Parents seek therapy for their children for so many reasons – maybe your child is struggling with processing big feelings, or they’re having trouble with a big life change. You know that talking with a neutral third party like a therapist could be helpful for them, but how do you know what you’re getting your kid into? And what are the most common child therapy techniques used today?
Therapy for children (or child therapy) involves many of the same techniques as adult therapy (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Family Therapy, etc.) but with a heavier focus on developing healthy emotional and social skills.
But that short explanation doesn’t cover all the nuances of therapy for kids. Below, I’ll cover how to know when to seek therapy for your child, how you should discuss therapy with your kid, what questions you should ask your child’s therapist, and what common therapeutic techniques are used in child therapy.
What exactly is child therapy? How does it differ from adult therapy?
When should I seek therapy for my child?
“Whether kids have traumatic issues or are struggling with the brave and simple act of being human, qualified professionals can help kids deal with really hard subjects.” – Courtney E. Ackerman, M.A., Positive Psychology.
Is your child having trouble sleeping through the night, or having frequent nightmares? Or has their teacher expressed concerns about their performance in class? Does your child often talk about feeling worried in situations where worrying doesn’t seem appropriate?
When your kid is struggling and you don’t know how to help, it can be overwhelming. As a parent, it can be uniquely frustrating to fight something you can’t see that your child has trouble talking about. If you’re on the fence about enrolling your child in therapy, think about how severe the issue is. If it’s impacting your child’s routines and is disruptive to everyday life, it’s time to reach out for help.
If you’re asking the question, “Is it time to seek therapy for my kid?” the answer is yes. Having a therapist who is experienced in child therapy techniques there to support and nurture your child’s emotional growth does wonders for their development, whether the issues they’re facing seem large or small to you. The self-confidence and security your child will develop is worth it.
How should I discuss therapy with my kid?
If your kid is struggling socially or emotionally, they might feel like they’re doing something wrong. Throwing them into therapy without really addressing why might exacerbate that feeling, making them feel even more alone in their issues. The way you introduce your child to the concept of therapy sets the tone for the relationship between them and their therapist.
Before you enroll them in therapy, sit down with your child and talk to them about what’s been going on. Listen actively and remain open and authentic with them. Remind your child that no matter what they feel, they are not alone.
Your child might be worried about their privacy, so let them know that confidentiality between therapist and client is key to the relationship, but that you’ll be told if there are any dangers to them that you should know about. Let your kid know that you see they’ve been hurting, that their feelings are valid, and that their therapist is there to support them, just like you are.
What questions should I ask my child’s therapist?
You probably have a thousand (or more!) questions about therapy for your child – what will it be like? What are you allowed to know? How can you tell if it’s working? Rest easy knowing that both you and your child’s therapist want the best for your child…but if you have any lingering questions or worries, you can simply ask. Some common questions we hear are:
- What kind of therapy is recommended?
- Will we all need to come in as a family for any sessions?
- How often will my child need to see their therapist?
- How long do you think my child will need to be in therapy?
- What kind of updates can I expect on my child’s progress, and how often will I get those updates?
- What results can I expect to see in my child, and how soon can I expect to see them?
Managing expectations and communicating clearly will make therapy much easier on your child and your family. Asking questions like these will show your child’s therapist that you are engaged in this process on your kid’s behalf, and that you are invested in their growth and development.
Common Techniques Used in Child Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Popular for children and adults alike, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy focuses on your child’s thoughts and how those thoughts affect their feelings, which in turn affects their behavior. Your child’s therapist will use cognitive behavioral therapy to help them challenge negative thoughts and reframe them more positively. Over time this will build your kiddo’s resilience and give them positive coping strategies for a number of situations.
Art and music therapy allow your child to harness the healing power of creative expression. Kids who struggle with expressing their feelings can learn how to do so via creating art or playing/listening to music. As your child increases their emotional awareness and vocabulary through this mode of therapy, their confidence will likely increase and your family will have peace of mind knowing your kid can tell you what’s going on with them.
Group therapy provides a space for your child to connect with other children experiencing issues similar to their own. It can help them see that they are not alone, and it gives kids room to develop supportive relationships and practice social skills. Validating one another’s feelings and helping each other work through issues helps children build their repertoire of coping skills quickly.
Play therapists operate under the assumption that kids naturally gravitate towards growth. They work to create a safe space for children to explore, discover, and process emotions through play. This mode of therapy generally works best for younger children, and is typically led by the child, unlike the other modes on this list.
Family therapy is a scaled down version of group therapy that views your child’s struggles through the lens of the larger family unit. Mental health issues often don’t exist in a vacuum, and any family member’s behavior could unwillingly be contributing to the issues your child is facing. Family therapy intends to restore a sense of function and wholeness to a family unit which may have become dysfunctional or lacking.
Biofeedback is used for adults and children. Biofeedback is a little machine that when held in the child’s hand, can identify their pulse, heart rate, temperature, breathing, and more. There is a little machine that shows graphs of each of these things. This is a great tool to show kids what happens in their body when they’re anxious. Therapists will often challenge kids to move from the ‘red’ zone (high heart rate) to a ‘blue’ zone (lower heart rate) therefore teaching your child how to self soothe.
In therapy, your child can learn how to identify and communicate their emotions and needs – which has huge implications for their relationship with you, with their friends, your extended family, and everyone else in their lives. Through art therapy, play therapy, talk therapy, and more, your child will learn healthy ways to express themselves, cope with stress, and interact with others.
The therapy process will ensure that whatever your child is navigating, they will be well-equipped to handle it and continue their emotional development. With support from both you as a parent and your child’s therapist, they can grow into a more empowered and resilient version of themselves.
Seeking therapy for your child means that they don’t have to struggle with mental health, and you can know that they’re getting the best guidance possible. If you’re ready to help your child take that first step, my team and I are here to guide and support your family.