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Is it “Just a Phase,” Or Something More?

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album

Reviewed by Heidi Radunovich, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

In the course of raising our children, parents often encounter temporary “phases” that may seem challenging. I think most of us look back on various toddler stages (hello, potty training!) without much nostalgia, and certain times in the tween and teen years can be rough.  For some families, there are whole years in school that are hard to get through.

But sometimes it can be really hard to tell if something is “just a phase,” or a genuine concern…that is, something we ought to take to a pediatrician or other expert. And at times, parents may even be so wrapped up in dealing with the crisis or stage of the moment that they forget that these experts have knowledge to offer.

This theme came up in a recent poll conducted by C. S. Mott Children’s Hospital. A nationally representative sample of over 1200 parents of children ages 5-17 were asked if and when they would consider asking their doctors about issues with their children’s behavior or emotions.

Many Parents Wouldn’t Ask Pediatricians About Concerns

The survey found that there was quite a range, depending on the type of concern. For instance, the majority said they’d definitely talk to their doctor if their child seemed sad or depressed for more than a month. However, over 60% also said they probably or definitely wouldn’t talk to their doctors if their child had trouble organizing homework or school supplies (which could be a symptom of a larger problem, such as ADHD). And only about half felt they’d bring it up if their child appeared especially worried or anxious, or had more severe temper tantrums than seemed typical for their age.

Parents who said they wouldn’t bring concerns like these up with a doctor were also asked why not. The most common response was that they didn’t see issues like this as “medical,” perhaps instead viewing them as discipline or temperament issues or minor bumps in the road. Others also said they’d rather talk to someone else besides a doctor. (Few felt the doctor wouldn’t be a good resource or wouldn’t have time to handle the issue during the appointment.)

Issues Are Common and Generally Treatable

While it certainly can be the case that issues like these are only mild or temporary, experts also remind parents that diagnosable mental, educational, and behavioral health concerns are common, affecting up to 20% of American children and teens. Such anxiety, depression, mood, or learning problems can have serious effects on your child’s everyday experiences and his or her success at school and in other activities.

These concerns are likely to be treatable, and your child’s pediatrician can help you with resources and referrals. While frustrating phases or stages are part of parenting, don’t forget that they may also be a sign that something needs to be addressed. If you have questions or worries about your child’s behavior, even if the concern seems minor, mention them to a pediatrician, school counselor, or mental health provider. Help is available.

(Photo credit: no dinner = no dessert = heartbreak – MG 1168.JPG by sean dreilingerCC BY-NC-SA 2.0. Cropped.)

References:

C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. (2015). Many parents missing the link between child behavior and health. Retrieved from http://mottnpch.org/reports-surveys/many-parents-missing-link-between-child-behavior-and-health