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Social-Emotional and Behavioral Red Flags for Toddlers and Preschoolers

It might be hard to imagine what mental health concerns may look like for your toddler or preschooler. Red FlagsHowever, it is important to realize that children experience the same emotions as adults do. They experience happiness, sadness, anger, fear, loneliness and embarrassment, however, they do not always know how to express these feelings in appropriate ways, so it’s important to look for red flags. When their feelings get too big, children do not always have the words to use to express themselves, resulting in using challenging or unsafe behaviors to express these big feelings. These behaviors make learning, play and relationships at home, and in the classroom difficult and can be very distressing and frustrating for everyone involved.

Here is a list of common red flags that can help you to determine if your child needs support:

  • Separation Anxiety:
    • Extreme distress (crying, tantruming and clinging to you) when separating from you or knowing that they will be away from you.
    • The symptoms last for several months versus several days
    • The symptoms are excessive enough that it is impacting normal activities (school, friendships, and family relationships).
    • The continuation or re-occurrence of intense anxiety upon separation after the age of 4 and through the elementary school years.
  • Social Concerns:
    • Little interest in playing with other children.
    • Poor body awareness that impacts relationships with peers
    • Failure to initiate or to participate in activities
    • Difficulty making eye contact with others
  • Behavioral Problems:
    • Defiance: Failure to follow rules or listen to directions and is often argumentative with adults.
    • Overly Aggressive Behavior:
      • Temper tantrums that last more than 5 to 10 minutes.
      • Excessive anger through threats, hitting, biting, and scratching others, pulling hair, slamming/throwing objects, damaging property, and hurting others.
  • Difficulty with Transitions:
    • Difficulty focusing and listening during transitions
    • Extremely upset when having to transition from one activity to another. Before or during each transition, your child may cry excessively or have temper tantrums that last more than 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Excessive Clinginess or Attention Seeking with Adults
    • Excessive anxiety related to being around new and/or familiar people/situations.
    • Child freezes or moves towards you by approaching you backwards, sideways or hiding behind you. Your child behaves this way in most situations and no matter how you support them, they continue to avoid interacting with others.
  • Attention concerns:
    • Difficulty completing tasks and following directives on a daily basis.
    • Easily distracted and has difficulty concentrating or focusing on activities.
  • Daily Functioning Concerns:
    • Toileting: Difficulty potty training and refuses to use the toilet.
    • Eating issues: Refusing to eat, avoids different textures, or has power struggles over food
    • Sleeping problems: Difficulty falling asleep, refuses to go to sleep, has nightmares or wakes several times a night.

Children can exhibit concerns in the above areas off and on throughout their childhood. It is when these behaviors begin to impact peer and family relationships, cause isolation, interfere with learning and cause disruptions at home and in school that it is time to reach out for support.

Who can help?

  • Licensed Clinical Social workers (LCSW),
  • Licensed Clinical Professional Counselors (LCPC),
  • Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT)
  • Psychologists

Therapists will work with your child to help them to learn how to handle their big feelings and behavioral challenges. Therapists will use a variety of modalities during sessions including play, art, calming and self-regulation strategies, behavioral therapy, parent-child therapy, and parent education and support. They can also provide parent support and coaching to assist in diminishing the challenging behaviors at home. Often these professionals will collaborate with your child’s school and can provide additional support for your child within the school setting.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

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Rebecca Kieffer

Rebecca Kieffer

Rebecca Kieffer, LCSW, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with more than 16 years experience working with children, adolescents and their families. She is bi-lingual in Spanish and received her Masters in Social Work with a concentration in Children and Families from the University of Illinois. Rebecca specializes in treating children and adolescents who have faced trauma, abuse, loss and multiple transitions. She has extensive experience in treating children and adolescents with developmental disabilities, behavioral challenges, depression, anxiety, ADHD, adjustment difficulties and attachment disorders within daycares, medical treatment facilities and community mental health centers. Rebecca utilizes a holistic and strength based approach to working with children and their families. She incorporates a variety of therapeutic techniques from Family Systems Therapy, Developmental Therapy, Attachment Therapy, and Love and Logic into her sessions in order to facilitate growth and healing. Rebecca believes in utilizing a collaborative approach with parents, caregivers, medical providers, and extended support systems to help children to heal and to cope more effectively with the challenges that they are confronting on a daily basis.

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