From what I’ve seen, the stigma associated with mental health therapy is still present, but getting better. In my opinion, most people could benefit from therapy at some point in their lives. Therapy seems to often be associated with scary diagnoses, but that’s not always the case. A lot of times, therapy is just another tool to help someone get through an adjustment or overcome some bad habits (and develop good habits instead). Because of the stigma, some parents may be fearful of seeking out therapy.
One fear is that their child will get some severe diagnosis that will “follow them” for the rest of their lives. Most of the time, that’s not the case. Most children aren’t going to get a diagnosis of Conduct Disorder! Most children that I see don’t meet the criteria for such a diagnosis, but can still benefit from therapy (both individual and family). So how do you know if your child can benefit from therapy? Everyday Health created a list of signs that your child might need therapy, including constant anger and overreacting to situations and persistent worry or anxiety (you can read the full article here).There are some very severe symptoms/signs on that list and a lot of those are going to be exhibited by older children.
There are some very severe symptoms/signs on that list, but your child doesn’t need to be exhibiting the most severe of symptoms to benefit from therapy. Below I’ve created a list of 10 things that can be addressed in therapy (these are ten common concerns – therapy can help with so much more!). I typically will provide individual therapy for kiddos starting at age 3 or 4, depending on development. Family therapy can benefit kiddos of any age and usually focuses on different parenting interventions that can be used to change behavior.
By the way, I’ve met with parents who dislike the term “family therapy,” because they believe it implies that there is a “problem” with the family – that isn’t the case! Family therapy is labeled such simply because there are family members in the session! Family therapy is a great place for parents to learn new tools they can use with their child(ren).
Ten concerns that can be addressed in therapy with children:
- Defiance/Not following directions (this can affect so many areas of life – homework, chores, hygiene, etc.)
- Aggression – whether towards parents, teachers, siblings, or peers
- Worry/Anxiety (including specific fears of objects and separation from caregivers)
- Bedtime/sleep issues (not wanting to go to bed and/or not staying asleep)
- Potty training concerns
- Social interaction concerns (fighting with others, not making friends, not sharing, etc.)
- Struggling to sit still and/or focus
- Picky eaters
This is definitely not an exhaustive list. Therapy can help with any behavior that you want to see get better!
There are so many deep breathing exercises you can do with kiddos. What works with some might not work with others, so it can be beneficial to provide a kiddo with multiple options so that they can find one that works for them.
The deep breaths are important, but assigning another task while taking deep breaths can also help get the child’s mind off whatever it is they are angry (and possibly ruminating) about. I’ve shared about TAKE 5 Breathing, but here’s another idea with tracing.
The idea is to have children trace basic geometric shapes, like a triangle, rectangle, or square, while they take deep breaths. This helps get them fully engaged with the deep breathing and can make it more effective. Here’s some examples of how to use a square and a star (note with the star, you’d have to trace it twice to get full breaths).
I usually have kiddos practice a few times with an actual shape in front of them, then have them trace it on a table without a template. They can also trace it in the air, on their leg, on the wall, etc.
A few times:
- Practice makes perfect!
- Remind kiddos to SLOW down – it’s not a race!
Every parent dreads negative behavior and/or tantrums in public places. It happens (yes, to everyone!), but they can be embarrassing and frustrating. Grocery stores seem to be “hot spots” for tantrums – maybe because of boredom, lack of attention, and tempting objects in the toy/candy aisles. Tantrums/meltdowns may not be completely unavoidable, but there are some things you can do that can help prevent them from happening.
- Pre-teach before heading into the store. Your rules might be different than other parents, but decide what they are and make them very clear to your kiddos. While driving to the store, remind children about the expectations for when you are in the store. Also remind them about any consequences (positive or negative) that might happen.
- Use PRAISE and REWARDS. Praise your child often while at the store for sitting still in the cart, walking right next to you, using an inside voice, etc. Keep a lollipop, sticker, or some other small reward in the car or in your purse. Have clear expectations for how your child can earn that reward while in the store. For example, your child might earn a reward if they can use an inside voice. Or they might earn a reward if they can accept “no” appropriately when asking for something.
- Get your kiddo involved – think of a way to engage with them while you shop. Challenge your kiddo to help you find the items on the list. Have them cross off things on the list as you find them. Create a guessing game for what aisle items will be in or how long it will take to find something. This will make the trip more fun (possibly for both of you!) and provide your kiddo with the attention they crave.
- Keep them occupied. If getting them involved won’t work, give them something to keep them occupied. Let them bring a toy to the store or give them a book to read in the cart. Tablets and phones can be great entertainment, if you’re OK with screen time at the store. This will help prevent any boredom.
- PRACTICE! It might seem silly, but practice truly does increase your kiddos’ chances of success. Go to the store when you only need a few things and practice appropriate public behavior with your children. Going when you only need a few items means you can spend more time praising your child while they practice, and means they get to practice for a shorter period of time.
- Don’t be afraid to leave the store, if needed. If your child becomes too disruptive or you’ve had enough, but haven’t checked out yet, leave your items with an employee and get out of there. You can also try taking your child to the car to calm down, then returning for your items once they’re calm.
Everybody needs some encouragement every once in a while (or sometimes every day!). Positive affirmations can be very empowering, especially in trying situations. Below are 7 images with positive affirmations for mothers. Use the phrases below (or create your own!) as your personal mantra. Repeat it to yourself, either in your head or out load (been there!) when you need a reminder.
Note on this last one: This can be such an empowering statement for a struggling parent. During therapy sessions, I often tell parents that they are the expert on their children. I may have a lot of knowledge about behavioral interventions with children, but it’s important to remember that the PARENTS are the experts on their child’s personality, likes, dislikes, motivators, and idiosyncrasies. You know your child best.
Rewards are definitely NOT necessary. Praise, hugs, high-fives, and pats on the back can do wonders when trying to increase positive behaviors. However, rewards can be really useful in changing behaviors. One thing I consistently hear from parents is that they don’t want to spend a lot of money on rewards. Nor should they have to! There are lots of rewards that parents can use that cost little or no money. Here are a few ideas:
- Let the child pick what the family has for dinner
- An extra book before bed
- Staying up 5-10 minutes past bedtime
- Special bubble bath
- A small snack (M&Ms, a small cookie, grapes, cereal)
- One-on-one time with mom or dad (or both!)
- An extra trip to the park
- Movie night (at home)
- Get a pass on a daily chore for one day
- Video game time or time on the computer (or extra time if they already get some)
- Camp out in the living room or backyard
- Game night
- Let your child help you cook or bake a special treat
- Get a prize box and fill it up with cheap items from the store to let your child pick from
- small action figures
- crazy straws
- Let your child invite a friend for a sleepover
- Help mom or dad with a chore or task (chores are boring, but being mom’s special helper can be fun)
- Dance party in the living room
- Picnic (indoor or outdoor)
I saw a product while watching The Toy Box called Emoti Dolls. They are plush dolls whose facial features can be changed to show different emotions. The company website says “One Doll, Infinite Emotions.”
Check out the website for Emotiplush Therapy Dolls.
Looks like a fun doll, but also – what a learning tool! There are kiddos who struggle to understand emotions and struggle to recognize emotions by facial expressions. This doll seems like it would be a great tool to practice recognizing emotions in others!