people think of childhood as an easy, carefree time. But children do have
problems and feel stress. Times of special changes like divorce, a death
in the family, or a move can be stressful for children. During times like
that, children may have a range of feelings that are very confusing.
Children need time to adjust to major family changes. During these times,
you and the parents should give as much support as possible to the children.
Often support from you and the parents is enough to help the children
adjust to the family event and move on. Some children may need a little
more help, though. They may need the help of a professional counselor
Getting professional help can support children in different ways. Counseling
can help children get in touch with their feelings. Some children may
have difficulty sharing their feelings, because they want to keep the
family event a “secret.” Other children can show their feelings
in ways that cause problems by acting out, becoming violent, or becoming
very quiet and withdrawn. When you see problems like this in childcare,
ask the parents if they see them at home, too. Maybe you and the parent
both feel that you are running out of ways to help. Counselors can help
the children and parents deal with the family change.
Here are some signs that might show that the child might need professional
help. If you see these signs, you could encourage the parents to contact
a counselor or therapist. Some of these signs are fairly common; many
children will do the things on the list at some point. But when the behaviors
become extreme or last for a long time, you and the parent may decide
that the child needs professional help.
Signs that the child might need professional
• Long periods of sadness
The child may seem to be sad for several days or weeks.
Nothing helps the child feel better. You try to entertain or distract
him, but nothing works. The child may cry over both little
and big things and not be able to stop. Children might not talk
about being sad; they show sadness mostly through their actions.
That means they might get in trouble and break rules to
show they are sad.
• Living in the past
The child may seem to think more about the past than
the present. Many children will talk about the past when their family
was together, when the loved one was still alive, or when
the family used to live in the old place. Some children may
complain that can’t stop thinking about the death,
their parents’ divorce, or the move. That is normal right after
At some point children should be able to move on and talk
about the present, though.
• Withdrawn behavior
Withdrawn children have little or no interest in playing
or being with friends. They want to be by themselves instead of being
with friends or adults. They want to stay alone all the time.
They don’t laugh, joke, or enjoy anything they are doing.
• Problems saying good-bye to parents
The child may not want to let a parent leave at the
beginning of the day. Or she may ask about the parents many times as
the day goes on. This is a problem if the child was used
to saying good-bye before the problem occurred.
• Cannot concentrate
Some children may have a hard time getting things done.
They may be distracted. Maybe they cannot settle on any play
activities or jobs you give them. They may not follow instructions
well. They may complain that they cannot concentrate.
• Changes in daily habits
Children may change what they normally do. Some children
may wake up, but may not want to get up. Or they can start
having problems going to sleep. They may have nightmares.
They may eat much more or much less than before. Adults
may have trouble predicting what the children are going to
do or when they are going to do it.
• Return to younger behavior
A child may have been toilet-trained before, but now
has accidents or needs diapers. Maybe a child will return to sucking
his thumb or ask for a bottle. Some children may ask to be
carried even though they can walk.
• Feeling a sense of responsibility or guilt
This is sometimes a problem with older school-age children.
They may think a divorce or a death is their fault. They may
believe that they are responsible for taking care of a parent
or sibling. They may also feel caught in the middle of parents or
other family members. They may say they have difficulty talking
with a parent.
• Feeling angry
Some children may be angry all the time. They may often
get into fights with other children in the childcare. They may take
their anger out on other children, and sometimes on adults, by hitting,
biting, and shouting. Parents may complain that the
children often fight with their brothers of sisters at home.
• Temper tantrums
Some children might kick and scream more often than
before. They might say no to everything you ask them to do. Every
small problem seems to become huge.
• Feeling anxious and worried
Some children may worry a lot. They may worry about
the parents when they are not at home. They may worry about their
parents physically hurting each other or them. They may worry
that another death will occur or that they will move again.
They may find it very difficult to separate
from one or both parents.
• The parents cannot help the child
You may notice that the parents are having a difficult
time with their own feelings. A major change in the family affects all
family members. Some parents may be dealing with many changes
in work, schedule, or living situation. You may feel that
the child needs more, but the parents cannot help at this
point. You may suggest to the parents that they could get help
from someone else.
Many children do the things above at times. If the problems start suddenly
after a divorce, death, or other stressful event, the child may need extra
help. Getting help is important if:
• the signs are more extreme than
you normally see in other children,
• they last day after day or week
after week, or
• you or the parents have tried to
work with the child, but the problems continue.
The parent will be responsible for getting help. You can suggest some
places that they might look for help. Set a special
time to the talk with the parents about this. You should have a list
of resources to share
with them. Let them make the final decisions.
Go to: • Resources