Behavioral (and play) Therapy for Children - Nurturing Young Minds
Updated: Sep 27
As a child therapist in Boise Idaho I see first hand the needs for behavioral therapy in children. In a world filled with constant change and growing pressures, the emotional well-being of our children is more crucial than ever before. Children often face a myriad of challenges as they navigate their developmental journey. From academic stress and social pressures to family dynamics and emotional upheaval, these experiences can profoundly impact their mental well-being. Mental health therapy helps children process and understand their emotions in a healthy and constructive manner, fostering resilience and emotional growth. Children are usually very receptive to counseling and are eager to learn. Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with children is perfect because it encourages children to learn about how to process thoughts. Children are so used to learning by being in school everyday, it is easier for them to learn concepts like the cognitive model. Mental health therapy with children can offer a safe and supportive space where children can explore and express their thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
In this blog post, we will dive into the significance and benefits of behavioral therapy for children, with a specific focus on two effective therapeutic approaches: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Play Therapy.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a widely recognized and evidence-based therapeutic approach that focuses on the connection between stimulus, thoughts, and responses (emotional, behavioral, and physiological). It helps children identify negative or irrational thought patterns and equips them with the skills to challenge and reframe these thoughts into more positive and constructive ones. By working collaboratively with a counselor, children learn coping strategies, problem-solving techniques, and effective communication skills, empowering them to navigate life's challenges with confidence. CBT is a teaching therapeutic modality. Children are able to learn these cognitive skills at a young age, equipping them for success into adulthood.
Play therapy harnesses the natural language of children: play. Through play, children can express their thoughts, emotions, and experiences, even when they may not have the verbal language skills to articulate them directly. Children who have grief or trauma in the past often find communication difficult, but give them a sand tray and some figurines, and they will tell a story. Play therapy allows children to explore their inner world, make sense of their experiences, and develop healthier coping mechanisms. Counselors using play therapy create a nurturing environment where children feel safe to express themselves, facilitating healing and emotional development. Play therapy is often used as the exclusive modality with children under third grade due to CBT needing a higher level of developmental cognition. Play therapy though isn't limited only to "littles", it serves a purpose in counseling through all life's stages.
Examining the Benefits of Mental Health Therapy for Children:
a) Emotional expression and regulation: Therapy provides a safe and non-judgmental space for children to express and regulate their emotions, promoting emotional intelligence and self-awareness. Learning how to identify thoughts and emotions allows children to express themselves better.
b) Coping skills: Children learn effective coping mechanisms to navigate stress, anxiety, and challenges, empowering them to face life's obstacles with resilience. Tapping into their five senses to focus on grounding and emotional regulation often proves beneficial.
c) Improved communication: Therapy enhances communication skills, helping children express their thoughts and feelings in a healthy and constructive manner, fostering better relationships with peers, family, and teachers. It also helps with their listening skills because the topic of healthy communication is often prevalent in the counseling office.
d) Self-esteem and self-confidence: Through therapy, children develop a positive self-image, building self-esteem and self-confidence that will carry into adulthood. Learning a skill like CBT allows children to feel in control of their thoughts and emotions, boosting confidence. CBT can help empower a child's autonomy.
e) Identification and management of mental health issues: Early intervention through therapy can help identify and address mental health concerns, preventing potential long-term difficulties and improving overall well-being. In addition, children will have a positive outlook on counseling, destigmatizing it, making it easier for them to seek help as adults.
Statistics on Mental Health in Children
In 2022 Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America found 21.8% of children ages 3-17 have one or more mental health conditions
20% of high school students report suicidal ideation
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for teenagers across the US
49.5% of adolescents report a mental health condition in their life
Mental health therapy with children plays a vital role in nurturing their emotional well-being and equipping them with needed skills and education. Whether through the cognitive restructuring of CBT or the expressive power of play therapy, these approaches empower children to navigate challenges, develop healthy coping skills, and build resilience. By investing in our children's mental health, we are providing them with the tools they need to thrive and lead fulfilling lives. Let us create a society where every child has the opportunity to grow emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, with the support of compassionate and supportive parents and skilled counselors.
Matt Schubert is a child therapist in Boise, Nampa, and Meridian who operates Gem State Wellness. Matt specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy with children and adults.