One of the most difficult aspects of my job is having to tell a parent that their child may need professional help; no one really wants to hear that. Every parent wants the best for their kids. They want them to succeed, both socially and academically. They want them to have the very best opportunities, and the very best experiences. It can be devastating to one day think that might not be the case.

Although we have come a long way in terms of our awareness and understanding of mental health, the misinformation and stigma still remain, and not just here in Egypt. Many parents interpret what they’re told as, “You’re telling me my child isn’t normal,” which would understandably make anyone upset. But if you think about it, what is normal? What does it really mean to be normal? Is a normal person or child one that has no social or academic issues? Because that certainly is not the norm. Would a normal child be one that needs no special care or attention? Also, no. We all have areas where we struggle and where we need extra support. That is normal. Some of us tend to struggle during social interactions, while others find it extremely difficult to focus on anything for more than a few minutes. In the end, whatever we suffer from or struggle with, we are all “normal”, and we all need help sometimes. There is absolutely no shame in that.

Unfortunately, the labels that come along with any diagnosis can be very daunting, and often isolating, hence the perception of so-called abnormality. However, if you look closely, what you’ll see is simply different areas where your child needs some support. This is where the role of the parents is of absolute importance; how you handle the situation could make all the difference in the world. If you do find yourself having to confront this possibility, try to keep the following tips in mind:

Don’t Panic!
The first rule of parenting is…don’t panic. Remain as calm as you can at all times, and remember that your anxiety almost always transfers over to your kids in some way or another. If children look at the adults around them and see they are calm, they feel reassured that everything is okay. Conversely, if your child sees anxiety or panic on your face, they will instantly feel that something is wrong. It’s always best to approach any situation with a calm disposition.

Monitor your own defensiveness, and try to bear in mind that whoever is having this conversation with you is most likely looking out for your child’s best interest. Be sure that it is not a conversation they enjoy having, or take lightly, and be aware that your defensiveness could potentially get in the way of your child’s success.

Seek professional help
You might be tempted to try to resolve the issue on your own, or even just leave it be, hoping it will resolve itself. It very well may turn out fine without any intervention, but it also may not, so why take the chance? If there is anything you can do to support your child, to help them reach their potential, you should do it. A professional will be able to guide you in the right direction and provide the appropriate interventions if needed, in order to give your child the best chance at life.

Be wary of psychiatrists who rely on medication
Generally, I would recommend seeking out the help of a child psychologist who is trained to treat children without the need for medication. They will work with you, your child, and most likely their school to provide the necessary education, training and strategies to help you and your child cope with whatever they are struggling with.

Don’t keep your child in the dark
Too many times I’ve encountered a child who knew absolutely nothing about what they were going through, their parents’ reasoning being, “We don’t want them to feel that there is something wrong with them,” which is also a very common reason for parents not seeking help. What they fail to realize is that children are far more perceptive than we tend to believe, so chances are the child already feels they are different, they just have no idea why. This can lead to different insecurities and self-esteem problems, which in turn could affect their motivation, their attitude and behavior, and their overall functioning. In most cases, if not all, the child is far better off understanding why they are struggling. A professional can help you figure out the best way to educate your child.

And remember, we all have our own strengths and weaknesses. Don’t let a label fool you into thinking someone with a psychological disorder is abnormal in some way. We all need help sometimes.