Children & Mental Health

Children & Mental Health

Mental health is not only a concern for adults but children, too. Currently, an estimated one in 10 kids between the ages of five and 16 struggle with a diagnosable mental health disorder. Children must receive appropriate care when they begin to show signs of struggle or distress. Therapy for children helps them develop resilience and creates a path for a better understanding of themselves and others.

Therapy is not only for children who are struggling and is often beneficial for both children and their parents or caregivers. Therapists can provide essential guidance and skills for maneuvering through life’s obstacles. At Mindful Living Group, children and parents can learn ways to integrate mindfulness practices into their daily lives and gain crucial coping techniques.

Types Of Therapy For Children

At the time of birth, children are born with nearly all the neurons their brains will need. Over the next three years, these neurons will establish more connections (synapses) than adults do. Hence, the saying “children are sponges.” From the age of three, the synapses begin to fine-tune and strengthen themselves. Because of this, children’s environments significantly impact their mental health. Some situations are out of our control, unfortunately. Children process stressful and traumatic events much differently than adults. Therapy for children is designed differently and is approached in various ways that help them open up and learn to identify and express their emotions.

Child-Centered Play Therapy is perhaps one of the most common and oldest forms of psychotherapy used with children. Records of its use date back to the 1930s, and many believe it has been used long before. CCPT emphasizes play as the language of children as they, more often than not, do not yet have the language to express what they are feeling and experiencing; however, children tend to express their emotions through play – toys, games, puppets, drawing, etc. Child play therapists create an environment that feels safe and fosters discovery, growth, and healing. Distinct to CCPT, children lead the sessions, and therapists follow. You can do this in either a directive or non-directive manner. Directive play therapy involves the therapist encouraging the child to tell a story about their family (or specific event) through the use of toys such as puppets. Non-directive allows the child to play as a means of decompressing or reducing stress.

Parent-Child Interaction Therapy is primarily designed for children who struggle with behavioral problems. Sessions involve the therapist viewing the child and parent(s) from a separate room while communicating with the parent(s) through an earpiece. The reasoning behind this allows the therapist to provide the parent(s) guidance on how to approach and handle behavior issues with their child, reducing the frequency and severity of negative interactions and establishing a healthy, secure attachment. This evidence-based method has shown efficacy in children as young as 14 months. Parent-Child Interaction Therapy addresses immediate behavioral issues and the underlying attachment issues that typically cause the observable problems.

Behavioral therapy centers on the interactions that reinforce a child’s behavioral patterns. This method utilizes reinforcements to encourage positive behaviors and discourage negative behavior. There is a wide variety of techniques and other forms of therapy into which behavioral therapy can be integrated. Both parents and the child are involved in the process. Psychotherapists help to educate parents on how their responses may unintentionally reward problematic behavior and may provide new ways to approach situations at home, school, or other environments outside of therapy sessions.

Art and music therapies provide an exceptional outlet for children (and adolescents and adults) to express themselves. It can be challenging to voice feelings for many adults, especially children. Art and music have been a form of non-verbal self-expression as far back as they can be traced. Art therapy is particularly effective in children who are more visual or tactile. Music therapy can take place in many forms. Some children sing, write songs, play an instrument(s), or even listen to music. There is evidence that music can neutralize negative emotions, create a sense of calmness, and reduce stress.

Seeking Child Therapy

 It is common for parents or caregivers to debate whether the struggles a child’s faces are part of growing up or if they’re tied to something else. It’s familiar and expected for children to experience some moodiness, anxiety, and sadness with each hurdle life throws. However, therapy may be a beneficial option when behaviors begin to disrupt their growth, development, or achievement milestones. Below is a list of frequently observed behaviors that warrant a consultation.

  • Compulsions and obsessive behaviors
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Eating and body image problems
  • Distress, fear, and worry
  • Extreme shifts in mood
  • Focus and concentration problems
  • Acting out
  • Self-harm
  • Hopelessness and sadness
  • Learning disorders
  • Experiences of trauma, divorce, or stress

This list is by no means comprehensive, and every child is different. It never hurts to get the opinion of a licensed professional with experience working with children. Initially, your therapist will often meet with you and your child – this may be individually or together – so they can gather a better picture and understanding of your situation and concerns. Therapists strive to create environments that allow the child to feel safe in their vulnerability so they may express how they feel with complete acceptance and free from judgment. Child therapists are specifically trained to help children understand their emotions and situations in a way they can process them. Additionally, they can help children to learn the language that identifies what they are feeling, so they may be able to express it the next time the emotion arises.

How Therapy Helps

 The benefits of attending therapy are countless for children and extend through the entire family. In therapy, children learn by doing. Activities help them to develop strong social and interpersonal skills, put words to their emotions, and discover their strengths. Therapists can help children build healthy thinking patterns and essential problem-solving skills. As children become more self-aware and confident in who they are and their abilities, their self-confidence can strengthen.

Mindful Living Group encourages and guides children and their parents in learning mindfulness techniques. Mindfulness in children enables them to build their confidence, cope with stress, and face uncomfortable or challenging situations with increased resilience. In addition, practicing mindfulness at an earlier age helps children develop and fine-tune their executive functioning skills – a key area of struggle in many disorders such as ADHD.

Is Therapy The Right Choice?

Similar to the decision process adults undergo, starting therapy is a personal decision. Fortunately, you do not have to be alone in making that decision. If you are contemplating starting treatment with and for your child, the therapists at Mindful Living Group are more than willing to help in this process. 

Schedule an appointment today by filling out MLG’s online contact form.