Hello there! If you’ve found your way here, you’re probably looking for some support for your little one at home. Maybe there are some behavioral issues your child is showing, or maybe they seem to be just stuck in the blues and unable to play like some of their peers can.
First of all, this can be a scary and sad thing as a parent to see your kiddo not shining the way you know they can. I want to praise you just for finding your way here and taking the first steps towards finding help for your child and your family. That shows a tremendous amount of strength and will go far towards getting the help you’re looking for.
Now, how can a child counselor help and what does child therapy actually look like?
One of the most formative sessions I’ve ever had with a child ended up with me being spat on. Twice. I was seeing this six-year-old boy with divorced parents and two sisters with major behavioral issues of their own. Put simply, their home life was very chaotic. I had been working with this family for close to a year, and I was winding down my time as a clinical intern at this site.
In order to ease the transition for this family, I wanted to give them ample notice I was leaving, so I informed the boy and his mother that I would be leaving in a couple of months. Now, the boy, we’ll call him Charlie, and I had great rapport. He rarely had tantrums with me, even though they were frequent at home. This was a place of refuge from the chaos he was in all the time at home. I was sitting on the floor with him playing Uno, but he became stubborn and crossed his arms, refusing to engage anymore. He did not want to have anything to do with me in that moment. After about 10 minutes of this, he stood up, walked over to me and just spat on me.
Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly enjoy being spat on. For me, I was one part shocked and one part saddened because I knew he was going through so much internal confusion at the time. Deciding how to react, I decided the most therapeutic thing would be to simply not react. His home life was so reactive, this would be a different experience for him. So I kept calm and waited for him to say something.
He spat again.
This time, I decided that this definitely needed to be addressed, but rather than scold him for it, as he would have likely received at home, I told him how it felt for me being spat on. I could see the wheels spinning in Charlie’s head and he eventually apologized and we were able to talk about appropriate ways to respond. Ultimately, the session went really well, and the rest of our sessions until I left were positive and growing experiences.
Why do I share this story? Simply, therapy with a child counselor looks different from the therapy you’ve seen on TV or had for yourself as an adult. Sitting down and talking for an hour about how their home life is affecting their emotions and the role they play in it does not go well for most eight-year-olds.
There may be a whole host of reasons your kid might be upset, some you are likely aware of, and some might be hidden. I often talk about children in that they are sort of the emotional sponges of the family. When something is going wrong, it often manifests in a child’s behavior, even if they have been “sheltered” from knowing what’s actually going on. Especially in this scenario, you probably are feeling overwhelmed and anxious as well. That’s normal, and we can help.
Here are some things to know about what time spent with a child counselor might look like:
Time to play
First off, child therapy is going to be a fun and creative experience. While sitting down and talking through problems directly might make more sense on the surface, it is usually not going to have the desired effect. Therefore, therapy with kids is usually done through play. There is a large body of evidence that children actually learn the best while playing, especially regarding social interactions. While you or I might go to work, it is literally the job of children to play! When kids are involved in creative thought and manipulating their environment, they are strengthening neural connections in their growing brains and solidifying information about their world inside of them.
Now, in some sessions it might just be me and the child, at other times I might ask you and other members of your family to come in and participate in the play as well. Through this play, they are learning that they are attended to by the adults in their life. Sometimes it might even look like me asking you to provide directions to the play, and through this your child will learn to appropriately follow directions and learn from natural consequences when they disobey.
Another aspect to this is that a child’s attention span just does not last an hour! So we will be switching it up – perhaps a game for half, some drawing or sand tray work the other. This is a good time for children to learn compromises, such as if I pick one activity and they pick the other. No matter what we are doing, though, play is involved!
Home away from home
For many kids, therapy becomes a sort of safe haven away from a lot the stresses they are experiencing at home and at school. Perhaps at school they are experiencing bullying, or are getting lost in overcrowded classes sizes. Maybe your child has an element of ADHD or other special needs and is not getting the attention he or she needs to truly thrive. Therapy, then, often becomes part of the weekly routine your child where for one hour a week they are the star and the focus of attention.
Whatever is happening outside of here, it can be checked out for just one hour. Or, if they want, they can finally express through art and play how their bully or struggles at home are affecting them. Often kids don’t even have the language to state why they feel sad, so this is a place they can come in and just be. As child therapists, then, we help to create a safe and calm spot where they can express themselves and often learn for the first time what these complicated emotions are.
Sometimes, just simply having a place away from the stresses of life is all children need to feel better. There might not be much more that is necessary other than having a place of refuge. Being here might just give your child the break he or she needs to get back to their cheery and upbeat self.
Stable role model
Another thing a child counselor can provide is to be a stable role model. Especially in single parent homes, a child might have a reaction to men or women, depending on who the primary parent is. Having a therapist of the gender that is missing from the child’s life can be helpful and restorative for them.
Further, if there are men or women in the child’s life that are not positive influences, having a reliant person they regularly see can help them to learn that not all men or women are “that way.” However, often there are issues of safety and comfortability based on past experiences where your child might feel more comfortable with the gender they already are comfortable with, and that is okay, too.
As therapists, one thing we get to model to our kiddos is unconditional positive regard. This is their hour, and for those 60 minutes they are the star of the show. It is my job to be attentive and lift them up. Now, I know parenting is hard, and as humans we are flawed. As such, we often fall short of being our best selves and we can become reactive.
In a given week there are 168 hours, and I only get to be with your child for one. As such, it can be a lot easier for me to be consistent and positive – that’s no knock on you as a parent, but rather a great opportunity I get to have with your child! Further, you get to have a bit of a rest for yourself to recharge as well. For your kiddo, knowing they can be the recipient of unconditional positive regard (although I doubt they would use that language) can do tremendous things for their self-esteem and go a long way towards feeling better.
Support the parent, support the child
As I said, I get one hour with your child a week. You get about 167. My goal, then, is to set you and your family up so that the lessons being learned in therapy can extend back to home life. As such, I want to support you, the parent, as well. You have the greatest opportunity to help your boy or girl to feel better and I can help you get some of the tools necessary to do so.
However, this does mean that you will be involved. I’m happy to give you a break from time to time and sit with your child just the two of us, and that can be and is very therapeutic – but I’m also going to want to have you participating in some sessions. By doing so, you will become an even more active part of their growth and formation. Participating in sessions helps children to even further attach to you, setting them up for more success as the struggles of adolescence eventually come on. When it does, then, you will be seen as the safe haven and a person they can talk to.
A note I would like to add here: I won’t necessarily be able to “fix” your child. I can support them and I definitely want to support you. Ultimately, however, they are getting many more messages from peers, family, and media than any child counselor can hope to overcome in a single session once a week. As such, this means that hard work is going to be necessary outside of therapy and new routines might need to be established.
As humans we are creatures of habit, and often maladaptive habits end up forming over time and put stress on both you and your child. Working with a child counselor, hopefully you’ll be able to figure out what areas of life might need an adjustment or a tune-up to set you and your child up for the most success.
Going back to my work with Charlie – our most formative session was not one that looked typical in any sense of the word. That’s one of the things I love about working with children, I never really know what I’m going to get going into any given hour!
For Charlie, having a place of refuge where he could play with a stable male role model had done wonders for his anxiety and helped move him through the sort of funk he was in. Working with his mother, we tried to change some routines and habits at home, and once she was on board and changing some things at home, Charlie was able to thrive. Just by taking these first steps of looking into child counseling for your young one, you’re already doing great parenting. It can be hard to see your kiddo in a funk, but know we can get through it by working together.
“Color with Me,” courtesy of pixabay.com, pexels.com, CC0 Public Domain License; “Hold My Hand,” courtesy of freestocks.org, pexels.com, CC0 Public Domain License; “Let’s Chat,” courtesy of pixabay.com, pexels.com, CC0 Public Domain License