Contrary to popular opinion, not all children “grow out of it.” Childhood difficulties, if not addressed, can persist, taking on different forms as the child develops and grows. Often, parents struggle to determine whether the difficulties their child is manifesting are the result of situational factors and will pass with support and the passage of time, or are an indication of more entrenched problems which could have an impact on their development.
Are young Derek’s struggles at school a result of poor teaching or signs of a learning disability? Are Amanda’s moodiness and withdrawal merely part of being a teenager or signs of a developing clinical depression?
A comprehensive psychological assessment can be very helpful in determining whether to simply monitor the situation or to initiate psychological treatment or specific behavioral strategies. An assessment typically includes interviews with the child and with the parents to obtain background information and the administration of psychological tests. Children often need to know that we are not the kind of doctors who use needles to do “tests”! With younger children, as well as infants, observation of their play activities can yield important information.
Following an assessment, treatment recommendations for social-emotional difficulties may be made, or strategies to enhance learning for the child struggling at school may be outlined. Or sometimes both. Children with learning disabilities often suffer from poor self esteem and have difficulties making friends.
Psychological treatment of children may take a variety of forms, depending on the needs of the child and the family. Play therapy is often the treatment of choice for the younger child, while teenagers often prefer to discuss their problems directly with their therapist. On occasion, work with the whole family can result in a marked improvement in the child’s troubling behaviors in a relatively short period of time.
Our children are entering an increasingly difficult and complex world. Timely assessment, and if necessary, treatment, can enhance their prospects of flourishing rather than floundering.