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Children's Health

Knowing When to Seek Treatment for Your Child

When to seek treatment for your child or adolescent

Knowing when to seek treatment for mental health disorders is important for parents and families. Many times, parents are the first to suspect that their child or teen is challenged by feelings, behaviors, and/or environmental conditions that cause him or her to act disruptive, rebellious, or sad. This may include problems with relationships with friends and/or family members, school, sleeping, eating, substance abuse, emotional expression, development, coping, attentiveness, and responsiveness. It's also important to know that people of different ages will demonstrate different symptoms and behaviors. Getting to know the common inappropriate behaviors of younger children and those of older, adolescent children will often help to identify any problems early when they can be treated more easily. It's important for families who suspect a problem in one, or more, of these areas to seek treatment as soon as possible. Treatment for mental health disorders is available.

What are the symptoms of a potential problem in the younger child?

The following are the most common symptoms of a potential emotional, behavioral, and/or developmental problem in the younger child. These symptoms make a psychiatric evaluation necessary. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Significant decline in school performance or poor grades (even though the child studies and tries hard to succeed)

  • Withdrawal or decreased interest in activities previously enjoyed

  • Less interest in friends or family

  • Sleep disturbances (for example, night terrors, nightmares, insomnia, or hypersomnia)

  • Hyperactivity

  • Continuous or frequent aggression or "acting out" (for periods longer than 6 months)

  • Continuous or frequent rebellion; opposition to authority and direction (for periods longer than 6 months)

  • Refusal to attend school on a regular or frequent basis

  • Excessive worry and/or anxiety

  • Excessive, regular temper tantrums (without explanation)

  • Thoughts and/or talk of suicide

The symptoms of a potential emotional, behavioral, and/or developmental problem may resemble other conditions. Always talk with your child's healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

What are the symptoms of a potential problem in the older child or adolescent?

The following are the most common symptoms of a potential emotional, behavioral, and/or developmental problem in the older child or adolescent. These symptoms make a psychiatric evaluation necessary. However, each adolescent may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Significant decline in school performance or poor grades (even though the adolescent studies and tries hard to succeed)

  • Withdrawal or decreased interest in activities previously enjoyed 

  • Disinterest in spending time with friends or family 

  • Substance (alcohol and drugs) abuse

  • Sleep disturbances (for example, persistent night terrors, nightmares, insomnia, or hypersomnia)

  • Depression (poor mood, negativity, or mood swings)

  • Appetite changes (such as, refusal to eat, excessive eating, food rituals, bingeing, or purging)

  • Continuous or frequent aggression or "acting out" (for periods longer than 6 months)

  • Continuous or frequent rebellion; opposition to authority and direction (for periods longer than 6 months)

  • Continuous or frequent anger (for periods longer than 6 months)

  • Refusing to attend or skipping school

  • Excessive worry and/or anxiety

  • Self-injurious behaviors

  • Threats to self or others

  • Thoughts of death

  • Thoughts and/or talk of suicide

  • Running away or threatening to run away

  • Destructive behaviors (for example, vandalism or other criminal activity)

  • Sexually "acting out"

  • Lying and/or cheating

  • Many physical complaints

The symptoms of a potential emotional, behavioral, and/or developmental problem may resemble other conditions. Always talk with your child's healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

Online Medical Reviewer: Ballas, Paul, DO
Online Medical Reviewer: Fetterman, Anne, RN, BSN
Date Last Reviewed: 8/14/2015
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