It’s no surprise to most people nowadays, that kids are struggling with a host of emotional issues – from preschoolers to teenagers.

A question I get asked a lot by parents and carers is how do I know if my child needs professional help or is simply being a teenager? It’s a really important question. 

There are huge numbers of children who really feel at odds with the world around them and can be confused about what is expected of them. 

Some of the main areas of challenge are around:

  • schooling and exams, 
  • social media & the selfie culture, 
  • anxiety and low mood, 
  • bullying, 
  • eating disorders, 
  • high achievers/ perfectionism, 
  • lack of self belief/ low self worth.  

The list goes on & on….

While the internet has grown alongside the increase in teenage mental health issues, it is not the only factor by far. 

In my work, I deal with the entire nervous system – brain and body. Many events contribute to our nervous system becoming what we call dysregulated. This can be one off events, such as the death of a cherished family member or pet, parents divorcing, surgeries, bumps and falls, dental work. 

Equally as significant are emotional traumas or knocks to the nervous system, like bullying, a feeling of having  to succeed in exams or sports, feeling different, not listened to or not understood. 

Any and all of these types of events or experiences can cause our nervous system to go “offline”. As a result,  our thinking and behaviours also change.  This is where anxious behaviours, feelings of low self worth, low mood, pulling away from people, not wanting to socialise or experience new things, addictions , anger issues – can kick in. 

Your once calm, happy and regulated child seems to change over night. 

My advice is to look out for changes in certain key areas. Changes in behaviour which persist or intensify over time are usually subtle indicators of an underlying issue that will need addressing professionally. 

That said, many times a child may worry about something for a short time –  & this is simply part of the ups and downs of daily life.  When they can work through some of these small issues it builds their confidence and emotional resilience and is a great thing. 

Broadly speaking changes in behaviour in the following areas are worth monitoring:

Sleeping Habits   

Where you notice your child’s sleeping habits have become disturbed or they are experiencing periods of insomnia.  Or where bedwetting has become an issue. 

Mood  

Obviously we recognise that teenagers have natural mood swings due to hormonal changes at this age. However, if you notice a change in their mood  – such as sustained periods of low mood or fluctuations between a depressive state and happiness.  You may also observe they have trouble focusing on tasks. Angry outbursts are also possible. 

Bullying  

Where  there is a marked change in attitude towards peers, friends and classmates . Where social isolation has become a pattern of behaviour. Their self-confidence is incredibly low. Or where your child has expressed the belief they are worthless or unlikeable  & have no talents of gifts, in spite of your reassurances and evidence to the contrary.

Eating Habits  

Erratic eating patterns or a disinterest in eating. Equally significant is an excessive consumption of food, especially junk type food. Dramatic fluctuations in weight, covering up in baggy clothing. Where you notice that self confidence becomes strongly linked to achieving specific weight goals.

Anxious Thinking

If you notice your child is much more uptight or excessively worried. They may have panic attacks or struggle to make what seem like simple decisions. They may not want to leave the house, go to school or engage in social activities. You may see them developing obsessive behaviours or routines that impact on daily life. 

Addictions

Excessive amounts of time on gaming consoles or social media, to the point they seem unable to interact with family or friends. Problems maintaining close friendships. Highly distracted or disengaged from personal communication, instead preferring to spend time alone in their rooms. 

Perfectionism/ Critical Self Talk 

You notice your child is excessively over-critical about their physical appearance, their academic attainment or other aspects of their lives. The focus is on their perceived flaws and they become noticeably upset or excessively disappointed in themselves for any deviation from their desired path. This behaviour really interferes with their daily life.

If you feel your child may be experiencing an issue gently talk to them. I suggest going for a walk or drive when introducing the topic as being side by side is a lot less confrontational than discussing sensitive subjects face to face. 

Many times showing your child you are interested, that you care, gives them the reassurance they need to acknowledge a problem and agree to seek help before it gets too out of control.