Parents may feel at a loss when they have to decide whether they should see a child psychologist or if their kids are demonstrating age-appropriate behaviors. Children are different from adults when it comes to expressing emotions, in that they do not yet have the emotion or communication skills to verbalise what they need or what they are feeling.
The main advantage of seeing a child psychologist is that your child can learn can learn better coping skills, in part because therapy for kids is intended to teach them improved emotion literacy- how to express their feelings instead of acting out as a means of demanding your attention.
Many parents express uncertainty about why and when to see a child therapist. There are moments in life, such as death or divorce, and other times of major adjustment, when kids can feel traumatized and confused by events and the experiences they go through. Under such circumstances, a therapist can be a great support for the entire family.
Also, children often feel the need to protect their parents, sensing that they might be going through a difficult time themselves. This may discourage them from opening up about how they feel. A child therapist can offer a “safe” opportunity and the right environment for kids to express their own feelings, without feeling obliged to take care of somebody else.
But how can parents know when it is the right time to take their child to a psychologist? The most important signs parents should look for include changes in their child’s behavior that were not there in the first place. Here is a short list to start with:
– Bouts of crying that do not diminish, no matter how much parents try to comfort the child
– Consistent angry behaviour
– Aggressive behaviour
– Spending time alone and ignoring other people
– Bedwetting (for kids that have already been toilet-trained)
Why are kids acting this way? For the most part children, especially younger children, are not yet properly equipped to tell their parents how they feel or why. So, they resort to “acting out” to draw attention to their pain.
A good course of action for parents is to search for a child psychologist specialized in play therapy. The therapist’s role is work with children and using approaches such as play therapy to get in the kids’ world and speak their special language. Ideally, seek the support of a practitioner who is interested in involving the parents in the child’s therapy, and acts as a part of a support team through trying times.
It is very important that parents understand not to use therapy as means of punishment. Kids should not be threatened that they will have to see a therapist because they behave badly, as this will potentially undermine the purpose of therapy, which is to help children open up.
What parents can say to help kids understand better the role of a play therapist is to present the expert as someone they can open up to about what they feel so they can start to feel happy again. They can use, for instance, the term “feelings doctor”, because the therapist’s role is help kids express their feelings through play, a language they can understand.
Even when issues relating to trauma and abuse must be worked through, the sessions can still be kept playful, to allow kids to open up about their feelings in a non-threatening way.