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Seeking professional help for your struggling child

We turned to The Counselling Place for advice on what signs to look out for in a child who may need help, and when professional psychological counselling is required.

Parents can feel scared and overwhelmed when a child is having serious difficulties socially or in school. You may know that your child needs help, but not be sure whether professional psychological counselling is required.

“Parents are often the first to suspect that something is not quite right with their child,” says Dr Melanie Storry Chan, a consultant psychologist at The Counselling Place. “They might notice that, compared to his or her peers, their child is noticeably lagging in behaviour, cognitive ability, communication or social responsiveness.”

Though warning signs can vary dramatically depending on the child’s particular issues, and the range of what is “normal” is broad for children, Melanie says there are several red flags that signal the need for psychological counselling. She says parents should seek help if children are a danger to themselves. Examples include refusing to eat, cutting their bodies, engaging in dangerous activities, being severely depressed, making threats, behaving aggressively or biting. Other signs include regression, when a child stops talking or loses independence, or when a child refuses to participate in activities or go to school.

If your child’s level of academic and social development is significantly different from his or her peers of the same age, Melanie says, intervention is called for. For parents who feel overwhelmed by their child’s behaviour and feel that nothing they do is working, it’s time to seek professional help.

“Generally, if there is no improvement after about six months and the child seems to be falling further behind, it is best to bring the child to a psychologist or counsellor who specialises in working with children,” Melanie says. “Research links early intervention to significant gains in functioning.”

The Counselling Place also has expertise in offering psychological assessments (involving a clinical interview and the use of standardised tests) for children who may have learning difficulties such as dyslexia, behavioural and social challenges such as anxiety or autism, physical challenges that affect academic and social functioning, or neuropsychological issues related to head injuries or birth trauma.

“Being away from home makes other problems so much harder to cope with, as expatriates don’t have the usual support system at hand to help them cope with parenting, relationship struggles, depression, addictions and other challenges,” says Ho Shee Wai, registered psychologist and director of The Counselling Place.

About 80 percent of the clients are expatriates, ranging from children as young as three to seniors, some in their seventies. The practice’s nine counsellors and psychologists represent a variety of nationalities and specialties, so help for everyone is just a phone call away.