Question: I’m not sure whether my child needs therapy. She’s 10 and is very anxious – especially about her friendships. She can get very angry if she thinks a friend has ignored her or has offended her in some way. Sometimes I think she is making mountains out of molehills and some of these things aren’t as serious as she makes them. Will this pass or is her behaviour something I need to be concerned about?

 

Answer:

This is a good question that brings in some important things to know about children’s behaviour, how it relates to their development, and how that relates to whether therapy is called for.

 

            Children at different developmental stages (ages), see some kinds of experiences as more significant, and therefore respond with more intense emotions because these experiences, such as friendships, carry more meaning. Not only do older, school-age children see things differently from younger school-age and pre-school children, they have different mental and physical resources for interacting with the world around them, as they perceive it. Developmental stages are an important concept that means essentially that children’s social/emotional/intellectual/physical development builds on the learning and changes achieved in the previous stage.

 

With that in mind, it helps to know what is normal behaviour for a 10-year-old. This gives you a kind of baseline against which to assess whether or not the behaviour is a problem for her now and seems to be interfering with her normal development.

 

From age 6 on, children are more and more oriented toward friendships and are getting an increasingly clear understanding of others’ points of view, social expectations, and social cues. They are increasingly aware of others’ intentions, and able to hold two opposing points of view in mind at the same time. School-age children are particularly concerned about being rejected or excluded or seen as inadequate by peers. They will also use the responses from peers to evaluate their own abilities. As school-age children get older, if they have a well-established and securely-held sense of their abilities they will be more likely to approach interpersonal problems from a positive view of themselves as someone able to handle or master situations they are unhappy about.

 

Children at this age are developing a bigger repertoire of coping mechanisms to help them regulate their emotions as well. This may be one way to think about the problem you are identifying here. Emotional self-regulation is about how the child adjusts her emotional states, like anxiety and anger, from high intensity, back to a comfortable level. For various reasons, some children find it more difficult to regulate intense emotions and may require help learning how to do this. For example, using language to express feeling is an important regulating tool. Your conversations with your daughter can enhance her efforts at self-regulation and can enrich her repertoire of coping skills. When adults talk with children about their emotionally arousing experiences, such as the experiences of feeling ignored or offended that you are describing, they can offer coping techniques their children can later apply to themselves.

 

           

There are no clear-cut answers, and I would want to know much more about your child’s previous experiences and present situation and how you think these may have influenced her feelings about herself. The behaviours you are seeing are very likely symptoms of deeper feelings she is holding about herself. These feelings may or may not be transitory, may or may not need to be explored and worked through with a therapist. The best place to begin is with you. Your relationship with her is the most important one. You spend more time with her than anyone and have most influence on her. Your own listening and exploring her feelings with her will help you to know whether you feel you can help her yourself or want to get some outside help.

 

Bea Donald, M.A., R.C.C., B.C.A.M.F.T., is a Program Manager and Clinical Supervisor of the Family Counselling / Employee Assistance Program at Family Services of the North Shore. Questions?

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