When would my Child benefit from Counselling?
Ever wondered what emotions your child goes through? Or how they deal with big life changes? Well, they experience precisely the same emotions we do, however they do not have the same tool kit we have managed to develop over our lives and this is where counselling really comes in for children.
The purpose of counselling is to create a safe & non-judgemental space for a child to come and express themselves. As parents, we ultimately want to help our child and often do this by trying to advise or give guidance and we end up pushing our children into being or feeling a way when all they needed was to be heard and given space to conceptualise and relate their problem to the world around them.
The earlier a child receives support, the better the outcome & overall experience is for the child.
Counselling is not a reflection on poor parenting, it can be the direct opposite as it is a sign you care and want what's best for your child - them to feel loved, supported & like their feelings and experiences are normal. The focus of counselling is not on problems, but actually on new skills & developing new behaviours and setting up that coping tool kit. Yes, we definitely discuss problems & emotions, but this is only one aspect to the process.
If your child is attending counselling, this does NOT mean that your child is a problem in anyway, that you have failed or that they will have problems for the rest of their lives!
All children will go through normal developmental challenges during their school years - such as moodiness, academic pressure, change in friendship circles etc. - and this may require your child to change perspectives or learn new skills. Often this can be done through support & open conversation at home, but sometimes it will feel like you just can't reach your child or you want them to hear someone else say exactly what you have been trying to say. It can be difficult for children to talk to their parents or family members about what they are thinking and feeling. Talking to someone outside of the family can help your child build trust, feel heard, and feel safe whilst learning new coping strategies and making sense of the world they live in.
So the big question, when do you need to consider sending your child for counselling?
You know your child best & you should definitely trust your instincts! However, if you notice changes in their behaviour, social-emotional interaction and ability to cope with situations they previously had no problems with, then it would be a good idea to chat to your partner, their teachers & of course your child too - to find out if they have also noticed a change and would like the support.
Another time counselling is effective is when your child is going through any kind of life change - moving houses, divorce, loss of a loved one, a new sibling etc. They won't need ongoing counselling for very long but it may be beneficial during the transitional stage to develop healthy & well adapted feelings and thoughts around the changes.
The keyword here is CHANGE - is there going to be a change in your child's life, have you noticed a change in their behaviour/social-emotional interaction or have you seen no change in an area where there should be improvement - these are all indicators that your child may benefit from counselling.
Dr. Kristen Eastman notes that “Often if you just say to your child, ‘Does this feel like something we need to get some help with?’ they’ll say, ‘Yeah, it does.’ ”
More seriously, a child may benefit from counselling according to Dr. Eastman if you notice some of the below:
Has problems in multiple areas of life, such as family relationships, academic performance, leisure activities and friendships.
Starts feeling bad about himself or herself, less confident or less effective.
Shows excessive worry about the future.
Withdraws from family, friends or activities he or she used to enjoy.
Has a significant change in sleep habits or appetite.
Engages in negative behavior more frequently.
Has repetitive, self-destructive behaviors such as hair-pulling or skin-picking.
Talks about or engages in any kind of self-harm.
Makes comments like “I wish I weren’t here,” or “Nobody would care if I ran away.”
Talks explicitly about suicide.
Counselling will help assess if there is a more serious issue at which point they will be referred on to a Psychologist/Paediatrician. But it may be that your child would benefit simply from the open space to share their experiences that counselling provides.