Kids and Therapy: What Do You Need to Know?

This week on the blog, Social Worker/Psychotherapist Tobi Baker gives some insight into children and therapy.

______________________________________________________________________

It can be so difficult when our children are struggling with their feelings and behaviour. Knowing what to do about it can feel like a hurdle in itself. What can you expect them to get out of therapy? How do you know when it’s time to reach out for help for one/both/all of you? Should you get help for yourself as a parent, or would your child benefit from therapy? Let’s break it down so you can figure out how best to proceed.

Like adults, there are many reasons why children receive therapy. It could be struggles with anxiety, depression, emotion regulation, change or transition, experiencing a loss or traumatic event and more. Therapy can be helpful in teaching children about their feelings and how to better recognize and manage them. It can also provide a space for children to process difficult events or help strengthen family relationships. Benefits of therapy may include fewer meltdowns, increased ability to regulate emotions, improved self-esteem, fewer worries, and more motivation. Therapy can also help you as a parent feel more confident in responding to your children’s emotions and behaviours which can help reduce conflict and escalation, increase opportunities for positive connection, and improve the parent-child relationship.

Ultimately, there is no benchmark around how big (or little) a struggle needs to be before you seek help around it. If you are finding it to be a struggle, it’s a struggle worthy of support. If you feel like it’s a struggle that you can manage, then manage the heck out of it.

If you do decide it’s time to seek help, how do you know what type of therapy to look for? Here are some of the options.

Individual Therapy. This is therapy focused on a struggle being experienced by your child (ie not a family or relationship struggle). Although the goal may be individual, it is helpful for parents to be involved in the treatment. Therapists are around for a season, but as parents, you will be there long-term and can help generalize skills learned in therapy and support your children to manage and express their feelings long-term.

What does individual therapy for kids look like? Honestly, it’s not terribly different from therapy with adults. The main difference is that the strategies used to engage kids in therapy are geared at their developmental level. This might include art, toys, story telling, movement, and games. If I’m in the room with a five year old and their parent, you’ll probably find me sitting on the ground, toy in hand.

[Side note about individual Play Therapy. Play Therapy is a specific model of therapy that uses play to help children express and process their feelings and life experiences. You will likely find aspects of play in most therapy for children, however, not all individual therapy for children is Play Therapy.]

Family Therapy. This type of therapy is focused more on relationships and communication between family members. Not every member of the family needs to necessarily attend, but the goal will be more focused on family or relationship goals.

[Family Play Therapy also exists and typically uses play to identify and address communication and relationship struggles.]

Parent Therapy. This isn’t necessarily an official term, but describes a really important branch of therapy geared at helping children and families. Being a parent is HARD and when your kids are struggling with their feelings and behaviour, it can feel like too much. Parent therapy is meant to provide a place for parents to receive their own emotional support while they work on these challenges. It may include support around identifying and implementing parenting strategies geared at addressing emotion regulation, behavioural struggles, and parent and family communication.

If you aren’t sure what type of support would most be helpful, reach out to a child and family therapist (or several), and ask for a free consultation to help you decide what approach might be helpful and if they are the right fit for your family. Therapy doesn’t need to be rigid, and if a combination of the above seems like it would be helpful, then find someone who can do this work with you.

What will we get out of therapy for my child?

Like adults, there are many reasons why children receive therapy. It could be struggles with anxiety, depression, emotional regulation, change or transition, experiencing a loss or traumatic event etc. Therapy can be helpful in teaching children about their feelings and how to better recognize and manage them. It can also provide a space for children to process difficult events or help strengthen family relationships. Benefits of therapy may include fewer meltdowns, increased ability to regulate emotions, improved self-esteem, fewer worries, more motivation, etc. Therapy can also help you as a parent feel more confident in responding to your children’s emotions and behaviours which can help reduce conflict and escalation, increase opportunities for positive connection, and improve the parent-child relationship.

~

Working with children is both a challenge and a pleasure. I love the process of engaging children and youth in conversation and seeing them transition from hesitance and suspicion, to a stance of trust of openness. Children have such incredible ways of expressing their struggles and emotions and can let the adults in their life know what is going on through, art, stories, body language, and even just saying it directly (sometimes too directly!). Figuring out how best to support our kids is never an easy task. Trust yourself and your instincts, and don’t be afraid to reach out with questions for help.