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Tuesday, February 19 , 2019, 1:03 am | Fair 48º


Rae Largura: Is It a Phase, or Does My Child Need a Therapist?

Some behaviors are normal, but there are warning signs with which a professional could help

Temper tantrums, the cold shoulder, whining, lack of appreciation and a bad attitude. Does this sound like another day with your teenager? I hope not. But if so, and if you are like me, I wonder: Is this a phase, or does my child need a therapist?

I understand all of the factors that could go into my child feeling angry — school, friends, homework, chores, his annoying sister. Maybe he didn’t get enough vegetables that day. It takes years into adulthood to master what we are feeling and how to appropriately express it. It’s my job to teach and influence my children so that eventually they will master their own emotions — without my nagging help. Or am I trying to control what is really just the natural process of growing up?

I called for help. I called Bonnie Corman, Ph.D., MFC. Corman is known for her success in working with children as a therapist. She has many years of experience and education with a strong referral base to prove it. She is also a leader in educational consulting.

My first understanding was Corman’s statement that therapy is a “family community unit.” It’s a collaborative venture involving the therapist, parents, child, teacher(s) and any other role models he or she may have. Treatment and healing must have this collaborative energy.

With small children, it is important for parents to reinforce tools and lessons at home. Environment in the home is discussed and closely followed. If needed, Corman visits all personalities and authorities of influence in a patient’s world. In a trusting environment, she offers compassion and tools after examining a patient’s functioning and life experience. Because it is an interactive process, it is a unique relationship that requires concentration and commitment.

With children older than 16, the rules are different. Confidentiality is of concern, so parents are not involved as they could be with a younger child. The “family community unit” still applies, although it’s more difficult to organize because the responsibility falls on the child. It is not appropriate or even tolerable without permission to visit teachers and involve others at this point.

OK, good. I now know that if my child will visit a therapist, he will go much before age 16.

Corman advises that the first step to choosing a child therapist is choosing someone who is welcoming and safe, and who understands developmental tasks. A good therapist must genuinely like children. Listen to your child, because he or she will feel the true vibe from the therapist that a parent might not. Your child won’t progress unless he or she feels liked by and safe with the therapist. Education and experience are the next criteria and definitely deserve the due diligence. Warning signs in your child should be watched closely.

Here are some of the warning signs:

» Does the child seem overly angry, anxious, depressed, withdrawn or defiant most of the time?

» Does the normally outgoing child become shy or withdrawn?

» Has social behavior changed drastically?

» Have school grades and effort changed drastically?

» Is the child being bullied at school?

» Is the child demonstrating emotions much too inappropriate for the situation?

» Is the child crying often and for small reasons?

» Have eating habits changed drastically?

» Is your child using any mind-altering substances?

» Do not ignore statements about hurting themselves.

Back to my original curiosity, I furthered my research trail into the signs of a normal teenager:

» Impulsive, anxious, withdrawn, defiant

» Moody in social behavior

» Rebellious, irritable, incommunicative

» Isolating behavior

» Thrill seeking

» Sleep deprived

» Poor eating habits

Confused? Me, too. Is my son in a phase, or does he need outside help?

As a mom and a child advocate, this is my humble and personal conclusion of additional questions and thoughts that matter.

» How often is the behavior occurring?

» Does the behavior interfere with the child’s daily functioning?

» How different is the behavior compared to the same age group?

» Consider individual differences within the child.

» Could some knowledge and educated tools help in any way?

» What is “vogue” for the generation (body piercing, for example)?

» Substance abuse is a genuine sign that commands a professional.

» Remember that children act out and act in.

I am not an authority in this subject and have only scratched the surface in the wealth of knowledge to gain. Temper tantrums, the cold shoulder, whining, lack of appreciation and a bad attitude sound like normal childhood behaviors to me, and I will consider a child psychologist before the problem escalates.

— Rae Largura is president of Leading Edge Tutors.

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