Mary Goodarzi headshotFor adults and kids alike, health includes mental and emotional health. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, our resident child psychologist Dr. Mary Goodarzi is back to offer some advice on seeking out the right resources to best support your child’s unique mental, emotional, and behavioral needs.

How can we as parents/caretakers empower ourselves to seek out the right resources for our kids when they are struggling mentally/emotionally/behaviorally?

I know it seems like there are so many resources for parents to help navigate and the lists seem never-ending. You might ask yourself: Do I put them into therapy? Should they receive tutoring? Do they need to change their peer group? Should we increase/decrease extracurricular activities to help them feel more confident, or to feel less pressured in doing too much?  

The best thing to do is for parents/caregivers to build off of each family member’s strengths and allow them to harness their strengths in ways that will help with tasks, homework completion, getting ready, and the list goes on.  

One of the most resourceful things a parent can do to really learn about their child’s learning and socioemotional profile is to have their child assessed by a clinician.  A thorough psychoeducational assessment will shed light on potential underlying issues and illuminate their child’s strengths and areas of growth.

With that being said, this assessment can be pricey, but it is an investment into better understanding your child and will only provide more knowledge and growth that parents, educators, and the child can and will benefit from.

What do we need to look for when looking to better understand what’s going on with our kids? What are some red flags?

Something I hear a lot from parents is, “I just thought my child was misbehaving or purposely defying what I was asking them to do.”

In most cases, the child is not intentionally trying to misbehave, and their behavior is typically a secondary behavior to THE underlying issue.

There could be many reasons for this “misbehavior,” a few of these being:

  • a difference of processing speed abilities (the ability to process and understand information, what is being asked of them and respond to it)
  • learning differences
  • neurodevelopmental differences
  • socioemotional concerns, such as underlying anxiety or depressive symptoms

Red flags could be anything. Look out for some of the following behaviors:

  • your child isolating from specific interests
  • not being as engaged as they were before
  • highly irritable
  • low frustration tolerance
  • lashing out more so than before
  • having difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • teachers stating concerns regarding peer relations, sustaining attention, mood/behavior, etc.
  • more fatigued/lethargic than normal
  • increased desire for screen/TV time 

Another misconception is that you can have a slower processing speed without necessarily having ADHD or a specific learning disability.  

It is also very important to make sure your child is getting the adequate amount of sleep and a well-rounded diet. The average amount of sleep your child needs:

  • Toddlers (1-2 years old) – 11-14 hours
  • Children (3-5 years old) – 10-13 hours
  • Children (6-12 years old) – 9-12 hours
  • Teenagers (13-18 years old) – 8-10 hours 
How do you choose the right long-term partner for your child’s mental and emotional health?

Interview the therapists! It’s okay to go to many initial consultations to make sure your therapist is the right fit for your child, and vice versa!  Spend time with the therapists to get to know them and for your child to get to know them. Ask for several recommendations/referrals from your pediatrician, teachers, educators, friends, etc.  

Keep in mind that there are many different forms of therapy. It would be a good idea to research and learn more about these different modalities. That way, you can find a therapist whose approach fits with what is more suitable for your child and your family.  The more that the family is able to engage with the therapy and utilize the skills learned in therapy at home, the more effective the treatment will be. 

Lastly, one of the most important things I tell parents is that they have to remain a part of the therapeutic process. It is imperative that the parent joins in some, if not all, sessions and stays connected to their child’s process. The parent is the expert on their child and is with their child the most. Thus, the work and skills being taught in therapy will only empower your child if the skills are being practiced at home, at school, at extracurricular activities, etc.

Of course, it is important to also remember that what is discussed is confidential, so I remind parents to check in with their child about the session, but never to ask about specifics.

This is a great article to help navigate this process for parents is linked below:

What would you recommend for families who are uninsured, or may not be able to afford the type of evaluation you recommend?

Great question!  The public school sector is also an option to seek out when looking to complete a psychoeducational assessment.  A parent/caregiver would email their public school psychologist or counselor (if currently attending a public school) and ask for their child to be assessed due to ongoing concerns in ____ (whatever it may be: sustaining attention, following directions, academic concerns, etc).

If the child is currently attending a private school, the parent can still contact their home district school (the public school of where their home address is zoned in).

Additionally, families can look into programs available at their local childrens hospitals, which often have these assessment resources available for patients, regardless of insurance status.

Supporting your child with their mental and emotional health is not easy, especially these days. But utilizing the resources available to you to better understand what your child needs is the first step in helping them make their mental health a lifelong priority.

Dr. Mary Goodarzi is a Southern California-area child psychologist and a Piper+Enza expert contributor.