Arlington schools, the only ones in the region without an elementary guidance program, should hire counselors to help pupils cope with increasingly complex lives, several parents urged last night.

Elementary counselors "would insure that a professional, trained to listen, would be available when children need to work through a family crisis," said Mary Cottrell, who has children in Nottingham Elementary and Yorktown High School.

"Times have changed -- one parent families or two-parent, two-worker families are the rule rather than the exception," she said, adding that such parents may not have enough time to notice and thoroughly discuss problems with their children.

Conchita Mitchell, president of the County Council of PTAs, said the council adopted a resolution this week supporting the elementary guidance program.

A report last spring from a task force on guidance in the schools argued that elementary pupils have problems demanding more counseling than teachers and principals can give, and recommended establishing nine guidance positions for the county's 7,389 elementary pupils.

Superintendent Arthur W. Gosling recommended a more modest plan last night to begin elementary guidance counseling with the equivalent of six new staff positions, at a cost of $159,000.

After the report of the 18-member task force was released, three of its members issued a dissent, arguing that guidance counseling would invade pupils' privacy and drain time from academic work. At the time, School Board member Margaret A. Bocek denounced the elementary guidance plan as "a jobs program" that ignored children's real needs.

Fairfax, Prince George's and Montgomery counties, as well as Alexandria and the District of Columbia, have guidance programs in the elementary schools. Arlington has had no elementary counselors since 1976.

School officials around the region said in interviews that guidance counselors serve a valuable function, doing everything from soothing playground disputes to helping a third-grader talk about a parent's death.

"It is shortsighted to think that only high school students have problems," said Brian Porter, spokesman for Prince George's schools, where 40 counselors work part time in 80 elementary schools.

James Akin, the former acting director for elementary education in Alexandria, said the growing incidence of divorce, increasing academic pressure and the high number of families in which both parents work create stress on students.

In Alexandria, nine counselors serve 5,477 elementary pupils. In the District, 111 guidance counselors served 48,291 elementary pupilslast year. In Fairfax, 52 counseling resource teachers -- persons with classroom teaching experience and training in guidance, mental health or social work -- help the county's 59,163 elementary pupils. Montgomery County has 57 elementary guidance counselors, some working full time and others part time, for 44,868 pupils.

The Arlington board voted to defer consideration of the elementary guidance program until Sept. 26.