Young children have different needs from therapy than some of their older counterparts. Traditional talk therapy rarely has any impact on young children because their vocabulary is too limited to express the complex feelings that are often at the root of the problem bringing them to therapy in the first place. In fact, it is often this very limitation that makes early childhood such a challenging time for children and adults to understand each other. This is made even more complicated when a young child has seen or heard something that is too scary for them to cope with.
Therapy with young children often involves a variety of non-verbal approaches to helping the child express themselves. Often, children are given narratives or frameworks for understanding and explaining complex emotions and experiences from well-meaning adults in their lives, which may have the unintended impact of stopping children from expressing themselves. In therapy, children are given the freedom to develop their own stories and express their own feelings, free from adult influence. As a result, therapists do a lot of observing and listening and much less talking or guiding than they would in session with an older child or teen. The outcome is children who are more confident expressing themselves and who are able to resolve the emotional problems using their own internal skills, developed by learning to express themselves more independently in therapy.
Parent and family involvement in therapy with young children is key because your child’s relationship with you is the center of their universe. Children may make progress expressing themselves in the solitude of the therapy room, but then may have trouble translating those skills to a new environment when their caregivers are unfamiliar with the content of the therapy sessions. Children need their caregivers to know about their internal emotional world so their caregivers can help them feel confident expressing and processing their emotions. A therapist can facilitate this, but can never replace a parent or caregiver.
In my practice with young children I employ a variety of techniques, most notably child-centered play therapy, and Child Parent Psychotherapy. I bring you, the parent or caregiver, right into to the room with your child, and then meet separately with you to talk together about what your child is expressing through their play and other therapy activities. I value your voice and knowledge of your child and see us as each contributing separate kinds of expertise to the process of piecing together the puzzle of your child’s internal world. My experience providing years of therapy to young children and my formal training in this area of practice will help your family help your young child who is in distress. Please contact me to learn more about my approach and style, and we’ll work together to identify the kind of help you and your child need. If you aren’t sure you’re ready to reach out for therapy, consider reading my blog article about deciding whether and when to bring your young child to therapy.