Tips for Recognizing and Helping a Child in Need

Sep 24, 2018 by

On average, students spend over 7 hours a day in school. That equates to at least 35 hours a week. For many kids, school is like their second home. They become attached to their teachers and friends and feel comfortable in the familiar surroundings of their classroom. This usually means students are happy and relaxed at school, creating the perfect environment for learning and growth. But what about when students are dealing with issues that make learning difficult for them? Whether it’s a student struggling with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), a learning disability or emotional distress at home, it’s a teacher’s job to be sensitive to these issues and find ways to help reach these troubled kids. Here are a few tips for recognizing a child’s need for help and ways to handle it.

Recognize the Signs

The first step in identifying a student in need of intervention or additional help is to know the signs you’re looking for. There are several common issues that affect young learners, most of which stem from emotional stress, PTSD, trouble at home or academic frustration.


This is one of the most obvious ways that a student may act out if they are struggling internally. Violent outbursts are not very common, but they do happen. Depending on a students age or their degree of aggression, they might show violent behavior toward themselves, others or classroom materials. Outbursts may include throwing items, banging their desk, hitting themselves or others. If the student’s behavior is putting other students in danger, outside intervention is needed right away. Teachers may elicit the help of the principal, school counselor or a security or resource officer.


Sadly, depression is all too common among students of all ages. In fact, 1 in 5 college students report having stress or depression. But that doesn’t mean it can’t affect younger students as well. Signs of depression are not always outwardly apparent but if you know what you’re looking for, you can easily spot them and get the student the help they need. A “normal” level of depression is felt by most people at one time or another and is most notably marked by feelings of sadness that subside within a couple of days. Chronic depression is something very different. Students with chronic depression may exhibit mood swings, inability to concentrate, change in eating habits, disturbed sleep, withdrawal from social activities, and poor hygiene. If you see a student exhibiting these behaviors over an extended period of time, a call to their parent or speaking to the school counselor are both great first steps in reaching the student.

Suicidal Thoughts

When a student’s depression goes unnoticed and untreated for too long, it can lead to suicidal thoughts. Many students keep these thoughts to themselves but may document them in drawings, a journal, or through cryptic or telling messages on social media. Being aware of the language a student uses can give you clues into whether or not they’re experiencing suicidal thoughts. Are students saying “goodbye” to friends? Do they speak about the future as if they won’t be around to see it? If a student is being bullied, their chances of having suicidal thoughts increase exponentially. Take notice of any bullying behavior and report to the principal or guidance counselor immediately. Most schools have adopted a no-tolerance policy in terms of bullying.

How to Offer Help

There are countless ways that you can help a student in need, even if they don’t realize they are at risk. It’s not uncommon for students to reject your help or deny their situation. Sometimes, simply making yourself available for them to confide in and for you to listen helps bridge the gap. School guidance counselors are trained in handle a student’s emotional and mental struggles. They offer the tools needed for students to identify and address feelings of depression, anger or other emotional and psychological distress. Being in communication with a troubled student’s parent is also important. This gives you inside knowledge into how the student acts at home or what external factors may be contributing to the situation. Don’t ignore signs a student needs help or chock it up to typical teenage angst. Simply asking a student if they’re okay can be the first step toward positively changing their life.

5. Suicidal Thoughts

Most people who attempt suicide communicate early messages about their distress. These messages can range from “I don’t want to be here”, to a series of vague “good-byes”, to “I’m going to kill myself.” Non-verbal messages could include giving away valued items, and putting legal, financial, and other affairs in order. All of the above messages should be taken seriously.

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