For Younger Children
Younger children can find it difficult to express their feelings, so their behaviour can often be the only reliable indicator that they are struggling with something – basically, be on the lookout for any changes from what’s typical for your child. For example, increased irritability, frustration or anger, over-reactions, defiance & argumentative, changes in sleeping routine (including nightmares and restlessness), wanting to sleep in parent’s bed, changes to appetite, loss of enjoyment in activities, either overly active or lacking in energy, reluctance to leave home or go to school, increases in negative comments, and being unusually fearful.
Please note however that some children, due to their temperament and personality, may display some of these behaviours normally – try to look for changes in behaviours/routines. If you are concerned in any way, it may be worth discussing it with an experienced child psychologist. It’s important to remember that there is usually much that can be done to improve your child’s mental health, and it’s often not as bad as you think.
For Older Children/Teenagers
While older children often have the words to express their feelings, many don’t feel comfortable doing so. Again, behavioural changes are often an indication they are struggling. Again, things to look for are increased irritability and anger, clashing with parents and/or friends, school avoidance or school refusal, withdrawing from family/friends, no motivation, drop in school performance, lack of enjoyment in activities, excessive time on screens, poor sleep patterns, negative comments about themselves or the world generally.
Again, some of these behaviours can be just a reflection of your teenager’s personality, rather than there being something wrong. Either way, talking through your concerns should provide a way forward.
As a parent (or grandparent/carer), if you are feeling increasingly concerned about your child’s mood or behaviour, or if you are becoming increasingly irritated and stressed by their behaviour, losing your temper (which is quite normal when your child’s behaviour becomes very challenging), or if it’s causing conflict between you and your partner, or you’ve held off doing anything hoping that things will get better, and they haven’t – it’s probably time to talk with an experienced child psychologist. Left untreated, problems can often get much worse, and can take it’s toll on the whole family.
Helpful Tip: From the suggestions above, take note of which ones apply to your situation, and try to gather some examples of each behaviour, as well as the context it occurs in. Have this handy for your first appointment as this is vital information to gaining a better understanding of the problem and how to help.