Does My Child Need Pediatric Counseling?

By Sarah Fader

Updated March 08, 2019

Reviewer Tanya Harell

Have you noticed that your child seems more withdrawn lately, struggles to connect with other children, or simply doesn't seem like him or herself? If so they may benefit from pediatric counseling.


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When people think of counseling they may immediately imagine someone in the throes of a midlife crisis trying to get their life back on track. Some may envision a couple sitting down for couples counseling to attempt to save their relationship. However, if you are a parent or caregiver for a child who appears to be struggling with mental or emotional issues it may be time to become more familiar with the lesser-known pediatric counseling as a potential source of treatment.

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Pediatric counselors are specially trained and licensed to work with children facing a variety of issues and help them cope with and overcome them so that they are able to achieve their full potential at home, at school, and in relationships. After all, children aren't shielded from stress, anxiety and other issues that many adults need professional help with. Pediatric counselors work with children of all ages with different problems, such as difficulty coping with a past traumatic event, adjusting to divorced parents, feeling excluded or unwanted by peers, among others.


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Typically, pediatric counselors tailor their treatment to each specific child, taking into account their age, level of development, personality, behavioral issues and more to make sure that their treatment plan gives them the best chance of success. Then they'll set specific treatment goals to ensure that their strategy is truly helping the child. Depending on your child's needs their counselor may use one or more of the following techniques: talk therapy, play therapy, or group therapy. Each can be effective, but most often counselors will start with some form of talk therapy to form a connection with the child and ensure they fully understand how they're feeling.

If you are unsure if your child could benefit from pediatric counseling these list of potential risk factors or warning signs to watch out for may help.

  • Increased desire to spend time alone or lack of desire to spend time with family or friends
  • Sudden decline in school performance
  • Difficulty concentrating at school or on other tasks
  • Persistent sadness, sullenness, lack of energy, or hopelessness
  • Excessive anxiety or stress
  • A loss of interest in activities they previously enjoyed
  • Extreme dependency on habitual acts, such as hand washing or making sure doors are locked
  • Uncalled for anger or agitation that leads to lashing out
  • Changes in sleeping or eating habits
  • Difficulty connecting with peers
  • Acting withdrawn or an unwillingness to open up

This list isn't all-inclusive and doesn't necessarily mean you need to immediately start a search for a pediatric counselor. However, if your child is exhibiting multiple risk factors or has been experiencing some for an extended period of time it may be helpful to consider reaching out to a professional counselor. Online counseling sites like BetterHelp.com can be a great resource to start searching for a pediatric counselor for your child. They offer a large variety of licensed counselors to connect with in a way that's private, convenient, and affordable. Don't just hope that your child's struggles will go away. Instead, take a proactive approach and start your search for a counselor who can provide treatment.

Pediatric Counseling Starting Young for a more Promising Tomorrow

Many of us face struggles at some point in life. Children as well are susceptible to similar emotional health issues that plague adults. There are prevalent attitudes that young kids will "grow out" of their problems. However, many adults with a psychiatric disorder first match criteria for diagnosis during childhood. Diagnosis-related to oppositionality, ADHD and impulsivity can remain stable through the school years and children may not grow out of these issues. And many preschoolers meet diagnostic criteria for mental health disorders. Children at age 3 who meet criteria for diagnosis are likely to meet criteria for a diagnosis at age 6.

Instead of waiting for a child to grow out of their symptoms treating childhood mental health problems and even screening preschool-aged people for emotional and behavioral problems can help coordinate critical interventions necessary for their mental health needs. Start working now with the right specialists to address issues when your child's brain is highly responsive to change and treatment.

Stigmatization in Pediatric Counseling

Are you concerned that diagnosing your child will stigmatize them? Your assigned mental health counselor can use diagnostic tools such as the Preschool Age Psychiatric Assessment (PAPA) which is designed to give a DSM diagnosis for preschool-aged children. However, there are many debates as to whether it is appropriate to give children so young a mental health diagnosis. Utilizing assessment tools such as the PAPA can help recognize your young child's struggles now so they have a good chance of overcoming their symptoms and developing into a healthier child and teenager.

Your child's disorder is not their personality type, we need to be able to separate their symptoms from a child's character and give them the help they need. Assessment tools such as the PAPA help to isolate and focus on the symptoms that your child is presenting. This provides an objective and separate look at your kid from their illness.

Assessment Tools are also valuable in recording and monitoring and treatment for their given mental health issues. Such tools used throughout the therapeutic process assess whether your child will benefit from seeking mental health treatment, provide information for diagnosing the issues presented, increase knowledge for you and treating mental health professionals, increase understanding and influence the development of measurable goals to be used during your child's progress.

If your child is given a DSM-V diagnosis, please remember that your child's psychiatric disorder is not because of bad parenting. Certainly, a home environment and parental relationship can affect a psychiatric disorder but that doesn't mean they cause the disorder. Disorders such as anxiety, depression, and autism have biological roots as well.

A mental health disorder does not signify that you or your child are weak and they are not based on willpower to manage these conditions. ADHD, anxiety, depression, and other disorders cause serious dysfunctions and can affect all areas of your kid's life. Managing their psychiatric disorder benefits greatly from the right clinician, an appropriate treatment plan which includes your input as a parent to have their health and wellness restored. You as a parent are not to blame and in fact, play a pivotal role and giving support and care such as mental health care that is critical to your child's recovery.

Treatment in Pediatric Counseling

These first few years in your child's life are so important when you start to see symptoms. Treatment interventions even when children are very young can be successful. Pediatric counselors will utilize different forms of counseling to help treat different types of mental health issues. One type of treatment that is evidenced based is called cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT.

Although children younger than 7 years old do not have the level of cognitive skills for reasoning, verbal expression, autobiographical memory or self-reflection however cognitive behavioral therapy treatment has been shown and tested for its effectiveness in children as young as 3-6 years old. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy focuses on changing beliefs that contribute to mental health. A skilled therapist who is working with a young child who has never been asked by an adult to do therapy work will be able to engage the young child in cognitive therapy tasks. They will be able to focus on changing the child's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are causing serious issues.

There are many concerns regarding the use of medications and pediatric treatment of childhood mental health disorders. And it is important to note that a good psychiatrist will take care when deciding how and when to start a child on medication. Psychiatric illnesses and medication should be taken just as seriously as a child with diabetes or any other chronic health condition.

A child struggling with psychiatric disorder may never receive clinical care because their issues may be deemed less obvious than a child who for example has lost their hair due to chemotherapy. Kids rely on their parents to help give them access to services such as counseling. The potential to make changes in their way of thinking maybe higher now than any other age. We can't expect young children to magically develop tools to overcome their challenges on their own.


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