Like adults, children get referred for psychological evaluations for many different reasons. Usually, the kids I evaluate are sent in from one of three places:
- The teacher noticed behavioral problems and suggested that the parents talk to someone.
- The pediatrician noticed something (either the child’s behavior in office or a comment from the parent) that raised a red flag and recommended a referral.
- The parent feels overwhelmed by the child’s behavior, mood problems, or trauma history and sought support.
If your child’s teacher recommends an evaluation, or if you suspect your child will require special education services, check with the school’s education planning committee to see if they will require that their own evaluator complete the testing (and have the district pay for the evaluation!).
If you’re concerned about your child’s behavior, an evaluation can be helpful. There is a fairly broad range of “typical” behavior with young kids, and an assessment can compare your child to the rest of the population to see if they are struggling more than is developmentally appropriate. Basically, all five-year-olds have trouble sitting still sometimes, so testing can let you know if your child is more hyperactive than they ought to be for their age.
These assessments often consist of multiple choice questionnaires given to parents and teachers (or daycare providers) to tease out what difficulties the child is showing across settings. If the child is old enough, they will also complete measures to show their experience of their symptoms as well. The psychologist takes this data and determines whether the child meets criteria for a diagnosis as well as what treatments will help them be the best they can be.
If your child needs an evaluation, they might feel nervous about meeting with the psychologist. I always let kids know that I’m “a doctor who helps kids, not a shots doctor” (or I drop the “doctor” all together if the child has any medical anxiety), and my job is to help them and the adults who love them support them in the best way. Then I show them all the games I have, which puts them at ease.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your child’s behavior, it can help to ask the pediatrician if your child’s behavior might indicate that they could use extra support. Parenting is hard, and you deserve the support you and your child might need.
Any teachers looking to become more trauma and mental health informed in their classrooms can check out the courses I’ve created here, and parents can check out my book about helping kids make better choices here!