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Choosing the Right Time to Pursue Children’s Counseling

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It can be hard for parents to know if their children need counseling or if they are just going through a phase. Most children do not know how to communicate their needs, making it even more difficult for you to determine if they need help. Being proactive by educating yourself on when to seek children's counseling is beneficial. Learning the types of counseling and the most common issues among children can help you decide if your child needs treatment.

Counseling for children is much different than counseling for adults. Knowing the difference can also help you choose the right therapist for your child.

What is Children’s Counseling?

If a counselor had your child sit in a chair in their office and answer questions about their feelings, thoughts and behaviors, not much would be accomplished. Children do not know the language needed to verbally express themselves.

Children’s counseling finds new and better ways to help children express themselves. Using interactive games and activities, counselors can find creative ways to help children cope with emotions.

The counselor working with your child should have specialized education and experience in this field. Preferably, they have taken many extra courses and trainings on how to assist children who are struggling emotionally.

Before seeking counseling for your child, it may be worth it for you to speak with a counselor to help you learn how to notice warning signs and common problems among children. He or she can help you determine if your child needs counseling and can assist you through the process.

Warning Signs

You know your child. You know their typical behavior and how they normally respond to situations of all kinds. If your child’s behavior changes and suddenly they begin acting in an atypical manner, this could be a red flag.

For example, your child usually loves having play dates with the neighbor’s children. However, the last two or three times you have set up play dates, your child has refused to go, or cried when forced to go, you may need to investigate further.

Situations like this can sometimes be a simple fix. Meaning, you and your child can work through this problem together. Other times, you may need the assistance of a counselor.

Other warning signs can include a drastic change in your child’s eating habits, behavior in certain places like acting out at school, and if they start showing a high level of anxiety or nervousness.

If your child wants to be alone rather than with family or friends, this is a warning sign. If your child starts complaining of physical aches and pains, this could be a sign of a mental health related issue rather than a physical one.

It is very important you learn to recognize behaviors of your child that need immediate attention versus those that are not as serious but may need help later.

Pursue Help Immediately

If your child is harming themselves in any way, take immediate action. Some children may hit themselves in the face, head or body. Other children may cut themselves with a knife or scissors or burn themselves with a lighter.

When children harm themselves, it does not always mean they want to die. There have been numerous studies proving self-harm does not mean suicidal. However, accidents happen and self-harming behaviors can lead to devastating outcomes.

These are all behaviors that need to obtain professional assistance right away. If you child has recently been through a trauma, even if they seem fine to you, get a second opinion from a trained counselor. Sometimes our brains will defend itself from traumas by suppressing memories of the trauma.

Suppressing memories can create damage later in life. If possible, help your child work through the traumatic events soon after they happen by working with a counselor.

Frequent temper outbursts is another type of behavior that needs to be addressed immediately. A counselor will work to help your child learn to express their emotions in an appropriate manner.

Other behaviors needing help right away include bullying, whether your child is being bullied or is the bully. If you child is acting out sexually, seek help now. If your child runs away or spends much of their time in a negative state of emotions, they need counseling.

Any other actions that are inappropriate should be treated with the help of a mental health professional who is specialized in working with children. There are other behaviors displayed by children that may not need immediate action.

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Active Waiting

Just because you do not need to take immediate action, it is smart to keep an active role in monitoring your child’s behavior. At any moment, a not-so-serious situation can turn serious. Be ready to act.

Behaviors that are not immediate dangers include the time during which parents are getting divorced or separating. Some children are better equipped emotionally to handle a division like this. Communicating with your child every day about the situation and reassuring them will help.

Children will fight with their friends and siblings and even with you. Many times, their anger can be dealt with at home. Teaching them health ways to cope with their emotions is something you can do, whether on your own or with the help of a school counselor.

Some behaviors require discipline from you, the parent. Other behaviors need adjustments in environments or routines. If you feel you have tried your best to help your child but nothing has changed, it is time to get help from a counselor.

Types of Counseling for Children

Counselors will have a range of tools to use for effective therapy. Therapeutic games are utilized by counselors to help children improve focus and memory. Other games are used to decrease anxiety.

Counselors also use techniques such as play therapy, art therapy and family therapy.

Family therapy, when it involves children, involves activities that involve the whole family. Interactive methods encourage families to be spontaneous and honest with emotions.

Narrative therapy is often used by counselors who are working with children who have experienced traumas. Narrative therapy allows the child to describe an experience or event rather than trying to explain their emotions.

Choosing the right counselor for your child can make a difference in how well they heal. Interview counselors, check references, and get word of mouth feedback from families they have helped in the past.

By paying close attention to your child and being present in their lives, you will be able to determine the right time to pursue counseling.


Chris Massman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist. Chris' training includes Family Systems Theory along with numerous other theories. She believes therapy is an art and chooses the theory she feels will most benefit the individual sitting in front of her. Her specialty lies is in the field of Chemical Dependency and Addictions. Chris is currently seeing individuals, couples and families. Chris is a Clinical member of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists as well as the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. Chris has two locations including Tarzana and Agoura Hills, CA.