As we think about raising healthy children, we think about their diet, exercise, good hygiene, and the right amount of sleep. Emotional health may not come to mind quickly but it is another important aspect of raising children. It is something parents work to foster in their children, but we don’t always bring this part of our job as parents to the conscious level until there is a pressing need such as a death in the family, serious illness, or other type of loss. When difficult life events occur, how can therapy for children help?
With very young children, ages 0 to 6, a therapist will frequently suggest meeting with parent and child together. This type of therapy is often referred to as Child Parent Psychotherapy or CPP. The goal is to assist the parent in understanding the language the child uses to convey feelings. Children this young do not have the language to clearly express their emotional needs, especially when there is trauma involved. If a child has witnessed something disturbing or frightening, they need help to express the feelings generated by the incident. The therapist works to help the parent reassure the child and create an environment which will foster communication between parent and child.
Often, this type of therapy is accomplished through play. Children naturally turn to play. Through play, they can demonstrate thoughts, feelings, and needs which are too complex for their verbal language skills. The therapist is available to translate this language of behavior. Parents learn to understand this style of communication and, with the therapist, they also learn how to support their child in learning the language of emotions.
With older children play also comes into the therapy room. In the 7 to 12 age group, play can take the form of role play with puppets, art work, or board games, depending on the age of the child. Play enables the child to communicate concerns which might otherwise remain unsaid. A game or drawing helps the child express difficult feelings with less tension because the play can be the focus of attention. As the child and therapist play together, the therapist can assist the child in learning to recognize their own feelings. This is the first step toward self regulating their internal emotional states.
Even with older children, it is helpful for the therapist to meet periodically with parents. The parent knows the child’s history and habitual ways of reacting to stress. Sharing this information helps the therapist get to know the child more quickly. Together, parent and therapist can support the child’s healthy development of communication skills, emotional self regulation, and expression of wishes, desires, and feelings.
If you think a child in your life could benefit from talking to a therapist, get in touch. Our Upper Valley counseling team is trained and experienced with child therapy and will be able to help you decide what approach will help.