Child therapy looks very different than adult therapy. It is often difficult for parents to understand the process of therapy for children. Your child wants you to know what therapy is like for them so you can support them, encourage them, and help them get the most out of their counseling experience.
First, they want you to know that their therapist really cares about them.
An important part of change and growth is the therapeutic relationship. Your child’s therapist will work hard to form a positive and affirming bond with your child. They will advocate for your child and have your child’s best interest at heart.
I can’t tell you the number of children I have seen through the years, come and go, start off destructive and broken and end therapy feeling much better and secure. These children leave an impression on my heart! I may not always remember their names, but I always remember their faces. Their sweet faces crying in pain, twisted with anxiety, and then finding relief, hope, and support.
The relationship is a real and important part of their therapy.
You brought them to therapy because something was wrong. The usual reasons are you and your spouse got a divorce and you’re worried about how your child will cope with the changes, your child seems anxious and worries all the time, your child can’t focus and is failing school, you found out your child is cutting, your child lost a loved one, and the most common reason children are brought to therapy is … bad behavior.
We will always address each issue in unique ways depending on your child’s needs, but your child wants you to know that bad behavior isn’t always because your child wants to misbehave or even because they want their own way.
Sometimes children’s bad behavior is a response to being depressed or dealing with chronic anxiety. Children don’t have the vocabulary or fully developed brain to communicate exactly how they are feeling or what they are thinking. When they become upset, it is sometimes a “caveman” response.
They scream, cry, hit, and throw things, bite, and claw their way through their emotions.
They are trying to tell you something. Sometimes bad behavior is bad behavior, but sometimes it is a cry for help. Please use discernment and your knowledge of your child to identify if they are struggling in life. We can work together to figure out why and how to help them.
I usually set my therapy up so I have a few minutes at the end to meet with the parents and the child after I’ve spent the majority of the time with the kiddo.
What a parent sees when they walk in my office is usually a mess of games on my coffee table, a therapy ball on the floor, rubber bands spread all over from creating reminder bracelets for coping strategies, and often the remnants of glitter, glue, popsicle sticks, and pipe cleaners from some sort of craft.
Your child wants you to know they are doing much more than “just playing.” Play is a form of processing for children. Their therapist is modeling social skills, self-expression of feelings and thoughts, coping with life strategies, and conflict resolution through games, art, music, and crafts.
It may look like “just playing,” but it is so much more. Please respect their process. You learn by talking through things. They learn by playing through things.
When children start therapy, I usually recommend six sessions to start to work on their concerns.
This is just a starting point and gives me a milestone to check in with parents to see if they feel like their child is making progress, to hear about new concerns, and talk through feedback. Often, parents are surprised their child may need more therapy or may even be surprised that they aren’t “better” by the sixth session.
Your child wants you to know that change takes time.
When adults start therapy, they often realize that they aren’t going to feel better after one session. Children also need time to heal, grow, learn, and change.
Finally, your child wants you to know that they need you to reinforce what they are learning in therapy, at home.
They are usually only in therapy two to four hours per month as compared to the 140 hours they are in school in that time frame.
I often see parents get frustrated and say that their child isn’t using their coping strategies we’ve talked about. Their therapist will reinforce these in the office, but the most powerful thing you can do to help your child’s therapy progress is to reinforce what your child is learning every day at home.
One strategy every child learns when they see me in therapy is the “I-message.” We work on them saying, “I feel ‘x’ when ‘x’ because ‘x’ and I need ‘x.’”
The purpose of this exercise it to encourage children to first recognize what they are feeling and then be able to assertively and respectfully express what they are feeling. If this isn’t something practiced at home as well, they won’t remember it long term, and won’t be helpful for them.
So your child wants you to know …
Their therapist cares about them.
Their bad behavior is sometimes a cry for help.
They’re not “just playing” but working very hard.
Change takes time, but they will change and grow.
And finally that you are an important part of their improvement and resolution of your original concerns.
Thank you for being amazing parents and for having the wisdom to bring your child to therapy in the first place.
I know this was a hard step to take.
Every parent, me included, wants to believe we are enough for our child. We want to think from the day we bring them in this world or bring them home, that we can supply everything they need physically, mentally, and emotionally. In the end, we all learn that it really does take a community working together to raise our amazing children.
Thank you for trusting me to be a part of your child’s journey.
Jessica Nemecz has been volunteering and working with children, adults, marriages, and families since 1998. She provides cognitive behavioral and dialectical behavioral therapy and utilizes a holistic approach to work towards a healthy balanced life and complete recovery. Contact Jessica today at email@example.com