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How do I know if my child has psychological problems?

Signs of psychological problems in children

As a parent, you may be concerned if your child exhibits behavior that seems unusual or problematic. Here are some common signs that may indicate your child is experiencing psychological difficulties:

  • Extreme mood changes – Unusually severe episodes of depression, anxiety, anger, etc. Mood swings that are drastically out of proportion to the situation.
  • Withdrawal – Pulling away from family, friends, and regular activities. Persistent isolation and lack of interest or engagement.
  • Defiance – Constantly arguing with authority figures and refusing to follow rules. Intentionally ignoring parent requests and restrictions.
  • Trouble in school – Sudden drop in grades, difficulty concentrating, skipping school or classes.
  • Self-harm – Cutting, burning, head banging. Any attempt to physically hurt themselves.
  • Eating problems – Dramatic weight loss/gain or distorted body image. Strict dieting or binge eating.
  • Sleep issues – Difficulty sleeping, frequent nightmares, or sleeping too much.
  • Aggression – Frequent fighting, yelling, temper tantrums. Cruelty or violence toward people or pets.
  • Risk-taking behaviors – Alcohol/drug use, reckless driving, unsafe promiscuity.

If your child is displaying multiple problematic behaviors over an extended time, it may indicate an underlying psychological issue needing professional assessment.

When to seek help for your child

Seeking help from a mental health professional is advisable if your child:

  • Exhibits multiple signs of psychological difficulties
  • Struggles with the same behaviors for weeks/months
  • Has trouble functioning at home, in school, or with friends
  • Has learning difficulties that do not seem to stem from cognitive deficits
  • Appears unable to control extreme emotions or behaviors
  • Talks about suicide or self-harm

Many parents hesitate to seek psychological treatment for their children due to fear of stigma, but seeking help earlier leads to better outcomes. Ignoring warning signs can allow issues to escalate.

Getting an assessment for your child

The first step is having your child assessed by a licensed mental health professional. Possible options include:

  • School counselor – Counselors can do assessments and point you toward resources
  • Primary care provider – Ask your pediatrician for a referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist
  • Psychologist – Diagnose and treat mental health conditions through therapy and testing
  • Psychiatrist – Medical doctors who can prescribe psychiatric medications in addition to therapy
  • Social workers – Provide counseling and connect families to community services

When seeking an assessment:

  • Ask people you trust for psychologist/psychiatrist referrals
  • Look for providers experienced in treating children and adolescents
  • Choose someone your child feels comfortable talking to
  • Be open with the provider about all of your concerns

The assessment will likely involve talking to both you and your child, plus psychological testing. It will help identify any mental health conditions contributing to the concerning behaviors.

Common psychological issues in children

Some of the more common conditions diagnosed in struggling children include:

Anxiety Disorders

Excessive fear or worry that interferes with daily life. Specific disorders include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Separation anxiety
  • Social anxiety
  • Phobias
  • Panic disorder
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)


Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, guilt, irritability, and loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. Can lead to thoughts of suicide.

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Characterized by difficulty paying attention, excessive activity, and impulsivity beyond what’s normal for the child’s age.

Disruptive behavior disorders

Repeated pattern of hostile, defiant, and antisocial behaviors. Includes:

  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Conduct disorder
  • Intermittent explosive disorder

Autism spectrum disorder

Condition related to brain development that impacts how a person communicates, interacts, behaves, and learns.

Eating disorders

Dangerous eating habits that focus on food, weight, and body image. Common types are:

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia
  • Binge eating

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Lasting symptoms triggered by experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. Flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety are common.

Treatment options for children

Treatment plans will depend on each child’s diagnosis and symptoms. Common treatment options include:


Ongoing sessions with a therapist or counselor. Talk therapy helps kids process emotions, adjust thought patterns, and develop coping skills. Types of therapy include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – Identify negative thought and behavior patterns and replace them with more positive ones.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) – Teach mindfulness and emotion regulation skills.
  • Family therapy – Work through family relationship issues contributing to the child’s problems.
  • Group therapy – Connect with peers also dealing with similar mental health struggles.
  • Play therapy – Use play and imagination to help younger children express themselves.


A psychiatrist may prescribe medications to help relieve symptoms:

  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-anxiety medication
  • Mood stabilizers
  • ADHD medications

School-based supports

School counselors and psychologists can provide interventions and special education services within the school setting.

Parenting advice

Mental health professionals will provide guidance on creating a stable, supportive environment and addressing problem behaviors effectively.

Complementary approaches

Options like art therapy, pet therapy, and equine therapy can supplement other treatment methods.

Monitoring your child’s mental health treatment

If your child is receiving mental health services, be sure to:

  • Communicate regularly with your child’s treatment team
  • Consistently follow provider recommendations
  • Notice if your child’s symptoms are improving
  • Share any new concerns that arise
  • Adjust treatment plan if current approach stops working

Ongoing communication ensures your child gets the most effective care. Inform providers right away if you see no change or worsening behaviors.

Supporting your child through treatment

You play a big role in your child’s healing process. Here’s how to provide support:

  • Educate yourself – Learn about your child’s diagnosis and treatment options.
  • Participate in sessions – Attend therapy appointments whenever possible.
  • Stick to routines – Maintain consistent schedules and rules.
  • Model healthy habits – Demonstrate positive coping mechanisms.
  • Manage media exposure – Limit TV, internet, social media.
  • Encourage positive relationships – With family, peers, mentors.
  • Express unconditional love – Your child needs to feel valued and accepted.

Providing a stable, nurturing environment gives your child the best chance of overcoming mental health challenges.


If your child displays troubling symptoms, don’t hesitate to seek an assessment. Mental health professionals can identify underlying issues and create an effective treatment plan. Stay involved in the treatment process, communicate with providers, and give your child plenty of support at home. Consistent treatment tailored to your child’s needs offers the best opportunity for managing psychological problems successfully.