Does Counseling For Kids Really Work? Why or Why Not?
Dr. Kimberly Riley
As an adult, can you think back to a time during childhood when you would have benefited from talking to someone about the things you were dealing with? Maybe your childhood experience is something that you look back on and cherish the memories of, which is wonderful, but it is not always the case for everyoneSome adults look back on their childhood and wish things were different. Some now recognize how their childhood shaped their lives and want to be proactive for their own children or the children they care about in their lives.
Counseling for kids is a great way to engage children and can be helpful before or after they start to experience certain behaviors that may cause problems in their lives. Children may have situations in their lives that are out of their control that contributes to their behavioral health.
If a child comes into counseling before they start to experience symptoms that are connected to their situation, they can possibly eliminate the symptoms by talking about their feelings, understanding of what is going on, and desired outcome for the situation.
Children often know that something isn’t right in the world around them and have questions that go unanswered, which causes them to be confused and to start looking for answers on their own. With counseling, children can use the time with their therapist as a way to ask some of the harder questions that no one has yet answered for them.
Although, sometimes the therapist is able to help reduce some of the worry or confusion that kids feel when they are curious, what children really need is support from those people in their lives whom they trust the most. So, counseling can be extremely effective when children have sessions with other people in their lives because the opportunity then exists for the child to ask the questions they are curious about and the therapist is there to help facilitate the conversation.
Children have a hard time verbally expressing themselves sometimes to their peers and others. With counseling, children can gain some of the confidence they need and communication skills to be able to successfully communicate with those around them.
When children have therapists who are proficient at working with them they have a chance to be in an environment that will provide space for them to express themselves in a way that makes the most sense to them, like drawing or playing.
Kids in counseling who feel comfortable enough to share will generally gain some insight about themselves during the process. When children become self-aware they are able to make decisions that are thought out and meaningful.
There are many reasons why a child may need or want to come in and talk with someone. Children have quite a few different places they go throughout the day that may be tough for them if they also suffer from certain mental health disorders.
Children who have ADHD symptoms may have a hard time focusing in school or children who have Separation Anxiety might have a difficult time in relationships with their peers because they don’t do well away from their families in settings like birthday party sleepovers. Counseling for children can be beneficial when they are trying to understand why they are having these symptoms and what they can do to manage them.
Each child is different in the way they display behavior, although some things are pretty typical, they may be missed if a person doesn’t know what they are looking for, so a therapist can also be helpful for adults in children’s lives also when navigating what is causing the behavior they see.
Children who have had unpleasant experiences may have to deal with sadness or other symptoms related to depression. Families of these children often are left not knowing how to help them cope with their feelings, especially when the family has stepped in for the family who caused some of the hurt and pain to the child.
Through counseling for kids, children can gain valuable skills to cope with their emotions. Children and their families can learn together so that the family can give applicable suggestions and support to the children so that they do not feel alone.
As children develop their coping skills, their family members can also develop a healthy way to respond to them. The battle in families with children isn’t always because of the behavior of the children, but the emotional response of those around them.
There is a cycle of unhealthy interactions between children and their parents that can be addressed in counseling and reduce the likelihood of children being misunderstood by their parents when expressing their sadness and parents trying to find solutions for their children that may not be best.
Why Does Counseling for Kids Work?
Children are wonderful to work with because they are honest, willing to learn new things, full of life and much more. Children have a beautiful spirit that makes providing care for them in the form of counseling very special.
Jesus says in one Scripture with regard to children:
Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me.” – Matthew 18:3-5
As adults, we should value children and be careful with their hearts and minds. Those of us who have the opportunity to pour into children’s lives and be an agent for change should. Counseling is one way to really be there for children in a meaningful way that can make a big difference.
With children being in the phase of life where they are constantly learning and applying new things, counseling while young seems to make quite a bit of sense. Children who electively decide that they need someone to talk to have a high level of motivation to participate and grow during counseling.
These children may be the ones who are silently suffering at home but recognize they have a need that counseling can help with. They might not openly display big behaviors, so it is possible that they have been overlooked for some time and they are at the place of really needing just a safe space to share. Counseling for kids can provide that.
Counseling for kids works for several different reasons. The purpose of counseling can vary based on the need, but when children are referred to a counselor because of their behavior, counseling becomes one more tool to help children and the people who are a part of their world manage things.
When children are learning how to regulate themselves, they may excel quickly with understanding how to do that even when faced with adversity, but sometimes there can be a delay especially when there are other things going on in their lives also.
Maybe a parent is not present or stable enough to guide the child through the adversity, leaving the child to figure it out on their own. The child might connect with the other adults in their lives, but maybe not. It is then that a provider who comes in contact with the child recognizes that they may need more and pushes them towards counseling.
Counseling, when used in response to behavior, works because goals can be directed towards addressing the concerns of the family as well as the child’s concerns and getting to what is behind the identified problem. When children come in because of their behavior, parents and other family members sometimes think they do not need to be part of the counseling journey, but often the best work happens when everyone can be involved.
Counseling for children, especially when managing behavior can work when only the child is in the room because it is encouraged that children have the space to share alone, but it is also known to be very effective when families come together to learn about each other and what is behind everyone’s behaviors.
When children are not able to fully express themselves, counseling can still work since there are other ways to understand children. When a child is having a difficult time working through something and isn’t able to share effectively with the adults in their lives, counseling can be a space where the child expresses themselves in a way that makes sense to them and the therapist is able to help the adults in the child’s life understand what they are trying to communicate.
Art and play are natural ways for children to express themselves, so in counseling, even if a child does have the verbal skills to share with the therapist, they may still encourage the child to share in other ways in many different settings. By allowing the child to make choices like this, they help build their confidence and teach them how to take ownership of self-expression.
As a child goes from their teenage years to young adulthood, counseling can be established as being part of their wellbeing and something that they can participate in as an ongoing process or when needed. Sometimes adults have thoughts and ideas about counseling that keeps them from pursuing it.
There is a gap between what an adult believes and knows to be true about counseling if they have never experienced it. By exposing kids to counseling at a young age and normalizing the fact that everyone generally needs someone to support them outside of their immediate family they grow up to be well rounded adults who will not delay when they recognize the need for some extra support.
Why Does Counseling for Kids Not Work?
I would like to believe that counseling for kids always works, because I have not seen a time where children haven’t gained something from their counseling experience, but when you define what it means for something to “work”, the counseling experience may not initially seem like it is working for the children who participate in it.
According to Merriam Webster, work is defined as: “to function or operate according to plan or design as well as to move.” as well as “to make way slowly and with difficulty: move of progress laboriously.” Both of these definitions can be applied to the thought that explains why counseling for kids does not work.
When children enter into counseling, they may have different goals than the adults who are encouraging them to come to counseling and that can feel like a conflict. On some occasions, when the children make the decision to come in on their own, their goals are not understood by the adults in their lives and so they do not support them seeing someone.
There are a few scenarios that can keep counseling appearing to work on the surface, but even children and their parents get stuck on creating goals at the beginning of the counseling journey. Something meaningful is happening, but people tend to give up and discontinue counseling because of the disagreements.
Parental goals are not met or the children continue to display the same behavior for longer than the adults in their life think they should, and suddenly the children are no longer able to continue seeing their therapist because the counseling isn’t working.
Another reason why counseling with children doesn’t seem to work is based on the therapeutic relationship between the child and their therapist. It is true that not every therapist is the best fit for every client and with children, this is even truer because it takes a dedicated therapist who is willing to think outside of the box and really allow the child to be themselves in the room.
Counseling can move very slow or feel restrictive because of the connection between the child and the therapist. That relationship can begin broken if the child feels forced to go to counseling and adults throughout the process do not give the child the freedom to have a voice in the areas where they could, such as picking the therapist or days and times they go to counseling.
Some important steps for introducing children to therapy include making sure they understand why it would be helpful for them to go, allowing the child the opportunity to see the faces and read the profiles of possible therapists, making sure the child knows they are not alone through the process but making sure they know they can have alone time if they would like, and keeping the child from feeling like they are being singled out. By trying these things, counseling for kids may work much better than anyone could imagine.
If you are in the position to refer a child for counseling or you know of a child who is interested in counseling, there are equipped therapists here at Seattle Christian Counseling who are excited to work with children and be a part of their wonderful journey to self-awareness and wholeness that will carry over into adulthood.
“Happy”, Courtesy of Kiana Bosman, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Bubbles”, Courtesy of Andre Hunter, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Besties”, Courtesy of Emma Tin, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Art”, Courtesy of Jerry Wang, Unsplash.com, CC0 License