While many of us can seek support from friends and family, it’s not always possible. Even as adults, it can be scary to ask for help, especially for our own mental health. So, consider how daunting it can be for a child. A child experiencing a mental health problem, or experiencing something they don’t understand; how can they possibly know where to turn?
The first thing to do is not jump to conclusions. Depending on their age, they may be talking to friends about how they feel. They may be talking to their teacher, or another person of authority at school, like the nurse or student support officer. It’s not easy, but don’t be offended if they aren’t opening up to you - sometimes it can be more daunting talking to a parent, than another adult.
If their behaviour has changed, consider what’s happening in their life - is there anything that may have triggered their distress? Situations like moving house, divorce, bullying and bereavement can affect a child greatly, and stress can build when they don’t know how to cope.
Try talking to them through asking questions, and show your support. Even if they’re not ready to talk, ensure they know you’re there for them. If you’re worried about your child and things seem to be affecting their health, it may be time to consider further help.
Counselling gives the child the opportunity to talk about how they feel without the fear of judgement. Speaking to a counsellor, away from their home and school life, can take away some of the pressure. Counselling offers a safe environment for children to express their feelings and understand what may have caused them to feel this way.
The methods used in sessions will depend on the child’s age, situation and their development. There are a number of methods that may be used to encourage children to express their feelings better, such as through play and art. Reading stories and talking about the feelings of a specific character can help them understand the emotion and, in turn, encourage them to discuss their own feelings, while drawing, painting or drama can help the child express themselves better.
Older children may prefer talking therapy, or a mixture of both. This is down to the child and the counsellor, who will discuss the situation together to learn what method will be most beneficial. Although different methods may be used for child counselling, the aim of counselling for both children and adults is the same; to help the individual cope better with their feelings and to enjoy life again.
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A few examples of how counselling can help children include; coping with everyday worries, such as exam stress, and relationship issues with friends, family members and teachers. Counselling can also help with self-harm concerns, grief, depression and anxiety, and learning difficulties, to name a few.
Really, if something is making your child unhappy, however small you or they feel it is, it’s important. Know that help is available - counselling allows your child to talk to someone about what’s on their mind safely and confidently, without fear of judgement.
There is no right or wrong reason to why someone may consider counselling. Sometimes it’s just good to talk to someone objective, other times more guidance may be needed. Common child-related issues that can be managed with the support of a counsellor include:
Whilst there are currently no official rules or regulations in place that stipulate what level of training a child/youth counsellor needs, it is recommended that you check to see if your therapist is experienced in this area. While some aspects of counselling remain the same regardless of age, there are certain issues and developmental intricacies that often require an alternative approach.
A Diploma level qualification (or equivalent) in child/youth counselling or a related topic will provide assurance and peace of mind that your counsellor has developed the necessary skills.
Another way to assure they have undergone this type of specialist training is to check if they belong to a relevant professional organisation representing child/youth counsellors.