Emotional Difficulties in Young Children
Childhood is synonymous with innocence and carefree enjoyment. However, sadly, 1 in 10 children/ young people are affected by emotional/ mental health difficulties. These can, understandably, lead to great distress for children and their families and impact upon family relationships, school performance and peer relationships. Unfortunately, whilst many difficulties experienced in childhood will improve, a significant amount will persist into adulthood and around 50-75% (Dunedin Study) of adult mental health difficulties are thought to begin in childhood.
Whilst adults often (but not always) have a greater capacity to understand and express their feelings, children often find it very difficult to tell people around them about any strong emotions. Emotional distress in childhood can present differently so can be externalised, through behavioural difficulties (disruptive behaviour, defiance, aggression, withdrawal, bullying behaviours) or internalised through emotional difficulties (sadness, low self esteem, anxiety, anger). Low mood and anxieties can also affect sleep and a child’s ability to concentrate in school.
An assessment can help parents and children to understand more about any differences they have observed in how a child is behaving and will include recommendations for what could help going forward. This could involve:
- further support for parents to help them find techniques to address behavioural difficulties, rebuild relationships and address emotional distress within the home
- liaising with school (usually via parents) to help find ways of managing any difficulties across home and school environments
- a short course of therapy, depending on the child’s age and their ability to talk and think about their thoughts, feelings and behaviour
Behavioural Difficulties in Young Children
Whilst behavioural difficulties can often be related to emotional distress, other explanations are often helpful. Children who have developmental difficulties, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD) or an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to name the most common syndromes, often find it difficult to manage their emotions and impulses, focus and sustain attention, follow instructions, keep safe and form peer relationships. Sadly, children who present with developmental difficulties can start to develop low self-esteem or emotional difficulties following negative responses from others.
Best practice dictates that diagnosing developmental difficulties take place following a comprehensive assessment as part of a multi-disciplinary professional team. However, a developmental assessment can help signpost and refer for further, specialist assessment. In general, understanding more about these difficulties can:
-help parents become more aware of when a child finds something difficult
-find way to adapt their expectations and environment accordingly
– develop suitable techniques for managing behavioural difficulties
– help reduce any negative consequences
Emotional Difficulties in Older Children/ Adolescents
Being a teenager appears to be getting harder and harder, in a world where academic expectations are high and there is no escape from the self-evaluation and comparison with others from social media.
Hormonal and brain development changes together with the inevitable stresses in relationships with parents and peers during this time means that teenagers are vulnerable to emotional distress. Adolescence is also a time of impulsiveness, identity discovery and risk taking; all of which can further compound any difficulties.
I have extensive experience working therapeutically with adolescents with:
- Anger/ Aggression
- Self-Harm and Suicidal Ideation
- Relationship difficulties
- Low self-esteem
- Risky (or promiscuous) behaviour
- Substance Misuse/ Alcohol Difficulties
It can often be really helpful for parents to join in some of the therapeutic work and the therapy plan is developed collaboratively and on an individual basis.