Nothing much surprises us about the seemingly endless Denise Richards/Charlie Sheen saga (except that we’re still paying attention to it).

But this tidbit – recently revealed to In Touch Weekly by Richards – gave us pause.

“My kids are in therapy,” the actress told the magazine. “It’s very sad that they need to be there, but they do for now.”

Therapy? Her kids are 3 and 4. Then again, their dad is Charlie Sheen. Like her reality show, it’s complicated.

But is therapy helpful for children as young as hers? We asked Aaron Cooper, Chicago-based clinical psychologist and co-author of the fascinating book, “I Just Want My Kids to Be Happy: Why You Shouldn’t Say It, Why You Shouldn’t Think It, What You Should Embrace Instead” (Late August Press, $15.95).

One-on-one sessions between a therapist and a child under 5 are “extremely uncommon,” Cooper says. But some circumstances do call for professional intervention. For example: “The parents might suspect there has been a horrible sexual molestation of their 3-year-old by a baby-sitter,” Cooper says. “And sometimes a skilled therapist can find signs in the child’s play of what might have or didn’t happen. Children play out, in their play, the themes that are in their mind.”

However, Cooper says, new research suggests that parents shouldn’t rush to enroll their kids in therapy after a traumatic event.

“Some people just handle trauma successfully naturally and don’t need any professional help,” he says. “We’ve become a society who thinks we need to rush in with trauma counselors, but research is showing that mental health workers can actually hurt some children.”

Some kids have their own mechanisms to handle trauma, and can actually move on from an incident more successfully without talking it through with a professional, he says. But how do you know what’s best for your kid?

“Pause. Give it a little time,” Cooper says. “Look for signs of changes in your child’s ordinary behaviors. Is his sleep still disturbed three weeks after the event? Is there a visible change in her moods, her appetite? There will not be signs in every child, and we don’t want to overprescribe professional care before there’s evidence of need.”

If you’re wondering more generally if your child is a candidate for therapy, Cooper recommends the following steps:

1. Ask yourself if your child has a legitimate reason to be blue. Did a pet die recently? Did a favorite playmate move away? Has a parent been away on business for an extended period? Was a new sibling added to the mix? “Sadness, being a natural thing in life, can be mistaken for depression,” Cooper says.

2. Ask others what they observe about your child’s recent behavior: teachers, relatives, parents of your child’s friends.

3. Read about the symptoms of depression. In children, it can be a change in energy level (up or down), a change in appetite (up or down) and disturbed sleep.

If you decide therapy is in order, talk to a professional before you self-diagnose your child.

“Don’t suggest to your child that maybe he’s depressed,” Cooper says. “Parents can be wrong, and the child doesn’t need that worry. Kids are watching TV, they see the commercials. They see depression is a medical condition and requires doctors and medicine.”

Above all, Cooper says, don’t get fixated on having a constantly happy child.

“There’s an expectation among countless parents that their children should be really, really happy and smiling all the time,” he says. “We’re not all bouncy. Let’s not decide something’s wrong if he or she isn’t smiling all the time.”

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