In my own practice, I see children from about age six through young adulthood. One concern for parents is to decide if the behaviors (such as school avoidance, talking back, sleep difficulties, anger outbursts) are typical for the age of their child. Or, does the child need assistance with an extreme attitude, mood or behavior that will not be outgrown and will interfere increasingly with making friends, doing school work, and developing healthy habits and patterns.
Parents are often confused and distressed when a child will not openly discuss troubles or stress with them. Even warm, open parents can have children who do not want to upset the parents with struggles with peers or school tasks. If you child is irritable at small frustrations, has stomach aches before school, is disrespectful of others, lacks a sense of confidence and avoids seemingly ordinary tasks, the child may need an evaluation to see if there is underlying depression or anxiety. When bringing a child to see a therapist, the therapist may want to see the parents for an initial session to learn the history of the problems. When seeing the child, at first the parents may stay in the session unless the child is comfortable being alone in the room with a new person. My goal of therapy with parents and children is to assist the child to learn how to solve problems, to communicate sooner with parents and to leave the parents with a sense of respect for their role as the person who is really there for the child.
It is always wise to check with a professional if your child threatens to hurt himself or others. Another sign of needing professional help is a change in the personality such as an outgoing, laughing child withdrawing and avoiding activities or people, even family members. Although some believe that a diagnosis of attention deficit, hyperactivie disorder is too often used, children who have difficulty with school tasks, such as writing or learning how to read, or who have poor social interaction skills, such as not responding when someone says hello, or bullying others, or poor impulse control to the point of disrupting the teacher and other children may have difficulty learning to adjust and function without help. A major decision for a parent is: Can my child really do this task or not? Is there an underlying difficulty with memory, attention, or extreme sensitivity to such things as a label inside a collar or the sound of someone chewing. When parents conclude a child is just lazy (she can do the task, but is stubborn and "just won't), different methods are needed to know how to motivate or gain cooperation. The earlier children with emotional, social or processing of information difficulties get help, the quicker the child will feel successful and suffer less. Parents may not have the training to assist the child and often feel relieved to have the assistance of a professional with experience in these areas.
Sometimes children may seem as if from another planet with different language and customs from the parents who want to teach them to lead responsible, independent, thoughtful and content lives. Society itself is complex and provides temptations such as video games and social networks that pose new challenges for today's parents. In our cultural context, reality shows, crude language, and extreme behaviors are depicted in the media. Parents may find it difficult to understand how disrespectful and oppositional and even, entitled, some children are today. One excellent resource that is offered free to assist confused and troubled parents is a newsletter, EmpoweringParents.com. Established by James Lehman, topics for children of all ages are presented in a few, easy to read pages with excellent recommendations of parent problem solving.