Many parents have traditionally believed that children and adolescents do not have stress or problems in their daily life. People often think that children have no worries or that they have “too much of a good life” to be dealing with mental illness or other issues. Some adults will even minimize their children’s problems because the adult’s problems are “worse” and they think children could just move on by playing.
The reality is, however, that children often experience stress, anxiety, depression, grief, suicidal ideation, and other issues on regular basis. It is actually detrimental to ignore or minimize children’s mental health needs at a young age. Often children know or perceive their parent’s lack of knowledge regarding their mental health.
At times, children will not tell their parents about their mental struggles for several reasons. Some of these reasons may include that children may not feel heard or understood; they think their problems are not worth a listening ear or that they personally are not worth a listening ear; and/or they may not have the words or understanding to express what they feel.
Many times, children and adolescents may cope with their problems in less effective manners, displaying negative behavioral responses and entering into conflict with parents, teachers, and other authorities.
Another hard reality is that when these types of problems are not properly addressed, children and adolescents can experience delays in development, trouble in school, low self-esteem, conduct problems, and other mental illness.
As parents, caretakers, or influential adults, people would benefit from seeking professional help for children and adolescents when noticing any social-emotional problems, behavioral problems, poor school performance, and any behavior that seems uncharacteristic or “off.”
Child and adolescent counseling can be extremely beneficial for school-age children and teenagers as it can provide a safe environment for them to explore what they are feeling and process their negative thoughts/behavior and help them learn ways to communicate and manage their negative experiences. Child and adolescent counseling also helps caretakers understand what is going on and know how to better support the child.
Child and adolescent counseling is not always an easy topic for parents or caretakers to discuss. Some caretakers often worry that it will reflect negatively on their parenting or have the misconception that counseling is only for “crazy people.” Some caretakers may even feel sad that they cannot help their own child in the way they believe they should or regret not seeking professional help earlier to avoid further pain in the child or adolescent.
However, when a child is physically sick, parents do not hesitate to seek medical professional insight on how to help the child get treated. Thus it is important to begin increasing awareness on the need to also assist our children/adolescents in seeking mental professional counseling to help them heal or treat their mental health. Often times seeking mental health services from a Christian counselor helps heal the affected child/adolescent and their family’s interrelation.
What is Child Counseling?
Child counseling (also called child therapy or pediatric counseling) is similar to therapy and counseling for adults. It offers a safe space and an empathetic ear to children and adolescents while providing tools to modify the negative responses of the child/adolescent’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in a more effective manner.
Child clients can receive emotional and goal-oriented support in their counseling sessions. They can also practice and learn how to cope with negative thoughts/feelings, focus on resolving conflict, understanding their own thoughts and feelings, and on thinking of new solutions to their daily problems. (Adapted from Child Therapy: 19 Counseling Techniques & Worksheets for Kids by Courtney E. Ackerman)
Some child and adolescent counselors have chosen to specialize in various forms of therapy to help children; however, not all counselors offer counseling treatment to children. Considering this, it is important to do your research when selecting a counselor who is experienced in working with children and adolescents when seeking professional help.
Pediatricians are often a good place to start when looking for a referral for a child and adolescent counselor. Often times you may also contact your health insurance provider to be referred to counselors working under your current health insurance plan who counsel children and adolescents.
There are different forms of therapy that child counselors employ, depending on the mental health condition of the child or adolescent being treated. The opinion of a licensed therapist is invaluable in the assessment and treatment (or necessary referrals) for children.
After an initial assessment or evaluation of the child or adolescent’s mental health symptoms is conducted, the therapist will recommend different therapeutic techniques known to be more effective in treating specific symptoms.
Every counselor has different theoretical backgrounds and training in treating children and adolescents. This article will not focus on the effectiveness of each therapeutic treatment listed below; it will simply inform on the different contemporary types of child and adolescent counseling treatments available.
Some of the Contemporary Types of Child Counseling Treatments Include:
- Play Therapy
- Art Therapy
- Music Therapy
- Cognitive-Behavior Therapy (CBT)
- Trauma-Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT)
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
- Family Therapy
- Group Therapy
- Parent-child Interaction Therapy (PCIT)
Main Issues Addressed in Counseling for Children and Adolescents
Children and adolescents often present with a host of different mental health conditions in counseling. Many of these conditions seem to be rooted in mental illness, social-emotional health, physical health, relational/family problems, educational/intellectual development, and lack of spiritual support.
Though children and adolescents are not usually aware of these different conditions, the effects of each of these conditions in their lives are often interconnected and should be assessed when necessary in counseling.
Child and adolescent counselors often assess and treat the following mental conditions during an initial assessment with each individual child/adolescent:
- Behavioral Problems: This could include acting out at home, school, or both. Displaying defiance, aggression, lying, cheating, disobedience, among others.
- ADHD or Specific Learning Disabilities: Some children will struggle with hyperactivity or inattentiveness that can lead to other behavior problems. Often a teacher will be able to see this in the classroom and will refer to a Child Psychologist or Pediatrician for diagnosis and medication, if necessary.
Teachers and parents often will also notice other signs of potential learning disabilities that will need to be evaluated by a Child Psychologist while oncurrently seeking a professional child counselor to help the child work through self-esteem issues and coping skills brought on from learning disabilities.
A child behavioral counselor could also help the child learn life skills to cope with a specific learning disability, provide tools to help the child with their learning disability, and practice to redirect attention in learning as needed or obtain additional support from school or community resources.
- Grief: Parents may seek counseling if their child seems to be struggling with the loss of a loved one, friend, or pet.
- Anxiety: Often anxiety in children can present in somatic issues (headaches, stomachaches, trouble breathing). A lot of children will struggle with concentration, sleep, excelling in school/extracurriculars, and social interactions when anxious.
- Depression: Children and adolescents will be sad for what seems to be no reason, excessively cry, lose interest or motivation in things, start isolating. Depression can often present as irritability or anger outbursts in children/adolescents as well.
- Trauma: Forms of abuse (sexual, physical, emotional), neglect, or other traumatic experiences.
- Divorce: Parents may bring their children to cope with the new changes and loss in the family.
- Bullying: Many children struggle to know how to handle bullies (and some are the bullies).
- Autism: If a parent is concerned about autism, it is imperative to seek a Child Psychologist who can evaluate for Autism and provide referrals for counselors who specialize in this work.
- Anger Issues: Children do not know how to regulate their emotions. It is a skill that they must learn over time through practice and obtaining effective coping tools in counseling.
- Suicidal Ideation: Some children and adolescents will have negative thoughts or ideas of wanting to harm themselves or end their lives. It is important for parents to take these things very seriously, immediately seek a professional for the next steps, and supervise the child/adolescent at all times.
- Social Deficits: At times a child or adolescent struggles with making/keeping friends, or lacks the ability to positively interact with peers his/her age.
- Adjustment issues: A child may have difficulty with life transitions or changes and often regresses into earlier stages when not treated properly.
What to Expect from Counseling for Children and Adolescents
Every approach to treating a child or adolescent in counseling will differ based on the preferred theoretical approach of each counselor. Some counselors will be non-direct and some will be direct when treating children/adolescents. It is important to find someone who is a good fit for your child and family. However, most child counselors will focus on these main situation-specific goals:
- Building a safe and trusting therapeutic relationship: This is the main goal of all therapists working with children. Children need to feel safe, that they (and their family) can trust their private information to the counselor, and that they are not alone. Thus counselors will spend the necessary time to get to know the child and help the child feel safe.
- Building the child’s self-esteem or self-worth: Most child counselors will be strength-focused in some way or other in order to help the child/adolescent believe that they can work through some of the conditions that they struggle with and obtain positive results.
- Helping to improve the child’s communication skills: This includes verbal and nonverbal expressions of thoughts and feelings appropriately.
- Stimulating healthy and age-appropriate development: This will include assessment of the child’s development, helping parents set realistic expectations, and working with the child/adolescent in developmental needs.
The most common goal of child [and adolescent] counseling is “helping your child successfully cope with challenging situations that trigger [uncomfortable] emotions” (R.Y. Landham, Ph.D., Child Counseling).
If you have noticed concerning behavior or expressions in your child or adolescent that has suddenly appeared or has been going on for a while that does not seem normal or appropriate for his/her age, please contact a private licensed professional counselor/therapist in your community or contact their pediatric and health insurance provider to be referred to a professional child and adolescent counselor.
Professional licensed child counselors with a spiritual background could also help your family understand God’s purpose for your child or adolescent’s needs. A professional Christian child and the adolescent counselor could help to appropriately evaluate your child or adolescent’s mental condition and walk you through some of the above child counseling treatments to treat your child’s mental condition.
When selecting a professional child counselor, your family will benefit from also selecting a counselor whose spiritual background strongly supports your child’s growth and faith that things will get better with God’s grace and your care. Remember, God loves all His children and has given you the blessing to care for them through their struggles and happy life moments.
Ackerman, E. Courtney. Child Therapy: 19 Counseling Techniques &Worksheets for Kids. November 20, 19. https://positivepsychology.com/child-therapy/
Langham, R.Y., Ph.D. Child Counseling. April 2, 2019. https://www.therapytribe.com/therapy/child-counseling
“Hangin’ Out”, Courtesy of Eliott Reyna, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Studying”, Courtesy of Jeswin Thomas, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Swings”, Courtesy of Gabriel Valdez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Reading Together”, Courtesy of Ben White, Unsplash.com, CC0 License