A child who is depressed, angry, fidgety, or has unidentified learning problems may have trouble succeeding in school. Sometimes those issues are temporary and can be solved within the family. But when a child has more severe or chronic issues, it may be necessary to work with a counselor. The question is, when do you seek help?
One of the first things to remember – and most counselors will emphasize this to you – is that school counselors are there for you and your child. While in the past there may have been a stigma attached to visiting the school counselor, the current approach to counseling is generally more positive and oriented toward constructive problem-solving. In fact, in some schools, the counselor’s office is the most popular office in the building. Some counselors go out of their way to make themselves available and make their offices a friendly place for students to gather and talk about what’s going on.
You may want to seek help from the school counselor if your child is struggling with any of the following:
Bullying or being bullied: In the past adults were inclined to ignore or brush off incidents of bullying, but with several studies showing that bullying can have serious and long-lasting affects (and potential legal consequences), school officials are taking bullying much more seriously. If your child is getting into trouble for bullying (threatening or harassing another child) or if your child is afraid to go to school because of a bullying problem, you need to find out as many details as possible about the situation and then set up a time to work with a counselor and your child’s teachers to help your child learn to resolve or defuse conflicts.
Anxiety or depression: A fearful or sad child is going to have a hard time focusing or succeeding in school. If your child is repeatedly expressing worries about imagined threats, or if your child seems to be lagging and has little interest in play activities or friendships, a counselor can help identify and assist you with resources to address anxiety or depression.
Attention Deficit: If your child is repeatedly getting into trouble for not being able to focus, disrupting class, behaving impulsively, or failing to complete tasks, he or she may be showing signs of an attention deficit disorder. In addition to working with your doctor, you should work with your school counselor to help with behavioral therapies and/or arrange for testing and outside help.
Speech Disorder: If your child stutters or appears to have some other speech disorder, school can be a miserable place. Your school counselor can help with speech assessment and referrals to speech therapists, and can also help your child learn to ease into normal conversations and friendships.
Unidentified Learning Disorder: If your child is struggling in school, particularly in one subject, he or she may have a learning disorder such as dyslexia or an auditory processing disorder. A school counselor can help assess your child’s area of difficulty and offer referrals to special testing, counseling, or tutoring.
Grief: If your child is suffering from a trauma such as divorce or the death of a loved one, grief can get in the way of the child’s ability to focus, concentrate, and learn. Sometimes a big loss is more than an adult can bear – we shouldn’t expect a child to be able to manage it alone. Your school counselor can help with referrals to therapists and support groups, and can help by keeping a watchful eye out for your little one at school.
Sometimes kids struggle for months or years with a problem that could be resolved somewhat quickly with the help of a caring professional. The sooner a problem is addressed, the easier it is to resolve. If your school is fortunate enough to have the resources, you should not hesitate to make use of them. And even if your child doesn’t currently have a major problem, they might want to get to know the counselor anyway. It always helps to have someone they can trust, or simply another friendly face, to greet them at school every day.