As a parent, you want to give your child everything they need to be happy and healthy. But when they start falling behind at school or struggling at home for reasons you can’t understand, it can become frightening quickly.
The choice to bring your child to a therapist is daunting and one that comes with many questions.
Does my child need therapy? How do I find a therapist? What if my child doesn’t respond well?
Know that while the decision may be difficult, it’s never wrong to want the best for your child. If you’ve been wondering about whether your child would benefit from therapy and how to start the process, we’re here for you.
Signs Your Child May Be Struggling
Childhood comes with its own challenges, and like adults, children go through periods of ups and downs. During times of stress or difficult emotions, kids may not always understand their feelings or how to deal with them. They may also have difficulty expressing them to you, especially if they’re younger.
If you feel that your child would benefit from professional guidance, it may be time to think about bringing them to a counselor. Some parents are resistant to counseling because of being identified as a ‘bad parent’ or because it means admitting they need extra help. Just remember that there is never anything wrong with seeking out counseling at any age, and pursuing counseling may be an important part of helping your child feel better.
While many kids may grow out of certain behaviors, like tantrums or frequent lying, others may require professional help.
You know your child better than anyone, so if they’re showing signs of struggling, you may have already noticed. If you haven’t yet or aren’t sure what to look for, here are some common indications that your child needs more help than they’re getting.
- Problems making or maintaining friendships
- Severe and extremely long tantrums, or tantrums past toddler-hood
- Dropping academic performance or discipline problems at school
- Difficulty paying attention or focusing
- Talks about or engages in self-harm
- Expresses feelings of panic, depression, or hopelessness
- Becomes distant from friends and family
- Unusual personality changes
Always seek immediate assistance if your child expresses desires to harm themselves or others.
Common Reasons Parents Seek Child Counseling
Being a kid isn’t always as easy as it looks, and being a parent certainly isn’t either. During the course of everyday life, both you and your child will experience challenges like moving across the country, a significant death, or powerful emotions like anxiety and fear.
It’s important to remember that some road bumps are normal and that children may grow out of certain behaviors. For example, it’s not uncommon for children to seek attention, either good or bad when a new baby is brought home. It’s also normal for children to experience tantrums like toddlers, as their brains are still learning to regulate and process their emotions.
In many cases, kids will indeed grow out of it. But if your child’s emotional or behavioral struggles have become unmanageable, it may be time to seek out counseling. Typically, parents pursue therapy for their child because of emotional or behavioral problems.
Every kid will deal with stress or sadness, but prolonged bouts can be an indication a child needs more help than they’re getting. If your child’s emotions have begun to interfere with their ability to function, it’s time for help. Some common emotional issues are:
- Pressure to perform
- Feelings of inadequacy
When a child is unsure of how to deal with a certain emotion or communicate what they feel, they may act out in ways they haven’t before. Often, kids dealing with behavioral problems are looking for attention or understanding from their parents. Common behavioral problems are:
- Habitual lying
- Aggression or bullying
- Inability to pay attention or focus
- Defiance to a severe degree
Types of Child Counseling
The type of therapy you decide to pursue for your child will depend on their age and challenges. You’ll also want to consider your child’s personality and what you think they will respond positively to. It’s not possible to predict how any child will feel about counseling, but considering the context of the issues can help you find the right fit.
Here, we’ve highlighted some of the most common types of child counseling practiced today.
If you would like to be involved in your child’s counseling experience, you may want to consider family therapy. In these sessions, counselors can help both parents and children express themselves in healthy and open ways.
Just remember that not every child will comfortable discussing their feelings with family in the room, so be sure to ask them what they think about family therapy. You’ll also want to consider the advice of your chosen counselor.
During play therapy sessions, children are encouraged to express their emotions or discuss their experiences in the form of activities they enjoy. This can be anything from coloring to playing with dolls and is particularly helpful for younger children.
Younger children have a more difficult time expressing themselves verbally than older ones, so play therapy provides them a different form of communication.
Older children or teenagers may benefit greatly from talk therapy with a counselor they feel comfortable with. During these sessions, children can express feelings they don’t feel comfortable sharing at home and receive help processing their emotions.
Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive-behavioral therapy aims to replace feelings of shame, anxiety, and sadness with positive reinforcements. During these sessions, children learn to identify how negative thoughts and behaviors impact them, and how to replace them with positive reactions.
Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)
If your child struggles with extreme anxiety or a phobia, they may benefit from ERP. This form of therapy works to introduce children slowly to what they fear, helping them combat problems like intense anxiety around social situations.
ERP is also commonly used to help children struggling with OCD, as it helps ease the fears that drive compulsion.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
Children experience intense emotions just as adults do, but they often lack the understanding to deal with them in a healthy way. DBT teaches kids important skills like mindfulness that can help them handle their emotions when they become overwhelming or confusing.
What if My Child Is Resistant to Therapy?
It might be frustrating when your child resists counseling, but remember that it may take time to find the right therapist and type of therapy for them. Parents are often surprised at how open their children are to going to counseling when they feel comfortable, so don’t be afraid to broach the topic with them.
When you do, they may indicate to you what they feel like they need help with or the type of person they’d like to talk to.
For many kids, resistance to therapy comes from a fear of expressing themselves or talking with strangers. You can help by providing them support and talking with them about the benefits of therapy. Keep in mind that your child may need a little time to build a relationship with their counselor before opening up.
Always remember to stay open and communicative with your child during this process. Be sure to listen to any feedback they have about their counseling and make sure they feel heard.
Should I Seek a Counselor or a Psychiatrist?
While many children find great benefits from counseling, some require a little more help. If your child is dealing with a suspected mental illness or disorder, you’ll want to consider taking them to a licensed psychiatrist. You’ll also want to consult a psychiatrist if:
- Counseling has not been effective, or your counselor recommends you seek out a psychiatrist
- Your child’s emotions or behaviors are worsening
- Your child is engaging in self-harm, or a has suspected eating disorder
- You would like to talk about the possibility and impacts of medication
In some cases, your child may benefit from seeing both a counselor and a psychiatrist, as they each provide their own advantages.
Advice for Parents
While counseling can be very helpful, there are some important things you’ll want to keep in mind during the process.
You Don’t Need to Be Embarrassed
There is absolutely nothing wrong with pursuing counseling, and you should never feel guilty for taking part in it. Allowing shame or embarrassment rule may keep your child from something immensely beneficial to them.
You May Need to Change
As hard as it may be to admit, your emotions or actions may impact your child in a negative way. During the course of counseling, your child could express things at home they’d like to change. Remember to keep an open mind and work to give your child all the support they need.
Be Open and Honest With Your Child
Most children are open to therapy, especially when it’s explained the right way. Unless your child is dealing with the fallout of severe trauma, there’s a good chance they’re willing to see someone and speak to them about their troubles.
Being honest with your child and explaining where they’re going and why it will help is often easier than you think, so always aim to open with them. Trust is an important part of the counseling process for everyone involved.
Medication Shouldn’t Be Your Goal
Unless your child’s mental state is causing them to harm themselves or others, medication shouldn’t be why you pursue therapy. While some children may require medication to be happy and healthy, it’s not wise to force it on a child who doesn’t require it.
If you can, the best choice is to teach your child how to deal with their emotions in a healthy way.
Give It Time
While you may find the right therapist immediately, you may not. It also may just take time for your child to feel comfortable enough with their counselor to truly open up, so expecting results in one or two sessions is usually unwise.
As long as you are communicating to your child and their therapist about their progress, it’s okay if things take a little time.
Check-in With Teachers
While nobody can replace you, teachers are an important aspect of monitoring your child’s state. Because they spend so much time with your child, teachers are a good resource for knowing how they’re progressing. By staying in communication with them, you can learn more about how your child is handling social interactions and work at school.
Giving Your Child the Support They Need
It can be difficult to admit that your child may need outside help or that they may be enduring a period of great stress and difficulty. For many children and their parents, therapy is an effective tool for processing events and dealing with the challenges of childhood.
As the stigma of seeking out therapy continues to fall away, more and more parents and their children are receiving the benefits of counseling. By taking your child to a therapist they feel safe with, you provide help them build a strong emotional foundation for adulthood. You also help them deal with the hardships they’re facing during everyday life.
As wonderful as childhood is, it can also be a world of strong emotions and vulnerability. Because of this, therapy is a healthy and welcome part of many parent’s care for their kids. Have more questions about child counseling? Reach out today to speak with one of our experienced mental health professionals.