Counselling for children and adolescents requires a different approach than counselling for adults. Counselling children often involves counselling families or parents too, with involvement from the family a crucial requirement. Sometimes it is the education of parents and adapting the parenting style that takes precedence over changing child’s behaviour, and at other times it is more effective to work directly with a child.
Children also develop at a rapid rate, with different age groups presenting different behaviours due to developmental stage, with varying symptoms and red flags. Therapy styles therefore need to vary according to the child’s age, and our qualified psychologists understand these needs. For example, young children who are struggling with emotional or anxiety problems benefit from the utilisation of play therapy in exploring and ameliorating the problem.
A wide variety of difficulties are faced by children due to intellectual functioning, behaviour difficulties, parenting difficulties, family dynamics or emotional problems. As children react to life stressors differently to adults, it is important to know what signs of emotional distress to look for, our trained and qualified Brisbane psychologists understand these triggers and are able to identify them early.
Children’s emotional and behavioural issues
What is it?
Children’s mental, emotional and psychological wellbeing is dependent on a host of factors. The area of child development is, in fact, quite complex and includes a range of categories – namely their cognitive development, their emotional development and their social development. In this sense, a child can experience difficulty in any one, or all, of these categories and there is a host of signs and symptoms to look out for when trying to identify whether a child is experiencing problems in their development.
On the whole, children react to life stressors in a very different way than adults. It is not always easy to see that a child is struggling emotionally, particularly because children don’t always have the vocabulary or understanding to explain what they are feeling or experiencing.As a result we need to be aware of some of the signs of emotional distress as these give us an indication that there may be a problem, with our qualified Brisbane childrens psychologists you can be assured they will get the help they need.
In younger children we recognise issues when there is a delay in reaching their milestones such as walking, toilet training and so forth, if the child has trouble with bed wetting, having nightmares, is “clingy”, withdrawn and irritable. In slightly older children defiant behaviour, aggressive behaviour and destructive behaviour can often indicate emotional distress. If the child is overly anxious, has problems with attention or any specific learning difficulties or memory problems then we are also warned of possible emotional issues. When they are teenagers they will also experience depressive symptoms such as lack of motivation, irritability, and tearfulness, self-harm and poor academic performance to name a few.
Identifying emotional and behavioural issues as early on as possible is essential in providing effective treatment and preventing more serious issues later in life.
How is it treated?
The first step in treating childhood emotional and behavioural issues is to conduct a thorough assessment of the problems. This includes a battery of tests designed to test cognitive, emotional and social functioning and allows the psychologist to gain a clear understanding of the difficulties that the child is facing. In cases where cognitive problems are identified, the therapist may refer the child to a remedial programme or recommend alternate therapy such as occupational therapy and speech therapy. When emotional issues are identified, the therapist is likely to suggest play therapy and family therapy to help the child cope with the problems that are causing emotional distress.
Children often experience positive changes after attending play therapy as it is their natural means for communicating and processing difficult emotions. In this sense, their ability to communicate what they are feeling with their family often improves, as does their general self-confidence and self-esteem. Families learn to communicate better with the help of family therapy and parents are able to find better “footing” in terms of their parental roles after they have attended a session or two of family therapy. Often the therapy process is able to help families resolve particular difficult dynamics and issues and teaches them ways of handling conflict and difficulties in the future.
The most important things that children need
1. Meeting their everyday needs: for food, shelter and safety. Children depend on adults to make sure that these basic needs are met so it is important to ensure that your child is receiving nutritional food, is kept warm, dry and comfortable and has a soothing parent to turn to when things get scary.
2. To feel safe and secure: Setting boundaries and having consistent rules and limitations are very important for children’s sense of stability. Consistency is key here – firm boundaries that are consistently enforced and adhered to make children feel safe.
3. Conversation: Talk to your child in a way that is appropriate to his / her age. Children want to feel heard and understood. Listen to what s/he has to say about his / her day and talk to your child about the world and things in it.
4. Lots of hugs and “I love you’s”: You may forget to tell your child, taking for granted that s/he knows how much s/he is loved. Physical touch is an important tool for communicating affection and children need to be touched appropriately. Telling your child how much you love him / her only serves to increase his / her self-esteem and confidence.
5. Praise, praise and more praise: It is easy to get bogged down by all the mistakes children make and the mischief they get up to, but make sure that you praise good behaviour and small achievements. Your child is learning how to function in a world, every small achievement should be praised – increasing his/her self-esteem.
6. Play! Children need to play. They need to have free, imaginative time where they just play. It is their way of communicating and processing emotions and experiences. It is also an invaluable tool in learning.
As children’s experiences and knowledge are often communicated through play, play therapy provides an important vehicle for them to express their experiences and feelings through a natural, self-guided, self-healing process. A variety of mediums are used in the therapy, ranging from clay, paint and crayons for artistic expression, through to dolls, puppets and even a sand tray. All are used in allowing the child to express their inner world and communicate their feelings. This form of therapy is exceptionally useful in communicating back to children and thereby promoting an understanding of their own muddled feelings, or upsetting events that they do not have the skills yet to process properly.
Using play therapy, children can learn how to become better at regulating emotions and expressing their feelings in constructive ways. They can discover who they are and what their strong and weak points, needs, wishes, thoughts and dreams are. The combination of this self-knowledge and training in social skills may help a child to become more assertive, self-confident and to have self-respect and respect for others. Play therapy is also often used in helping children cope with, process and overcome disruptive and upsetting events or trauma, such as divorce, re-location and abuse.
Delays in milestones
Excessive soothing behaviour ie thumb sucking
Difficulty in toilet training
Unable to play alongside other children
Excessive separation anxiety
Excessive temper tantrums
Regressing to behaviours of an earlier age
6 – 11 years
Many of the same symptoms as above plus:
Problems with behaviour
Displaying cruelty to animals
Phobias such as fear of heights
Lack of self confidence
Poor bowel or bladder control
Generally anxious or nervous
Refusal to go to school
Involuntary movements or noise making
Problems in attention
Problems in spelling, reading, math, drawings
Bullying or teasing other children
12 – 17 Years
Many of the above plus:
Poor academic performance
Poor organisational skills
Lack of motivation
Bully or being the victim of bullying
Experiencing peer pressure
Tearfulness and low mood
Identity and / or gender confusion
If the child is 10 or younger
The therapist will need to see both parents without the child before the session starts
If the child is 11 or older
The therapist will need to see both parents without the child for the first session
16 or younger
The child will need parental consent