kids and psychotherapy

Psychotherapy for children

Psychotherapy for children

Whether you are a single parent, divorced, widowed, a stepparent or married, you may find yourself at times watching your child in emotional turmoil. At this point, you may be wondering what can you do to help your child. There is only so much that you know. You may want to have all the answers but reality points out…you don’t have all the answers.

Fortunately, a variety of people has sought training in child psychotherapy. They hold the toolbox with the tools you are needing to help your child. They are the ones who can help you and your child endure the storms of life into calmer waters.

Psychotherapy for children: Psychotherapy in a nutshell

Psychotherapy is the use of various methods and techniques to assist children of all ages in navigating their emotions and behaviours. Sessions may include a variety of therapeutic styles such as behaviour therapy, play therapy or cognitive-behavioural therapy. They often involve the use of play, building, drawing, communication or imaginative play.

The goal of psychotherapy is to help your child understand their situation and emotions when they (your child) does not have the vocabulary or know-how to express their internal state. The length of sessions may vary in duration, however, within a few sessions, you should begin to see results.

Psychotherapy for children: General causes for child psychotherapy

As children grow and mature, their behaviour is often age-appropriate. They are figuring out who they are, what they like, their view of the world and where they belong in it. Psychologist, Erik Erikson developed a theory of human development from birth to adulthood. In his theory, Erikson lists eight stages in which life occurs. Each of these stages presents a “crisis” that must be resolved.

For example, during infancy, babies need a large amount of attention and nurture from their parents. The parents’ attentiveness to this need or lack thereof can either help the child develop trust or mistrust.

Mostly, children go through each developmental stage as a normal part of growing up. However, situations can arise that trigger a need for a child to see a psychotherapist. These situations or events may include:

  • Natural disaster
  • Moving to a new home or school
  • Bullied either emotionally, physically, or both
  • Too much responsibility (beyond age-appropriate)
  • Domestic violence
  • Abuse
  • Poverty or homelessness
  • Death of a loved one including pets
  • Parental separation or divorce
  • Arrival of a new sibling

Of course, gender, age, and resilience do play a role in how your child copes with any of the above situations. When children struggle to adjust or cope, they may need professional help.

Psychotherapy for children: Signs that your child needs therapy

When your child begins to act out or behave in a way that is unusual, your parent radar goes onto high alert. Your instincts are telling you something is wrong. Your child may be overly clingy when they usually are independent. Your child may be crying excessively or seem depressed. Or, your child is seeming obsessed with their looks and diet causing changes in their usually eating behaviours (maybe even their sleeping behaviours).

These are signs that your child may need therapy. Other signs include,

  • Fidgeting
  • Regular nightmares
  • Loss of interest in activities usually enjoyed
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Signs of abuse
  • Traumatic events
  • Anger or aggressive behaviour
  • Social isolation
  • Bullying or being bullied
  • Indecisiveness and inability to think clearly
  • Persistent fearfulness, anxiety or worry
  • A sudden unexplainable drop in academic performance
  • Bedwetting after being successfully potty-trained

Depending on your child and their emotional health, the signs your child needs to see a therapist may vary. Generally, these serve as strong indicators that your child needs help.

Psychotherapy for children: When do I take my child to a therapist?

Based on the presumption that your child is behaving out of the ordinary, you can do a few checks to confirm your suspicions that therapy is needed to help your child:

1 Before taking your child to a therapist, talk to their school teacher to learn more about their behaviour at school and among their peers. Find out if their teacher is concerned and in what areas. Do these concerns confirm your concerns?

2 Take your child to your local doctor for an assessment of their physical ailments or behaviours. This will rule out any physical illness or problems that may have crept to the surface. A doctor’s opinion can also help confirm if your child should see a therapist.

When do you take your child to see a therapist? The answer to this question depends on what your child is struggling with. According to the Child Mind Institute, therapy should be done early when a child is showing early signs of autism, your child has an eating disorder, or if mental illness is in the family.

The Child Mind Institute continues to say that in the event of divorce, school changes or a new baby, therapy can wait for a period of time. Usually children adjust to these changes. Be aware that a lot of psychiatric disorders require uncharacteristic behaviour to be evident for a period of time.

When it comes to emotional issues, behavioural issues, or issues with learning and development, you may need to assess your child’s age and your own personal view of what behaviour is considered “uncharacteristic or wrong”. This is where your parental instincts come into play.

Don’t deny that there is a problem. Instead, keep a watchful eye on your child and their behaviour while you glean additional information which will assist you in making that decision to take your child to therapy.

Once you have spoken to your child’s teacher and doctor/paediatrician with not much help from them other than confirming your child’s out of character behaviour, it may be time to see a therapist.



American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

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

Everyday Health

Good Therapy.Org. 2015. Trust Issues.

GoodTherapy.Org. 2015. Erik Erikson.

GoodTherapy.Org. 2015. Child and Adolescent Issues.

Silver, Erin. 2016. Does your kid need a therapist? Today’s Parent.

Child Mind Institute, Understood Founding Partner. When Is It Time to Get My Child Counselling? Understood: For learning and attention issues.