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Does My Child Have an Emotional Problem?
How to Find Out and What You Can Do About It

Most parents are fairly expert in knowing when their child is physically ill and needs to see a doctor. But many can’t tell when their son or daughter has an emotional problem that requires the attention of a child psychologist. In my practice, I often see children who have been suffering for years with emotional problems that had gone unrecognized by their parents.

To help you realise when it’s time to seek professional help, I have listed 12 warning signs parents shouldn’t ignore. The first seven relate to preschool-aged children. They are:

1) Crankiness and irritability most of the time

2) A lack of interest in other kids

3) An inability to adapt to day care or nursery school

4) Aggressive, undisciplined behaviour

5) Resistance to hugs, kisses and affection

6) Avoidance of eye contact

7) A developmental lag behind other kids

If a child between the ages of 3 and 5 shows two or more of these signs for more than a month, a parent would be wise to have that youngster evaluated by a child psychologist.

For school-aged children, the tendencies are as follows:

1) An inability to develop healthy peer relationships.

2) An unhappy demeanor

3) An uncooperative nature; a lack of interest in pleasing parents

4) Underachievement in school

5) An unpleasant nature

As with the warning signs for a preschooler, if a school-aged youngster shows two or more of these signs for more than a month, a parent should consult with a child psychologist.

Although these signs could alert you to a possible emotional problem, they don’t necessarily mean your child has one. Still, just as you wouldn’t dismiss a persistent fever in your child, you certainly wouldn’t want to shrug off the behaviour and tendencies I have listed.

Does My Child Really Need a Psychologist?

Some parents wonder if it isn’t drastic advice to encourage a consultation with a child psychologist. I explain to them that the earlier an emotional problem is diagnosed, the more likely that child can be helped.

And how do you go about finding a child psychologist? One of the best sources is your pediatrician or family doctor. They usually keep a list of mental health professionals they know and trust. Once you have a referral, you would meet with the child psychologist in one of three settings—a clinic, which offers parents a sliding fee schedule, a private practice or a children’s hospital.

What Can I Expect from a Child Psychologist?
Many child psychologists have a procedure that follows the steps listed below:

  • The psychologist meets with the parents to learn the history of the parents’ concerns and the child’s development. This helps determine if the child needs to be seen and evaluated.

  • If the psychologist decides a child needs to be seen, he will help the parents explain, in terms a child can understand, who he is – essentially, a doctor who helps make kids and their families happy. The parents are often told to emphasize that there will be no shots or medicine, and that the doctor will spend some time playing with him.

  • When your child meets with the psychologist, he will spend time winning your child’s trust and putting him at ease. This means your child will play a little with the doctor and maybe have a snack or receive a small prize.

  • The psychologist will talk to your child and administer some tests. He’ll observe your child alone as well as with you. mum and dad may also be asked to complete questionnaires.

  • The final step comes when the child psychologist sits down with the parents to descote the nature of the problem and offer a plan for improving things.

  • Although every psychologist has his or her own style, this is generally the procedure that’s followed.

    In letting you know what to expect at the child psychologist’s office, I hope I have put you at ease. If you suspect your child has a problem, please don’t hesitate to seek it out. In my more than 30 years of experience, I have found that children enjoy the experience—and parents find solutions to worries that have frustrated them for a long time.

Kenneth N. Condrell Ph.D Child Psychologist