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Children, Adolescents and Therapy

Many people believe that childhood is a time of innocence and play and that children do not, or should not, experience emotional difficulties. However, bad and hurtful things happen to children, and sometimes children inherit emotional problems from their families. Children can experience depression, anxiety, or most other emotional problems that adults face. Children often experience and express these problems differently than adults. Sometimes children will behave poorly, get angry, or get sick when they are feeling sad or worried. Many times a child, who is throwing temper tantrums or has constant tummy aches, is crying out for help.

Keep in mind that most children do not understand emotions on an adult level. Children often cannot differentiate anger or sadness. Some children cannot understand feeling two different feelings at the same time and may get confused. And almost always children do not know how to express their feelings in appropriate ways. For example, an extremely anxious child may appear rebellious when refusing to go to school.

So, what is the role of a child therapist? The first step in helping a child is to properly diagnose the problem and then to gain the child’s trust by providing a safe and comfortable sharing environment. Is the child just behaving badly or is there underlying depression or anxiety? Secondly, a therapist will help the child sort out feelings and learn how to constructively express those feelings. In addition, a therapist may help a child learn social skills, learn how to better attend in school or to parents, or learn how to better get along with friends and family. Many times helping the child is done through helping the parents know how to help the child. So, often child therapy includes the family.

My child tells me all they do is play games in therapy! I hear this all the time. And in truth, therapists do play with children during therapy. The first reason is because children like and trust people who have fun with them. Secondly, children show many things about themselves through play. Such as, how do they win or lose? Can they take turns, or can they stop when it is time to stop? Thirdly, children talk more about things when they are playing, or drawing, or using dolls or puppets. The therapy room becomes a pleasant place that children will want to come to and talk about hard things. You would be amazed what children will tell to a doll or a puppet!

Because diagnosing children is a complex process, you will need a professional that will perform a thorough assessment in order to offer you a proper diagnosis for your child. Therefore a trained professional will ask many questions about your child and to your child in order to diagnosis your child and help you plan a course of treatment. The child’s therapist can also help determine if your child should have testing or possibly an assessment for medication.  If you think your child is in need of professional help, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is your child sad angry or worried most of the time?
  2. Does your child have difficulty with his/her appetite (eating too much or not enough)?
  3. Has your child lost interest in enjoyable activities?
  4. Is your child sleeping too much or too little?
  5. Does your child have thoughts of harming (or making threats) themselves or others?
  6. Does your child have constant negative or pessimistic thoughts and feelings?
  7. Is your child angry or irritable a lot of the time?
  8. Is your child having problems getting along with adults?
  9. Does your child have headaches, stomachaches, or muscle tension that is not explained by any medical problem?
  10. Is your child having nightmares?
  11. Is your child having difficulty in school?
  12. Is your child getting into fights or conflict with their peers?
  13. Is your child not developing at the same rate as her/his peers?
  14. Is your child unable to calm down or be still enough in order to listen or learn?
  15. Is your child too anxious to leave you or refusing to go to school?

My guess is that if you are feeling that something is not quite right, or if you are feeling overwhelmed by your child, then it may be time to seek out a caring professional to help. If you have answered yes to any of these questions, your child may be suffering from childhood depression, childhood anxiety, attention deficit problems, panic attacks, behavioral problems, or having developmental difficulties. If you are concerned, please call and make an appointment today.

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