Children often require a sensitive approach to counseling. Sometimes parents wonder how a counselor can help their child since they are young and may not have the skills to process emotions and thoughts the same way adults do. Even with young children, however, the right counselor can help them open up and deal with whatever issues they face.
Ways a child counselor can offer help.While counseling children requires a special approach due to their unique emotional and cognitive development, your child can have a successful experience. Here are some things your child’s counselor can do to offer effective help.
Build relationship and trust.
The counselor must build a relationship with your child. You want them to establish a warm and supportive relationship with the child. This does not mean they become friends. It is important to maintain healthy boundaries. The relationship between a child and a counselor is similar to that of a child and an effective educator. They want a connection while maintaining appropriate boundaries.
As the counselor builds a relationship with your child, your child should learn they can trust the counselor. It is essential for them to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings with the counselor. This enables effective therapy and growth.
Use age-appropriate language.
Children need different things at different ages. Just as you would not speak to a two-year-old the same way you would speak to a twelve-year-old, a counselor must speak to your child in an age-appropriate way.
The counselor should tailor their language to the child’s specific developmental level. Sometimes this is closely connected to their age. Other times, however, it requires the counselor to look beyond the age to see the unique needs of that child. They should use simple and concrete terms that a child can understand, especially when discussing difficult topics.
Create a safe environment.
Counseling should be a safe place for a child. If it isn’t, he is unlikely to open up and make progress. A counselor needs to create a welcoming, safe place that is free from distractions. This can help the child feel more comfortable and make it more likely that they will share their thoughts.
Try play therapy.
Play is the language of children. It helps them learn as well as communicate. It also provides a way for the child to feel comfortable. A counselor can use toys, art, or other creative mediums to encourage a child to share their thoughts and feelings.
Practice active listening.
Active listening is a skill all people can use to show they are attentive to what is being said. It also helps ensure that the listener understands what the other person is saying. When a counselor listens attentively and empathetically, it improves the experience for the child. When a counselor reflects the child’s feelings it shows that they understand and validate the child.
Let the kids choose.
Allowing the child to make choices gives the child a sense of control. A counselor can do this in simple ways during sessions. A child can choose an activity to do, a game to play or a subject to talk about.
Children need to understand that it’s okay to feel things. This includes a range of emotions from happy to sad, excited to frustrated. A counselor should normalize the child’s feelings, so they learn that emotions are not bad. The counselor can teach the child strategies for handling emotions in healthy, safe ways.
Foster understanding with stories and metaphors.
Kids learn in a variety of ways. Storytelling is a great way to break down complex concepts so that kids understand them better. Metaphors also provide a way to help children have context for an idea so they can grasp it more fully. Using stories children are familiar with offers a great starting place for this.
Teach coping skills.
Children need help learning and developing age-appropriate coping strategies. Coping strategies help kids process and work through feelings, especially when they are difficult. Skills such as deep breathing, mindfulness exercises, prayer, and positive self-talk offer ways kids can work through difficult situations.
Involve parents or guardians.
Parents or guardians need to be part of the counseling process for their child. This does not mean that a parent should be included in every session. Counselors should collaborate with parents or guardians to understand the child’s life outside of sessions. Parents can offer important insight that can help a counselor work with the child more effectively.
Collaboration is also important to reinforce strategies learned in counseling. It is unlikely a child, especially a young child, will be able to take what is learned in counseling and implement it in their daily life without support. Collaboration with parents and guardians provides the child with support for new skills between sessions.
Essentials in every counseling experience.
It is important to remember that every counseling experience requires some basic things. These are non-negotiables that you should look for as a parent. These include:
Every counselor should maintain confidentiality with the patient and the family. The counselor should explain the limits of confidentiality to the child and their guardians, ensuring that sensitive information is handled appropriately.
Individuals, no matter how young they are, deserve respect. A counselor should always respect the individual differences of each child by tailoring their approach to the child’s unique personality, interests, and background. Similarly, a counselor needs to respect the parents and their role in the child’s life.
Counseling is a process. A counselor will not expect a child to address every issue right away. The child needs someone patient to allow them to work through things at their own pace. Counseling is a process.
Counseling needs to be a positive experience for a person, especially a child, to make progress. A counselor should encourage the child by listening respectfully and praising growth. While they need to address hard things or offer accountability, it should always come from a place of encouragement.
Counselors should communicate honestly with the child and with the parents. This should always be done in an age-appropriate way that makes sense for the child. The counselor needs to stay connected with the parents or guardians about the progress being made and plans for moving forward.
If there is a problem, it is equally important for the counselor to communicate that with the family. This ensures that everyone has a clear understanding of things and that there is healthy growth.
Counseling for your child.
Counseling children requires a blend of empathy, creativity, and patience. The counselor working with your child should create a supportive and non-judgmental environment where your child feels empowered to explore their feelings and develop healthy coping skills.
As you seek counseling for your child, you can ensure this kind of experience by asking questions, communicating frequently, and trying new things if something doesn’t work. Not every counselor is a good fit for every child or family. If you connect with someone who doesn’t seem to fit after a few sessions, it is good to seek someone new.
As you consider counselors, be honest with them about what you are looking for. It’s okay if you don’t fully know, but recognize what you do know and communicate that. If something isn’t working, talk to the counselor about it and see what they say. Every person should feel safe and comfortable with their counselor.
If you would like to learn more about specific counselors or approaches to counseling for children, simply reach out. The right counselor is willing to listen, answer questions, and share their approach to ensure your child has the best counseling experience possible.
“Decorating Rocks”, Courtesy of Sigmund, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Jenga” Courtesy of Michal Parzuchowski, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Music Time”, Courtesy of Sebastian Pandelache, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Mindfulness”, Courtesy of Lesly Juarez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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