Should I Seek Therapy for My Child?
Being a parent or caregiver can be one of life’s greatest joys. At the same time, raising children can be overwhelming. Each stage brings both enjoyable and difficult new experiences for children and parents. It is common for caregivers to second-guess themselves as they constantly adapt to new challenges. The good news is that nurturing caregivers usually manage these changes through intuition, advice from friends or family, and maybe even a parenting book or two.
Sometimes situations go beyond the expected challenges of parenting. When this happens, even the most patient and well-meaning parents can feel like they are at their wit’s end. This is when seeking professional counseling can make a world of difference for a child and family. A therapist who focuses on children and families can help children heal from distressing experiences, express their emotions, and learn techniques for overcoming challenges. This therapist can also provide parents with important information about child development, common children’s behaviors, parenting strategies, and resolving disturbing experiences.
The following are a few of the reasons that caregivers commonly seek counseling for their children:
Sadly, trauma is all too common among children. A traumatic experience might be as intense as sexual or physical abuse, but can also include the sudden loss of a loved one, a car accident, bullying, or witnessing a violent event. Children who have experienced trauma might pull away from or cling to caregivers. They might lose skills that they had previously mastered like toilet training or sleeping through the night. They may act out in anger, be tearful, or have difficulty concentrating. For these children, play therapy can be particularly helpful for working through distressing experiences and healing emotional wounds.
It is easy to get stuck in a cycle of negative interactions with a defiant child or adolescent. A child therapist, however, sees difficult behaviors as the child’s attempt to meet his needs. The child might be acting out to get attention, revenge, or power. He may even be trying to prove that he is “bad”. These behaviors can leave parents feeling annoyed, angry, hurt, or confused. Play therapy can help families become more in tune with each other’s needs. Through therapy, children learn acceptable ways to seek attention, fairness, control, and self-esteem. Meanwhile, parents learn to meet these needs through positive, nurturing interactions.
Inattention, Hyperactivity, and Impulsivity
Some children have trouble following directions and completing tasks. Others seem to be always running, jumping, or moving. Still others act or speak inappropriately without thinking. A child may show one, two, or all of these behaviors. They often lead to difficulties in school, with peers, and at home. It can be exhausting to parent a child who struggles with inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. In these situations, a therapist can help both the child and caregiver develop strategies that provide structure, channel energy, and improve communication skills.
Prolonged Sadness or Frequent Meltdowns
There are lots of reasons that children and adolescents have intense emotions. Of these, change and uncertainty are at the top of the list. Children may struggle with understanding their feelings or may not have the words to express them. Over time, all of these powerful emotions build up like a pressure cooker until seemingly small problems explode into big meltdowns. This can leave caregivers feeling confused, frustrated, and unsure. A therapist can help a child address her big emotions and calm her anxiety. Therapists also teach caregivers to recognize their child’s early signs of distress so that they can coach her through calming exercises.
Something Feels “Off”
Finally, it is important to note that each child and adolescent is unique. They may express themselves in different ways depending on their age, environment, or past experiences. This can make it difficult to figure out exactly what is wrong. Chances are if you, the caregiver, are feeling concerned about your child’s well-being, your child is likely feeling the same. A short consultation with a therapist can help ease concerns and provide insight about whether therapy is the right choice for your child.
Any of our therapists on staff are happy to talk with you about questions you may have about therapy, mental health in general or how to get started with a therapist. Gina Hebb, MA, is our child therapist and she sees children ages 3 and up. She can answer questions you may have about getting your child into therapy and how it works. You can read about her by clicking “Counselors” above, or use this link: Our Counselor Profiles.
You may also be interested in reading about Play Therapy.