Signs of Distress in Children & Early Intervention - Premier Counseling
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children sitting in wait

Signs of Distress in Children & Early Intervention

By Jennifer Duer, LPC

 

Distress in Children

 

While acclimating to civilian life after active duty in military or emergency services, it is imperative that parents be able to recognize signs of distress in their children, and that they understand the importance of early intervention.

 

There are particular comforts that come with predictability, and patterned structures, especially for children. The disruption and upheaval from what the regimented life they have known to a now completely unrecognizable or unknown way of living can cause distress. 

 

Not all children will express distress in the same ways, but there are some key signs and red flags to look out for.

distressed child

Photo by Luke Pennystan

The Signs

 

While not all children will express distress in identical ways, some age groups present similar symptoms. 

 

If your child is anywhere between 1 year old and 7 years old, you may want to be vigilant about: sudden or intensified clinginess, new or uncharacteristic fear of change or unfamiliar places/people/activities, uncharacteristic irritability and/or hyperactivity or even regression.

 

Regression is particularly telling; if your child is regressing, behaving in ways appropriate when they were younger, or behaviors they have matured past or unlearned already, that’s a big red flag. 

 

If you have children between 8 years old and 13 years old, some major signs may be: withdrawing, becoming inappropriately aggressive, suffering from poor memory and/or concentration, or experiencing psychosomatic symptoms.

 

Psychosomatic symptoms are not ‘faked,’ or exaggerated by children. They are very real physical manifestations of stress, and if your child is experiencing mysterious ailments, and their physician has ruled out all other factors, it’s time to contact a counselor.

 

If you’ve got a teenager, your mileage may vary, as adolescence is already a very difficult chapter, but some major signs are: mother-henning others (inappropriately taking on a care-taker role to friends or family), uncharacteristic risk-taking behaviors, uncharacteristic defiance or aggression, self-destructive behaviors, or symptoms of grief.

Photo by Baron Gimenez

Getting Help

 

Early intervention is paramount. As soon as you feel something is wrong, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. There are growing pains for everyone at all stages of childhood development, but being vigilant here can only serve you and your children well.

 

Make sure to keep an open, non-judgmental line of communication open between yourself and your child(ren). Make emotional check-in’s a regular practice, and without leading them, try to help them articulate or communicate more difficult feelings through more than one medium.

 

Most importantly, believe your child(ren). There is no right or wrong way to feel about big life changes, and more than anything, you want to be a safe person to go to for your child(ren). They’re doing the best they can with the tools they have, so even if the symptoms are psychosomatic, that doesn’t invalidate the child’s experience, and even if their grief seems disproportionate to you, believe them. 

 

If your child is displaying signs of distress, and you’re ready to intervene, call our team to schedule an appointment. Family and child therapy services are available, and we are here to help.

 

If you’d like to learn more about signs of distress in children, or just more about childhood development, please visit unicef.org/parenting/



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