Counseling for young children, otherwise known as play therapy takes into account the way children communicate. Adults come to counseling, sit down and talk, but young children aren’t skilled in using words to express themselves. They show their feelings and thoughts through play. Various techniques to help children communicate include using dolls of various ages and gender, puppets, clay, and coloring. When working with older school aged children or teens, playing a game often takes away the pressure to “talk” about their problems, and their conversation comes much more easily when it’s said between playing checkers or other games.

Parents are often met with as part of the therapy, because the counselor needs to understand the child’s behavior at home and school, and with friends. Parental and family problems influence children, and thus parents are included in their own therapy time to help manage problems at home. The focus may have begun with the child as the identified patient, but it’s likely that one child in the family is acting out as a consequence of other problems within the family. I have often met children who began having behavior problems when their parents fought or talked about a divorce. When the child misbehaves, the parents come together to help the insecure child, and the child takes the role of family savior, which is a huge burden for any child. This is why child or youth counseling must become family counseling in many situations.

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