Before A Diagnosis: Why I Put My Young Child in Play Therapy

We understand that getting to the bottom of what’s going on with our children can be nerve-wracking and stressful, especially when we suspect that our child has ADD or ADHD diagnosis but we do not yet have a diagnosis in a small child. Some of the questions we hear most often from New Orleans parents are, “how do I know if my child has ADHD, and where can I get my child tested for ADHD in New Orleans?” This series is designed to demystify the diagnosis process, as well as provide New Orleans families with resources for getting your children evaluated. While these posts are very personal and real we are grateful to our partners at the Behavioral Health Center at Children’s Hospital New Orleans for sponsoring this series.

Before A Diagnosis: Why I Put My Young Child in Play Therapy

Before A Diagnosis: Why I Put My Young Child in Play TherapyMy 5 year old child is one of the oldest souls I have ever met. He is always happy, smiling, laughing, making new friends and hugging. But what a lot of people don’t see is his debilitating nervous behaviors. I noticed when my child was 3 that he cried when we did anything out of routine. He would cry when he would have to leave my side. He would cry when he had to play sports. He would cry when he had to learn how to swim. As he got older, he was able to express a little better about what made him nervous; however, he would talk incessantly, almost as if to avoid the situation he was faced with. I loved that he could express himself, but I could not make him feel better. Little did I know, I couldn’t. He is in charge of his feelings and emotions, even at 5 years old.

Cue Google Search 

I started to Google how to help my son. I looked up books on helping kids with excessive talking, anxious behaviors, nervousness, sensitivity etc. Of course it ranged from this is normal for toddlers/young kids to your child is sick and needs help. Leave it to Google to leave a parent more anxious.

So, I moved on…and the lightbulb went off…

I remembered that a few months back, the school counselor sent me a list of therapists for children in the greater New Orleans Area. I searched for the email and found it! For those who are curious, my child had an incident out of nowhere one day in school where he was afraid to walk down the stairs. Like frozen. Tears flowing. He couldn’t walk. We have stairs at our house, so I did not understand why those stairs were any different. The school counselor called me to tell me what happened, and after speaking to my child she stated he expressed that he could see through the stairs – made of metal not wood like ours – and he was afraid he would fall through. Something new. Something scary. Something he could not figure out if he could do.

I went through the list, called a few places and of course there was a waiting list. Then, I made one more phone call. I got my son in for an appointment for play therapy. Play Therapy is to children what counseling is to adults. Play therapy utilizes play, children’s natural way of expressing themselves, which helps them to express their feelings more easily through toys instead of words.

Fast forward 8 months later and my child is playing sports, going to swim lessons, leaving me daily for summer camp and school – he is still nervous, but it is not debilitating, he powers through and faces his fears.

What We Learned in Play Therapy

It’s all making sense to me now. After several sessions with my son’s therapist I learned so much. My son lacked confidence in himself, he did not like to be out of control of situations and he tried to get out of situations by talking non – stop. His therapist really took the time to explain over the past 8 months what was going on in our little guys’ mind. She has not diagnosed anything, mainly because of his age, but also because he is not a cookie cutter child with ADHD or anxiety. He does, however, have a couple mental health issues going on and as time goes on, a diagnosis will likely follow. Until then, I have done lots of research on my child’s tendencies and highly recommend cognitive therapies for children with ADHD and/or anxiety.

I want to share what I have learned with you all, because it is really helping my child. His confidence is soaring. He now gets excited to “face a fear.” We also continue to see his play therapist, not only because it is helping him, but he loves it and does not realize it is a doctor’s appointment – which is a PLUS!

Here are some examples of what we have noticed and learned about in our child:

  1. Making careless mistakes – for example, in schoolwork (sign of ADHD). He would know the answers, was just not “in the mood to do it.” We utilize a reward chart to combat this. It helps him focus; it makes him realize he can do the task and get’s a star for doing it.
  2. Excessive talking (Sign of ADHD). I now tell my child to pause, count to 10 and if he still remembers what he has to say, then he can finish. Sometimes he just talks impulsively, without a filter. The pause then the counting helps force him to filter his thoughts.
  3. Being unable to wait their turn (Sign of ADHD). I have to force my child to not go 1st at something. If we are playing Guess Who or Monopoly – I ask if I can go first.  Sometimes I am met with frustration, but most times I am met with “Sure, Momma.”  Having him wait in line at the store, or at a playground and show patience has truly helped to tone down “excitement.”
  4. Interrupting conversations (Sign of ADHD). This is yet another example of pausing. My son is very polite; his manners are better than some adults I know. But what he has not mastered yet is the art of saying excuse me, and then waiting to be acknowledged. We have been working on saying excuse me, then waiting until eye contact is made and there is a pause in the conversation. Also, this pause helps him figure out “W.H.A.T. – Why Am I Talking.” It really helps the filtering.
  5. Constantly worrying or having negative thoughts (Sign of Anxiety along with ADHD). We have started to use positive self talk. I have begun having him look in the mirror and say 3 good things about himself, while making eye contact with the person in the mirror.
  6. Feeling tense and using the toilet often (Sign of anxiety along with ADHD). My son loves to drink water, which is why I thought he was always in the restroom going number 1. Turns out, that is one reason; the other is the nervous system. Muscles tense up causing you to feel like you have to use the restroom. I hated those fidget toys/spinners when they first came out, but guess what they are genius! They distract him from thinking about the faux feeling of having to pee.
  7. Being very emotional (Sign of anxiety along with ADHD). I would encourage you to let your child know it’s ok to show emotion! Telling a child to “toughen up,” especially boys, is not constructive or effective. I have been told it actually makes it worse.
  8. Being clingy (Sign of anxiety along with ADHD). Slowly introduce activities that remove them from your grip for a bit.  I.e. – play date at a friend’s house, stay at grandma’s house while you run an errand, tell them you will stay with them at baseball practice or at swim lessons, but that you can only attend if they allow you to stay at a distance etc.

Parent Training is the Key!

I want to close with the most important therapy sessions of all: Parent Training.  Sometimes when it is suspected that a child has ADHD, but not formally diagnosed, the therapist may recommend parent training, which is exactly what my son’s therapist did. It has really helped my husband and I learn specific ways of talking to our child, and playing and working with him to improve his attention and behaviors. Erase the stigma of therapy. Erase the stigma of mental health. You are your child’s biggest advocate. It truly takes a team. Do not ever worry – your child is not alone, they have you!

Do You Suspect Your Child Might Have ADHD or anxiety?

Thankfully, there are many resources in New Orleans for evaluating (and treating) children for ADHD.

The NEW, 51-bed Behavioral Health Center at Children’s Hospital New Orleans is the only psychiatric program in the Gulf Coast region exclusively dedicated to the mental healthcare needs of children and adolescents in crisis. Outpatient services are also provided to compliment inpatient care and include assessment and treatment of psychiatric and behavioral disorders such as Autism, ADHD, and mood disturbance. Our team of professionals provides evidence-based management for a range of challenges facing children, adolescents and their families. Our program focuses on teaching and empowering patients to develop healthy life skills to improve their current function and future quality of life.

Learn more at

Would you like to read more posts from this series on ADD and ADHD? Check out the links below:

Before A Diagnosis: Why I Put My Young Child in Play Therapy

Our Journey to an Unexpected ADHD Diagnosis

Anxiety Led Us to a Surprising ADHD Diagnosis

Overcoming All The Obstacles: Our Path to An ADD Diagnosis

Two Boys, One Household: The Unexpected ADHD Comparison

The Essential ADHD Question: To Medicate or Not to Medicate





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