My Child is Sinking and I Don't Know How to Help

My 8th-grade son came to me and said, “I think I need to see someone.”  I wasn’t that someone.  I knew he was having a hard time with the divorce, but I didn’t realize how much he was struggling.  I was going through my own stuff and had no idea what to do or how to talk to him about what he was experiencing.  I agreed to make an appointment with a therapist for him as soon as possible.  His friend’s parents called me and said they were concerned about him.  The counselor at his school called me and said I needed to pick him up and have his therapist clear him before he could return to school.  I didn’t know that if a child tells a teacher or counselor at school they are having thoughts of harming themselves or someone, they have to be evaluated and considered stable by a professional before returning to school.  I had to rearrange plans for my daughter’s 16th birthday.  Guilt and fear consumed me.  I wanted to believe he was overreacting or just looking for attention during a time when I was walking my own hard road. Thankfully, he asked for help, and I found someone who could connect with him in his pain and walk us both through that season. 

What I learned is that he needed me to:

  • Show love by facilitating his needs (provide counseling, take breaks when needed)
  • Validate his feelings.  Accept what he was feeling was his experience.  He needed to be seen
  • Be present and sit with him in his darkness    
  • Listen to hear.  He needed to be heard
  • Not try to fix it or make him feel better

Pay attention to these warning signs in your kids:

  • Persistent sadness that lasts two weeks or more
  • Withdrawing from or avoiding social interactions
  • Hurting oneself or talking about hurting oneself
  • Talking about death or suicide
  • Outbursts or extreme irritability
  • Out-of-control behavior that can be harmful
  • Drastic changes in mood, behavior or personality
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Loss of weight
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Frequent headaches or stomach aches
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Changes in academic performance
  • Avoiding or missing school

If you are concerned, make an appointment with your child’s doctor and a mental health professional to get the support both of you need.

About Katie McBrayer

Katie McBrayer, Master's Level Intern, earned her master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy and is trained in Safe Conversations and Level 1 Emotionally Focused Therapy. She specializes in grief, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, addiction, ADHD, suicidal ideation and narcissistic behaviors, and helping people work through difficult issues and problematic relationships. She is supervised by Lifeologie founder Melanie Wells, LPC-S, LMFT-S, and sees adults and couples at Lifeologie Counseling Dallas.

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