Let’s face it, as parents, we have all wondered at some point if we should take our kiddos to a therapist or not. Questions come up like:
- What are problems that a therapist could help with?
- When do I know my child needs outside help?
- How does it benefit a child to talk to someone outside the family?
- What does therapy look like for a child?
All of these are common questions parents may ask themselves before making an appointment with a therapist.
To begin with, the why and when of scheduling with a therapist can raise doubts in any parent around their own ability to help their child deal with adversity and how to handle big emotions. As a parent we don’t want our children to be in distress or uncomfortable, so we often accommodate our children’s anxiety/fears by attempting to remove stressors and worries with distractions.
Take away the “bad” and only the “good” remains, right? Well, not always. If we don’t allow our children the space to process hard or scary thoughts, those feelings can grow and become more extreme. Sadness can lead to depression, and frustration can lead to anger or “acting out” behaviors.
If you have noticed your child struggling with expressing their emotions and you are feeling like more of a trigger than a help, that is the time to reach out to a professional therapist in Atlanta for help in supporting your child.
How Child Therapy Can Help
All children need emotional support when they are struggling with big life changes, social anxiety, depression, anger/frustration with school or peers, learning disabilities, grief, or self-image. As an adult, we have experiences to look back on and use as guidance in seeing future outcomes, but children don’t have this built-in bonus of life experiences. They don’t have memories of how a problem was resolved, or how current problems can have positive resolutions.
Research shows that a child’s brain continues to develop into their early 20s. This process of defining neural pathways helps children and young adults to better grasp risk-and-reward decisions and increases resilience when life is challenging. It’s hard to comprehend a better future when your brain is still maturing and cataloging knowledge. Working with a therapist gives children an unbiased space in which to learn how to navigate their own emotions, and how to ask for help when they are feeling overwhelmed.
Common Stressors for Children When Growing Up
Some of the stressors children face can be family problems (divorce, death, addiction, trauma), school problems (bullying, social anxiety, learning issues), or self-image issues (body dysmorphia, self-esteem, suicide ideation, or self-harm). These stressors can create feelings of sadness, extreme worry, low self-esteem, grief, depression, anger, frustration, and loneliness.
When feelings become overwhelming, a child can react in many ways. Some display behavior changes like acting out or aggression, self-harm, or eating disorders, while others can become aloof or withdrawn from friends and family. Some create rituals around everyday life to control their “yucky” feelings from high anxiety.
Parents may fear that contacting a therapist means they are a “bad” parent if they can’t handle these issues at home. Isn’t helping your children feel better part of the role of a parent? Shouldn’t parents be able to handle children’s emotions and meet their every need?
The answer is most times, but not all the time. Eliciting outside help from a professional counselor gives your child a “safe space” in which to talk about all of the scary or concerning things without worries of disappointing their parents or getting in trouble for not being “happy” all the time. A therapist is trained to listen without judgment or consequences, to allow a person to say whatever they are feeling even if it sounds mean or scary.
Therapists Help a Child to Feel in Control
Another benefit to enlisting the help of a therapist is the feeling of control that is achieved by the child. Therapy allows the child to control some of the direction of the session, and children love being in charge!
In this safe space, they are able to share what they want, how they want, and when they want. Sometimes therapy can be a simple way to give a child a sense of control over a part of their life when all other aspects feel out of control.
How Does Child Therapy Work?
You may be wondering: What does therapy look like for a child? Do they just come in and talk for an hour? The child isn’t talking at home, so why would they talk to a therapist?
There are many different types of therapy available to help children process their emotions and stress. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) teaches new coping skills a child can use to learn to self-regulate emotions.
In CBT, the therapist will start with trust-building activities and will give some psychoeducation around automatic thoughts, how the brain processes anxiety, and more specific language with which to communicate their feelings to others. The therapist will then teach skills to help them calm down their body’s response to anxiety or stress while also helping the child face their illogical fears. This can be done with Exposure Response Prevention (ERP), Mindfulness, or Acceptance and Commitment Theory (ACT) activities, to name a few.
CBT typically works for children of all ages, but it may need to be combined with other more child-centered activities or interactive techniques.
Play Therapy for Learning Healthy Behaviors
Many therapists incorporate play therapy in their practice alongside CBT. With play therapy, a child “plays out” issues as a way to problem-solve in real life. This can be done with games to model behavior and appropriate social interaction, storytelling, or bibliotherapy where the child can use characters other than themselves to share what’s bothering them, drawing and art to express feelings when it may be too hard to say something out loud, or creating a comic strip to journal their week.
All of these activities allow the therapist to model behaviors in action, giving the child opportunities to “try on” the behaviors during the counseling session. For instance, if the therapist plays a game with the child and the child begins to cheat or grows upset if they are losing, the therapist can model for the child better reactions to the situation.
Children’s Counseling and Learning Communication Skills
All therapeutic interventions have one main piece in common, and that is communication. Therapists learn how to communicate with clients in many ways, not just with words. And a therapist’s goal is to teach the client how to better communicate with people in their life outside the therapy office.
When children learn how to express their feelings and emotions, handle stress in a healthy way, and use mindfulness to develop self-care, they are better at owning and controlling their mental health as adults.
Child Therapist in Atlanta, Georgia
Therapy was once viewed as something for “crazy” people only, but the truth is everyone can benefit from counseling and seeing a therapist. Having a safe space in which to share emotions, learn mindfulness, and “talk it out” helps children learn skills to avoid harmful and unhealthy ways of coping as adults.
If your child is struggling or you feel they could benefit from seeing a therapist, schedule a consultation with a child therapist – and start the process of helping your kiddos face their emotions. Contact our caring team today at Atlanta Specialized Care by calling (770) 815-6853 or by filling out our appointment request form online now. We look forward to helping your child get through this.