A Guide to Child Therapy
It’s hard enough for us adults to understand, sort through, and communicate our feelings. Now, imagine what it must be like for a child or teenager. Or, maybe you can time travel and plop yourself right back into your childhood shoes.
Did you experience anxiety as you moved from one grade to the next? Were you bullied? Did your parents go through a tough divorce? Were you a victim of trauma? We all had our fair share of difficulties growing up — but many of us didn’t receive the help that a child or adolescent therapist can provide.
Fortunately, therapy is more accepted and widely used than ever before. This goes for adults and kids alike. If you think that your child could benefit from talking to a mental health professional because they are struggling mentally and emotionally in one way or another, don’t hesitate to schedule a child therapy appointment. But first, you might want to know a little bit more about what child therapy is and how it can help.
What Is Child Therapy?
Child therapy, also known as counseling for kids, helps these young individuals understand and manage challenges that affect their mental health. These challenges include mental illness, behavioral issues, traumatic events, and bullying.
Child counselors and child psychologists are well-equipped to work with kids and teens, as they’ve gone through the proper training and acquired the necessary experience to understand how their young minds work. And, more importantly, how to best help them. These professionals break down the given problem in a way that’s easier to understand, discuss, and address.
At What Age Should a Child See a Therapist?
There is not an age limit for which children can and can’t receive counseling. All are welcome, from toddlers in preschool to teenagers in high school (which is why it is sometimes referred to as child and adolescent therapy).
That said, the reason a child or teen might work with a therapist and the therapist’s therapy methods do vary for different age groups. Here’s a simple breakdown:
- Toddlers (1-3 years): Address concerns like developmental delays or disruptive behaviors, with parent participation and play therapy techniques.
- Kids (3-13 years): Address concerns like learning disorders and anxiety, using hands-on activities as well as verbal communication.
- Teens (13-18 years): Address bullying, depression, social pressures, stress, and more — with counselors providing coping tools as well as unbiased guidance and support.
How Can Child Therapy Help?
Therapy can help kids in many different ways, just like adults. The above section provides a brief snapshot of how it might help different age groups. But from a broader sense, child therapy can help with both problems that are traditionally seen as more severe like mental illness as well as those that aren’t considered quite as serious, such as difficult feelings around moving to a new town.
The bottom line is that many children and adolescents can benefit from talking to a counselor. The following are common issues addressed in child therapy:
- Mental illness, such as depression or anxiety
- The death of a loved one and other difficult losses
- Abuse (sexual, emotional, physical, mental)
- Addiction in the family
- Parents’ divorce
- Behavioral issues
- Developmental delays
- Learning disorders
- Traumatic events
- Moving to a new town
If your child is suffering or you think they should talk to a mental health professional, it’s likely that they will benefit from therapy.
When Should a Child See a Therapist?
It isn’t always easy to tell when your child or teen might need therapy—even if they are dealing with one of the issues mentioned earlier.
Here are some signs that your child is, indeed, having a difficult time and should see (or could benefit from talking to) a therapist:
- Noticeable changes in appetite
- Significant weight loss or gain
- Difficulty sleeping
- Unwarranted aggression
- Persistent anxiety and nerves
- Failing or worsening grades
- Social isolation
- Alcohol or drug use
- Expression of suicidal thoughts
Some of the signs above are scary and might feel overwhelming, but remember: Child therapists and psychologists are equipped with the skills, training, and experience to help these young individuals. And they will tailor treatment to the child’s specific needs.
How Does Child Therapy Work?
At its core, child therapy works by targeting the individual’s problem and helping them to better manage or resolve it. Now, there are many different approaches to child therapy, including play therapy, emotionally-focused therapy, art therapy, narrative therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and dialectical behavioral therapy, to name a few. Different therapists specialize in different modalities; however, they will take your child’s age and needs into consideration and then deploy the best methods.
To give you a better idea of what child therapy might look like, here are a few examples of how a therapist might tackle some of the common issues mentioned earlier:
1) Dealing with Divorce
Divorce doesn’t simply affect the couple that is separating—it often affects all of those close to them, especially their children. Children of divorce can experience a broad range of emotions, but often they feel unloved, confused, guilty, depressed, or simply distraught about their parents’ split. And these feelings can worsen as time goes on, custody battles worsen, and tensions rise.
A counselor can help them manage all of their thoughts and feelings. They might use play therapy and other techniques to help them communicate these emotions. They can also teach children that it’s okay to feel however they’re feeling, whilst showing them how to better manage those feelings.
Effective techniques include journaling, crafting, deep-breathing, and simply opening up about their emotions.
2) Managing Change
It’s easy to forget how impactful change can be on children, but the truth of the matter is that they’re sensitive to significant changes like big moves or school changes. Kids often experience major stress and anxiety due to these changes, which can stick around for an extended period of time, unless properly addressed.
Child therapy teaches them how to cope with change by shifting their focus from the negatives to the positives. Techniques like positive self-talk are learned and the children begin to feel more comfortable with the idea of change being a normal part of life.
3) Building Self-Confidence
More often than not, children suffer from low self-esteem, which can lead to bigger issues down the road like depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Counseling helps them to see their value and also teaches them how to develop more positive thought patterns.
For example, a teen’s feelings of worthlessness may lead him to believe that he doesn’t deserve the love of his friends and family; a therapist will help him recognize this negative self-talk and turn it into positive self-talk and thoughts.
4) Understanding Mental Illness
Mental illnesses and all of the harmful symptoms that come with them are difficult for anyone to comprehend. But children have a particularly tough time accepting and understanding the diagnosis of a mental illness.
Child therapy gives them the opportunity to ask questions and learn about their disorder, whether it be obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, anxiety, or any other given illness. Counselors help them understand their diagnosis and also cope with the harmful effects that come with it.
5) Coping with Trauma
When children experience a traumatic event, be it abuse or a natural disaster, they often emerge fearful, confused, and upset. And they may even go on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder, which comes with distressing memories, thoughts, nightmares, and flashbacks.
Child counseling helps these kids talk about what they experienced. They learn that it’s okay, helpful even, to talk about the traumatic experience, and they also adopt coping mechanisms. Family therapy might also be beneficial here if family members are involved in the trauma.
If you are worried about your child’s behavior, a child therapist can help. Consider scheduling a therapy appointment for your child where they can open up in a safe space. Have you ever heard of online therapy for kids? If you’re worried about finding the right time to take your child to therapy, online counseling for kids is a great option. There are counselors who can offer online child therapy. This can prove to be the most convenient, comfortable option for many people, including kids. Child therapy online is an effective solution for your child’s challenges.