Kids and therapy

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An Introduction to Psychotherapy for Children

While childhood is often regarded as a time of carefree play and enjoyment, children are often susceptible to emotional health issues and mood disorders found in adults. Helping your child find their voice and understanding their emotions is one of the most empowering gifts a parent can give to their child.

Whether your child needs help with school stress, peer pressure, bullying or text anxiety; or, your family has been going through a family death, move illness, or other large life issues, psychotherapy can help your child through these turbulent times.

What is psychotherapy?

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) defines psychotherapy as a variety of methods and techniques used to help children and adolescents navigate their difficulties with emotions or behaviour. This usually involves playing, building, imaginative play, drawing and communication as a means of resolving problems and expressing emotions. During psychotherapy sessions may involve individual sessions, group sessions, family sessions and so on.

Often negative behaviour can stem from emotional needs that are not being met. Children do not always have the vocabulary or know-how to express their emotions. This often results in them trying to use their behaviour to tell you that something is wrong. According to Psych Central, Psychotherapy equips children with healthy coping skills by teaching them to understand, voice and express their emotions.

What kinds of disorders does psychotherapy treat?

Psychotherapy addresses a variety of disorders including emotional disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders, depression, anxiety, paranoia, disruptive behavioural disorders, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), eating disorders, sexual abuse or other abuse, and other developmental problems,

What are the signs that your child needs therapy?

The following are a list of signs that may indicate that your child would benefit from therapy:

  • Clinginess
  • Bedwetting after having been successfully potty-trained
  • Anger and aggressive behaviour
  • Social isolation
  • An unexplainable and sudden drop in school grades
  • Persistent fearfulness, worry, or anxiety
  • Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or crying
  • Changes in eating or sleeping behaviours
  • Expressing thoughts of suicide
  • Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Regular nightmares
  • Unable to sit still
  • Unable to think clearly or make decisions
  • Obsessive dieting
  • Bullying or being bullied
  • Signs of abuse or other traumatic events

This list is according to Psychcentral.com and EverydayHealth.com

What types of therapies are best suited for children?

Several therapies can be used by psychotherapy. The type of therapy used will depend on the age of your child, their temperament, the therapist treating your child, and the mental health issue your child is dealing with.

In play therapy, children play with toys while their therapist watches their play. This provides the therapist access to the child’s emotional or mental health situation. Through play, the therapist will help your child learn what they are feeling and how to adequately express them. Play therapy is often used for younger children or children suffering from depression, anxiety or struggling with life issues such as divorce or death.

Another helpful style of therapy often used when helping children with mood disorders such as anxiety or depression, is cognitive-behavioural therapy. In this case the child learns how their thoughts affect their behaviour and mood. They learn how to identify negative or distorted thought patterns and deal with them in a healthier manner. In this therapy, children will also learn some helpful skills and tools that they can take with them for the remainder of their life as well as into relationships.

Behaviour therapy is another form of psychotherapy used particularly with children who have ADHD. This form of therapy focuses on modifying inappropriate behaviour. As such behaviour patterns are assessed while parents work to change the environment and provide consequences for both positive or negative behaviour. Appropriate behaviour is rewarded while inappropriate behaviour faces certain consequences agreed upon by the child’s parents and therapist.

At what age can a child benefit from therapy?

A child as young as two-years-old can benefit from therapy. Therapy for children will continue until the child reaches adolescence at which point they may require a therapist trained in adolescent or child-adolescent psychotherapy.

A general recommendation is to allow young children to go for therapy when needed rather than waiting until they are older. This allows for the child to learn healthy coping skills, emotional vocabulary, understanding and expression early on thus setting the child up for success throughout school, adolescence, and adulthood.

According to The Child Psychotherapy Trust, children under the age of twelve have been found to make larger changes than those of children twelve years and older; they are also more likely to have achieved wellness and emotional health towards the end of treatment.

The Child Psychotherapy Trust further holds that children below the age of nine with disruptive behaviour see a vast improvement when compared to older children undergoing psychotherapy for disruptive behaviour.

What are the long-term effects or benefits of psychotherapy for children?

The benefits of psychotherapy for children are often long-lasting enriching both their quality of living and their relationships. Some of these benefits include:

  • Self-awareness
  • Ability to understand their emotions
  • Ability to express emotions through language and constructive means
  • Constructive coping skills for challenges that may come their way
  • Ability to establish boundaries and respect boundaries
  • Improved self-confidence
  • Improved self-esteem
  • Empowerment in that they have power over their choices and are responsible for the consequences

A word to parents

Seeking outside help for your child and family relationships does not mean that you have let your child down. At the end of the day, life carries on often bringing curve balls in the form of peer pressure, life changes, bullying, loneliness, and other significant situations to your child.

By helping your child get the professional help that they need to live a full, happy life shows that you are a parent who values their child. As your child goes for psychotherapy know that your relationship with your child is going to come out stronger and healthier setting your family relationships up for improved communication, healthy boundaries, and more equipped to handle life’s challenges.

Resources

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

Everyday Health

PsychCentral – Signs Your Child May Benefit from Seeing a Therapist by Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

The Child Psychotherapy Trust Is child psychotherapy effective for children and younger people? A summary of the research.

 

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