain behaviour is just part of normal development, or an indicator that there is something wrong.
For example, it is fairly common to see small toddlers grabbing toys from each other, but this would be more unusual in older children.
Children also react to stressful situations in various ways, and it can be difficult for parents to judge if their child’s reaction is to be expected or not.
Children may be very distressed in the aftermath of their parents’ separation, and may become angry and defiant.
This can be a typical reaction, but if parents find that it persists beyond five or six months, they should consider getting help for their child.
A child’s reaction to stress is different from that of an adult. While it is important to have an open, trusting relationship with your children, this will not guarantee that they will come and talk to you when they are worried.
Parents need to be in tune with their children’s moods and behaviours.
The following is a list of some of the behaviours that may indicate that there is something worrying your child, but it is not exhaustive.
Changes in mood
This is a fairly obvious one: your child may become quieter and seem sad, and may reject any approaches.
Changes in personality
When under stress, a child’s behaviour may dramatically change. An exuberant child may become withdrawn; a naturally quiet child may become loud and very active.
Regression in behaviour
Children under stress often regress to a previous stage of development. The classic example of this is the toddler coping with the arrival of a new baby. He/she may begin to wet again, or look for bottles.
Changes in appetite and sleeping habits
Like adults, children under stress often lose their appetites; their sleeping patterns may also become disrupted.
Feelings/gestures of self harm
If your child consistently says that he is no good, he wishes he was dead or was not here, and particularly if he has done anything to hurt himself, you need to seek help.
Aggressive, angry behaviour
Children can become aggressive and get involved in fights with their friends; this is normal. However, if you find that your child has a very short fuse and can become aggressive very quickly, this may be something you should devote some attention to.
Also, be aware of how your child treats animals: if your child has a tendency to be cruel or torment your pets, you need to take steps to deal with this.
If you are worried about your child and feel there is something bothering him, try to build in a relaxed time of the day when you can do stuff together that you both enjoy.
If you suspect something is bothering your child but he seems afraid or apprehensive to talk about it, try to interpret what that might be.
Parents often worry that, by seeking help for their child, they are somehow admitting to failure.
Human behaviour is a complex matter, and it is often impossible to determine exactly what caused a behaviour to emerge.
Therapists are much more interested in identifying the factors that are maintaining a particular behaviour, and devising ways to improve things for children and their families.
For more information visit www.RollerCoaster.ie, Ireland’s no 1 website for parents.