Seek a family therapist when your child’s behavior appears to be persistently out of synch with her developmental stage. For example,
- “No, I won’t!” type tantrums may be developmentally appropriate for a child aged two or three but not for a six-year old.
- By age four or five, a child is able to tell a parent what she wants and to accept ‘no’ or ‘maybe later’ without melting down. The child understands that wants are not always instantly satisfied.
- Your child (by age five) ought to be able to separate from parents or caregivers without launching into a prolonged crying and clinging scene. Developmentally by this age, children are secure in the fact that their parents return at the end of the day.
Other signs that child therapy may be in order:
- The child avoids interaction with peers, never wants to go on play dates or go to birthday parties.
- School behaviors can be a sign intervention is needed. For example, they may continually say, “I can’t do this” or bang or slap their heads in frustration.
If you find that any of the above examples seem to persist, find a family therapist and schedule one or more parenting sessions to talk about the behavior you are seeing. Then you may accompany your child to a therapy session where the therapist will engage her in play therapy to help her express feelings. Additional parenting sessions may be scheduled as necessary after the child has seen the therapist.
Child Therapy Is Play Therapy
As you know, young children aren’t capable of talking about or reflecting upon feelings the way older children and adults are. So our best approach is play and story. Using puppets or small figures, the child becomes absorbed in a story that plays out her feelings. A family therapist is trained to interpret the meaning of the story and behavior that emerges in the child therapy session.
In time, an experienced, child-oriented family therapist can help children put words to their feelings, to practice rudimentary problem-solving skills, or help uncover fears that cause them anxiety.
Child Therapy: Scheduling An Appointment
It’s important that your child not feel there’s something “wrong” with her or with her parent. Unless there’s a diagnosis of serious mental illness, you can say the reason for visiting a therapist is to “help us get better at understanding each other”. You could also say, “We are going talk to someone who knows more about kids than I do.”
As a parent, you can sense when not quite right with your child. Early intervention is best. If you aren’t sure how to interpret some behaviors you are observing, ask me a quick question by clicking the button at the top right of the side bar on this page.