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Parents are usually the first to realize that their child may be having a problem. How can they decide if the difficulty is temporary or if professional help is needed? Talking with other adults in the child's life -- physician, teacher, coach, relatives - will provide a wider picture. The following are some signs that suggest the child may be struggling:

  • Behavior problems in school or social settings
  • Hyperactivity or fidgeting beyond what is expected for age
  • Excessive fears, sad or anxious feelings
  • Changes in sleeping or eating patterns
  • Decline in school work
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Constant disobedience and opposition to authority
  • Poor relationships with peers
  • Constant complains of physical illness

You should seek professional help and guidance for your child when the child's symptoms and behaviors:

  • Interfere with his/her functioning
  • Are present in more than one setting (such as home, school, or social settings)
  • Have lasted for more than six months
  • Include other psychiatric problems, such as anxiety or depression

Questions you should ask about these symptoms include:

  • How intense is the problem?
  • How long has it lasted?
  • Is it appropriate considering the child's age?
  • Does it interfere with the child's and the family's life?

Once the decision to seek help is made, the next step is finding the right kind of help. As with physical health, the outlook is better when mental health problems are treated early in the child's life. For parents who are unsure of where to start, asking the child's pediatrician, family physician or school counselor can be useful. Friends, family members, and spiritual leaders can also provide recommendations.