Counseling has become more and more mainstream over the last few years. In the past, it has been seen as a last-ditch effort to save a marriage or a way to help unstable people to function in life. However, as people are educated about mental health and trauma, counseling continues to become a more and more normal thing, including counseling for kids.
It’s becoming more common to hear someone say, “I’m on my way to counseling” and less common to hear people make jokes about seeing a “shrink”. In fact, even many celebrities are becoming more open about their own journey through counseling.
With that being said, counseling remains largely reserved for adults. Very few children are seeing counselors. This may be because children are expected to experience ups and downs growing up.
Disappointments, failures, and painful experiences are a part of life and shape who you become. As a result, many parents assume their child’s problems are only a natural part of growing up. While that is often true, sometimes the issues are more serious than they realize.
Christians share many cultures’ beliefs about children growing up. And while it is true that most children will bounce back after disappointment and heartbreak, others will struggle to cope for a variety of reasons. Some children struggle to develop as quickly and can face behavioral issues as a result. They can seriously benefit from a safe space to process and express their emotions.
Other children facing difficult things like a divorce or a sudden loss of a family member may not be able to cope. Circumstances like these can be overwhelming for young hearts and minds. Unfortunately, many Christians believe that if you simply “train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6) then everything will be fine.
However, particularly in situations like the ones outlined above, sometimes more is required than behavioral training at home. In these moments counseling for kids can be the difference between serious, lasting problems and healthy, well-behaved children.
Deciding if counseling for kids is the right choice
One of the hardest things about counseling for kids is deciding whether your child needs counseling or not. For many issues in childhood, it is appropriate to wait and let things work themselves out naturally. So how do you decide if an issue is severe enough to take the next step?
To help you determine this, consider the list of behavior below. These are not immediate red flags signaling a serious problem, but if your child regularly displays these behaviors or in extreme manifestations then you may want to consider counseling for kids:
- A reoccurring sense of sadness or hopelessness
- Regular anger and the tendency to overreact in normal situations.
- Relentless anxiety, worry, or fear
- Being overly concerned with their look or sickness
- An irrational concern that someone is controlling them or their mind, or the sense of not being in control
- A bizarre, unexpected drop in school performance
- Apathy about sports, activities, and games they once loved
- Lasting irregularities in their sleeping and eating
- Reclusiveness, choosing to be by themselves rather than with family or friends
- Hearing voices in their head or voices that aren’t there
- Suicidal thoughts
- An inability to focus, make decisions, or remain still
- Practicing certain behaviors obsessively, such as organizing things or washing their hands.
Again, an isolated example of one of these symptoms is not enough to necessitate counseling for kids. But a pattern or extreme expression of one or more of these may be a sign you should begin pursuing counseling for your child. Or at least to begin an intentional time of monitoring, as you watch and wait to determine if counseling is a necessary next step.
While the above issues are borderline, other signs are more clear-cut. Some behaviors very clearly reveal that your child may need additional help and guidance. The list below outlines behaviors that will necessitate some form of professional help.
- Violent actions such as killing small animals or making fires
- Extreme dieting, such as not eating or binging and vomiting
- The use of drugs or alcohol
- Cutting or other forms of self-harm
- A family history of mental illness
These symptoms are more extreme in nature and can carry much more serious consequences. As a result, these behaviors or traits likely will necessitate some form of counseling or professional help. Even though it might feel shameful to admit your child needs counseling for kids, it is better for their health and your own to acknowledge the truth and put them on the road to healing.
What type of counseling is right for my child?
Again, this largely depends on what your child is experiencing. A child acting out in school will need a different kind of care than a child who is experiencing extreme anxiety and compulsive behavior.
This is another reason why waiting and observing your child’s behavior is key. If you can analyze and identify more specifics about their behavior and moods, then you will be able to more easily find the right child therapist for your kid.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of counseling that focuses on retraining the way you see things. When kids get stuck in a rut, perceiving life in a certain way with limited outcomes, then their behavior can become extreme to counteract their sense of powerlessness.
This extreme behavior can range from outbursts of anger and violence to depression. The goal of CBT is to reframe their way of thinking in order to reorient their thoughts so they don’t feel as powerless and can remain more in control of their emotions. This form of counseling often takes place in weekly sessions lasting six to twelve weeks with a pediatric therapist.
This is a more serious and long-term form of therapy. It aims to get under the surface and past the behaviors to get to the root issues. This will be particularly relevant for children suffering from trauma such as the sudden death of a loved one or sexual abuse.
The therapist will work with your child to identify the deeper issues resulting in their lasting symptoms. These forms of therapy will likely be necessary to help children process and overcome depression, extreme anxiety, acts of violence, eating disorders, self-harm, and other more serious behaviors.
While it can be tempting to think your child is the only one who needs help, this often isn’t the case. Children who require counseling are largely shaped by their family environment and often reflect it. So it may not be enough to just have your child in counseling, it may require your whole family to enter the counseling room.
While this might seem frightening, remember that if you can work out issues within the family dynamic, then your child will have an even better chance of moving beyond their problem behavior. It may seem scary, but putting everything on the table, even your own behavior is a powerful way of helping your child move forward. In this form of counseling, the whole family works with a family counselor to solve the problems.
Most people think counseling is for “adult problems,” but the reality is most children are beginning to face the same problems at times when they are emotionally and intellectually unable to quote. Social media and culture are large more moving to make children adults at younger and younger ages.
This makes children extremely susceptible to painful and difficult adult problems that far surpass the simple challenges of youth. One way that Christians can continue to train their children is to equip them with skills and self-understanding learned through counseling for kids. By doing so, you can help protect your child from serious problems or at least help them process the difficulties they’ve already experienced.
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