When Do You Get Help?

While serving as a youth pastor for 13 years in a local church, I had the opportunity to witness children struggling with so many difficult issues – eating disorders, cutting, pornography, self-loathing, depression, anger, and more.  Many times it became clear that the struggles these kids were facing were deep and complex. They were not going to be resolved after a few meetings with their youth pastor to “talk it through”.

On a number of occasions, I decided I needed to talk with the parents, to make sure they were aware of the struggles of their child. (I would always tell the kids first that I was going to have this conversation with their parents.) In a number of these meetings, I recommended that the family seek professional counseling to help their child overcome their struggle. However, I found that typically parents were not very open to this idea. I think that there is still very much a negative stigma tied to “going to counseling”. There is often a sense that going to counseling is the equivalent to admitting failure.

Now I am not recommending counseling for everyone. Every child has behavioral struggles and no child is perfect. Every child has bad days and goes through tough times. But it’s also important to recognize that the pressures our children face today are much more intense and complex than most of us faced when we were their age. Our children face pressures and experience dilemmas that didn’t even exist twenty years ago.

When you become aware that your child is struggling, here are steps you can take:

First, talk to your child about their situation and make yourself available to them. They may be open to talking or they may push you away. Either way, do your best to ensure that your child knows that you are there to talk if and when she is ready.

Second, read a new book on parenting. Is it possible that your parenting style has contributed to the problem? Reading a parenting book can help you come up with new and better ways to handle various daily parenting situations. I would recommend Parenting with Love & Logic by Foster Cline and Jim Fay as great book to start with.

I recently talked with a mom whose son struggles with a disorder that has led to a lot of behavioral challenges. She told me that she has read over twenty books to learn to better deal with his disorder. Now that is a mom who is trying hard to be the best parent she can be!

Third, reach out for help. If your child is struggling, talk to teachers, school counselors, your church youth pastor, and other parents. You may find a lot of wisdom and helpful ideas that you can try at home.

Finally, if your child continues to struggle for a couple months after you have been actively working to help deal with the situation, its time to look at getting professional care. Talk to people at school or church to get referrals on a good counselor. This doesn’t mean that your child is now destined to have a shrink the rest of his life. There is a good chance that a few sessions with a counselor will help get your family back on the right track.

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