Psychology is often thought to be about counselling for mental health issues, but you might enlist the help of a psychologist for a wide range of concerns about your children. Aside from mental health, seeing a psychologist may help if your child has problems with learning, behaviour, communication, or social skills.
What does a psychologist do?
Psychologists are university-qualified health professionals who have studied how people think, learn, feel and behave. Some psychologists have completed further training in line with their interest in helping children.
They work with infants to teens, dealing with issues relating to mental, emotional, and social development.
Contrary to the stereotype of childhood as a happy, carefree time, many children experience stressful and traumatic issues. Some examples include bullying, family violence, illness, disability, social pressures and academic stress. All children are different and respond differently to their circumstances. Some children need support to deal with their thoughts and feelings or what’s happening at home or school.
Childhood is a crucial time for developing patterns of thinking, feeling, behaving and relating to others. These patterns can impact a person’s mental, emotional and social wellbeing for the rest of their lives. For this reason, getting help for any problems early can lead to better lifelong outcomes.
Australian psychologists must be registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).
Why would a child see a psychologist?
You might see a psychologist if your child needs counselling to help with life concerns such as grief or family problems, or if they have mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder or eating disorders. Psychologists may also support children with learning and behavioural difficulties
Aside from offering counselling, psychologists have a broad skillset and can support children in many practical ways. Some things they can help with include:
1. Social skills, such as:
- starting, holding and ending conversations
- listening to others
- making eye contact
- understanding other people’s behaviour (eg facial expressions, tone of voice)
- sharing and taking turns
- developing empathy
- building self-esteem and confidence
- developing strategies for managing conflict, teasing and bullying.
2. Cognitive (thinking) skills, such as:
- maintaining attention and concentration
- using expressive language
- reading comprehension
- working memory tasks.
3. Life skills, such as:
- transition to school
- establishing healthy sleep routines
- managing relationships
- dealing with grief and loss.
Ways a psychologist helps children
Psychologists working with children may take a general approach, or work more specifically with children who have developmental concerns (such as autism spectrum disorder or disability).
Many factors influence a child’s development, including genetics and the social, cultural and socio-economic context they grow up in. Psychologists will take these things into consideration when deciding how best to help your child.
A session with a psychologist usually starts with an assessment, which involves gathering information to help decide what approach to take. They will probably ask questions about your child’s family history, medical conditions, communication needs and any behaviours of concern.
Next, they’ll work with you to decide on treatment goals, and make a plan for achieving them. Usually, this includes working with the family, and sometimes with educators and other health professionals to ensure the best chance of success.
There are several evidence-based strategies a psychologist might use to help your child. Some of these are:
- Behaviour support therapies (such as Applied Behaviour Analysis) – these therapies focus on understanding and improving behaviour, using practical strategies such as effective communication, social skills, regulating emotions, and maintaining positive actions.
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – a structured type of ‘talk therapy’ that involves dealing with someone’s beliefs in order to change how they think and respond to events.
- Family Therapy – a form of treatment or counselling that addresses issues affecting the health and functioning of a family.
- Play Therapy – sometimes used with younger children, this therapy harnesses the therapeutic powers of play to help prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal development.
Signs that your child may benefit from psychology
Here are some signs that could indicate your child may benefit from assessment and management with a psychologist:
- Behavioural signs
- disruptive, concerning or challenging behaviours at school or home
- throwing tantrums, getting into fights
- avoiding school, social or other situations
- withdrawing from friends or family
- extreme emotional reactions, aggression or anger.
- Physical signs
- frequent unexplained headaches or tummy aches
- poor concentration, attention or communication
- poor sleep or appetite changes.
- Emotional signs
- difficulty coping with life changes or transitions
- struggling to cope with grief or trauma
- difficulties in relationships with family or friends
- low moods, withdrawal and anxiety
- challenges with self-esteem.
If you’re concerned about your child’s mental wellbeing or they have been diagnosed with a developmental condition affecting their behaviour, learning, communication or social skills, our qualified and registered psychologists at Growing Early Minds can help.
You don’t need a referral from a GP or paediatrician, although this may help offset the cost of therapy. Get in touch if you’d like to find out more about fees, funding options and treatment pathways.
You can visit our Blacktown clinic, or we can see children at home, school, playgroup or childcare. We also provide telehealth services to families locally and in remote, regional or interstate locations.
Find out more on our psychology page, or get in touch with us 02 9622 8500