Kids and Therapy
5 benefits of having someone to talk to
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Therapy teaches kids to identify their emotions, making them better communicators and more effective in relationships. They learn to make connections between actions and consequences, helping them to make more advantageous decisions. Therapists utilize various exercises to show kids how to interact considerately with others. Perspective-taking is a technique that builds empathy and compassion by asking kids to place themselves in someone else's shoes and imagine how they would feel.
Even when they’re not grappling with greater-than-usual social or emotional difficulties, kids benefit from talking about feelings, thinking about relationships, and making conscious choices. Sometimes that’s easier to do when Mom or Dad isn’t in the room, whether through formal sessions with a licensed therapist or regular meetups with a school guidance counselor or peer group.
In honor of Mental Health Month, here are five ways therapy can prepare kids to deal with the inevitable issues that arise as they grow up.
1. Therapy can help kids and parents connect.
Establishing a supportive relationship with an outsider who isn’t caught up in family dynamics frees kids to express desires, fears and emotions that may be unacceptable at home.
Every family has its rules, many of which are unspoken. Messages received nonverbally have a powerful effect on a child’s understanding of what is expected. Falling outside of a family’s ideal can lead to issues with self-esteem. Parents who discourage the expression of anger teach kids to experience shame and internalize their emotions, which can lead to depression or even self-harm. Some families teach children not to cry or show vulnerability, which can result in kids who maintain a stiff upper lip yet suffer in silence.
Children’s egos are not fully developed. They do not have the ability to challenge their parents’ values. A therapist can help bridge this communication gap so parents might better understand their children’s emotions and world view, and support their growth into unique individuals.
2. Therapy teaches empathy and tolerance.
Children are often taught to think in black-and-white terms. Someone is either good or bad. This binary framework can compel kids to judge themselves and others harshly. Therapy makes room for the gray. We all have moments when we act in ways we later regret. Therapy helps kids develop compassion for themselves and others, and formulate strategies to handle distress effectively and appropriately.
3. Therapy groups show kids that they are not alone in their struggles.
Children are socialized to be competitive. When kids are taught that being tough is an asset, they keep their sensitivity to themselves — lest others underestimate their capability. For that reason, they may not realize that other kids have similar problems. Whether they are experiencing academic-, family- or peer-related issues, kids feel validated when they belong to a community of friends who identify with and support each other in a climate built on trust. Feeling known and accepted helps kids gain confidence being vulnerable, a requisite for forming meaningful relationships.