Interview: Working with Behavioural Issues in Children

  • By: The DIG for Kids
  • Time to read: 3 min.
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Dr Sarah Helps is a child behaviour specialist and has spent the last 13 years working with children and young people who struggle with their behaviour for a variety of reasons.

A Wide Range of Problems

Dr Helps is qualified to work in both a child and adolescent mental team for children with disabilities as well as in private practice. She regularly sees children who display a wide range of emotional and behavioural problems, and spends time unravelling the reasons behind the behaviour in order to find the most suitable and appropriate treatment plan or programme.

Q. When does a child’s behaviour change?

A. Dr Helps said: “The thing about behavioural problems that I would always stress to any parents is that a child’s behaviour always happens in a specific context and really understanding that context is absolutely vital to being able to work with the child and the family, and help them through their difficulties and manage their behaviour.”

Q. When would you refer a child for extra help?

A. Dr Helps said: “Oppositional behaviour, or children not doing what their parents say, being very lively and energetic and not meeting expectations about their learning and academic progress at school, are all common reasons for a child to be referred to a specialist.”

Q. What affects a child’s behaviour?

A. Dr Helps said: “Children can also be affected by a wide range of anxieties, low moods and reactions to difficult and changing family situations, and often need help to cope with these changes in their lives. Often their worries and anxieties will be manifested in a dramatic change in their behaviour and I spend time looking at all the contributing factors before deciding on a definite course of action.”

Q. How can you help a child? Do you work with other professionals?

A. Dr Helps said: “The work that I am involved with almost always involves a close and continual liaison and partnership with all those who are involved with a child, including parents, teachers, and social workers. In order to address the issue of how the context is affecting and is affected by the child’s behaviour, it is vital that professionals work as a team and pool their resources. This way, the therapist has the advantage of having a wealth of information and experience at their fingertips.”

Q. How do you best use your resources and knowledge?

A. Dr Helps said: “Families are all unique and have their own problems, issues and dynamics. One of the main roles of a psychologist, family therapist or other mental health practitioner is often to help and encourage individual families to learn how to mobilise their own resources and detailed insight and knowledge of their child in order to create a positive change.”

Q. Is your work stimulating and rewarding? Do you feel that you really make a difference?

A. Dr Helps added: “My work is stimulating as every day is different. The frustrations in the work usually relate to poorly resourced services and poor communication between the agencies involved with a child and family.”

Family therapists and other mental health practitioners can be a huge support and benefit to families who are struggling with their child’s behaviour. If you are concerned about a change in your child’s behaviour, talk to their teachers and get advice from your GP. They will be able to offer help and suggestions that will help you manage your situation.

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