THERAPY WITH PARENTS & CHILDREN


A prime goal in therapy with children is to help them make sense of their feelings without relying too much on talking about negative emotions.
Several aspects of therapy with adults are not applicable to therapy with children, such as the notion that talking about problems helps to solve them (with children talking about a problem may not help to solve it!, and the ability to identify feelings and motives (Children usually cannot answer our question, "Why are you so angry?" or "Why did you hit your sister when you know hitting is not allowed?").

Knowing the cause of a problem may have little connection to solving the problem. Uncovering the “root cause” of a child’s problem can have the unintended result of seeming to place “blame” on a person or situation without necessarily improving the problem. In contrast, by paying attention to the resources that a child has today and to the ways that they interact with a variety of adults and children in different settings, the therapist can often help the child to discover a solution to their problems. For example, most problem behavior has exceptions, times when the problem does not happen, or times when the problem happens with less severity. Detailed information about exceptions can help the therapist, with help from the child and the parent, to find the child’s inner and outer resources for overcoming the problem or reducing its power.

Children who have experienced trauma and extreme stress may develop problems with behavior and regulating their emotions.
Problems are more likely to develop if the child lacks a secure parental attachment, and less serious problems may develop following trauma and severe stress even in the presence of a secure parental attachment. The child’s problems are an understandable adaptation to the child’s unique developmental and relationship history. They reflect the child’s inability, at the moment, adequately to self-regulate his or her affect and behavior. Even if the child is acting in an aggressive, controlling manner, an attachment approach and interventions will, in most but not all situations, view the child as anxious, vulnerable, “in over his head,” out of control, and needing extra empathy, soothing, and management from the parent.

The parent’s or caregiver’s early experience can interfere with his or her strong desire to respond sensitively to their child, especially when the child is challenging.
The therapist can help the child’s relationship with her or his parents indirectly, by helping the parent to see their patterns of behavior and thinking.

Our culture and our lives provide many pressures that force early independence and create poor attachments between children and their parents.
Psychotherapy can help family or household members to repair and re-build attachments and to provide their child with discipline in a way that builds the attachment and does not weaken it. Parents have an important role in the treatment of the child. All parent-child relationships, even damaged ones, should be repaired currently if possible, or included in the child’s life in an indirect manner if the child cannot now safely relate to the parent.

Beliefs about parents and children. (i)
Until proven otherwise, I believe that all parents want to be proud of their child, have a positive impact on their child, have a good relationship with their child now and in the future, hear good reports about their child, and give their child a foundation for happiness and success in life.

Until proven otherwise, I believe that all children want their parents to be proud of them, want to please their parents and certain other adults, want to be accepted in their social group, want to obtain skills, want to play and have a variety of happy and pleasant feelings, want to be asked their opinion, and want to make choices relative to their age.
(i) Adapted from I. Berg and T. Steiner (1990) and D. Hughes (1999).

"If we value our children, we must cherish their parents."
John Bowlby, MD
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