In Family Therapy With Children, We Recognize Everyone In The Family Is Affected By The Distress
Family therapy with childhood-aged kids is the most common form that family therapy takes in our practice, often when one or more children in the family are struggling. We like to address these scenarios with families because we recognize that every member in the family, even the people in the family who are not clearly struggling (in the fight, in trouble, the one in clear distress), is both affected by and a part of contributing to the distress.
Understanding that everyone contributes is not to evoke blame. Family therapy is explicitly fashioned to avoid blame, which is especially important with young children who can take on blame, even when it’s not intended. Instead, we understand the challenges families are experiencing as a part of a relational dynamic.
Another benefit of family therapy with children is that it is short-term and can take on many forms. This gives us the opportunity to work outside of a narrow framework. In the course of family treatment with children, we might meet with any individual alone, with one parent and a child, one parent and multiple children, both parents solo, both parents with one child, or with different formulations of sibling groups (pairs, threes, etc.). This gives us a range of options for how to help families.
When A Family Is Going Through A Transition or Loss, Kids Are Skilled At Hiding Needs
Transitions can disrupt and disturb entire families. When parents are having their own emotional challenges related to a transition or loss, it can be hard to see the ways the loss is affecting children, or the ways their emotional challenges are impacting children. Kids are often very skilled at hiding needs and challenges from parents, particularly when they know their parents are struggling themselves.
As therapists who work with kids, we know a lot about the ways kids hide what they need. We know the sorts of things they hide, the signs they’re hiding them, and the questions to ask that can help bring this to the forefront. We also understand the often unconscious things parents do that unwittingly make kids feel they need to hide things, and can coach parents on how to make changes to make it easier for their kids to open up.
We Help Families Create And Implement Behavior Plans When Kids Are Acting Out
With kids, behavioral issues can be school-related (school refusal, fighting, calling out in class, and failing to complete schoolwork in and out of school) or happen in the home (fighting with siblings, refusing to complete tasks like brushing teeth, homework or bedtime, breaking things around the house, and arguing or using aggressive language with siblings, parents, and caregivers). In our family therapy with children, we use a couple approaches to help families with behavioral problems and acting out, including behavior plans and interventions, which can correct problematic behavior and help bring peace into the home. This could look like setting up a rewards system, or help with consequences or punishment, as well as guidance on understanding which is better.
Generally, rewards are the most motivating for school-aged children. Behavioral science tells us that rewarding good behavior is more effective than punishing bad behavior. A well-constructed behavior plan isn’t necessarily intuitive, and can require guidance in implementing and iterating to be successful. Done well, a behavior plan can make a tremendous difference not just with a child, but with the whole family because behavior problems with a child can affect everyone.
That said, some behaviors require a firmer hand. Some parents need support to stay tough, while others need guidance on how to be firm without exploding with anger or otherwise losing control.
With Behavioral Issues, It’s Also Essential To Find And Address Underlying Causes
Behavior plans and punishments are typically a necessary first step, and can clear the air for everyone to better focus on finding underlying causes. But if we don’t identify and address the underlying causes of the behavior, it’s likely the problematic behavior or other also concerning behaviors will come onto the scene. Lasting change for serious problems must involve a depth and breadth commensurate with the seriousness of the behavior problems themselves.
Kids Have To Go To School: School Refusal Often Takes A Combination Of Discipline And Investigation
One common form of behavioral issues with school-aged children is school refusal. Kids have to go to school. Sometimes reasons are mysterious as to why young people may resist, which means dealing with school refusal often takes a combination of discipline and investigation. There are a host of reasons why school may be a tough place to be, including it may not be a good fit and parents may need help with that. We also frequently discover things happening in the home, whether a child is worried about a parent or sibling or a child isn’t successfully able to take his or her parents to school (in the emotional sense).
Parents And Siblings Can Take On A Powerful Role With A Child Dealing With Depression
Depression both exists and is addressed within a family. A child feeling depressed is brutal, and he or she needs all the help a family can give. Sometimes parents (and providers) formulate an understanding of depression as mysterious and hidden, and therefore, untouchable or out-of-reach. While depression can be incredibly complicated, parents and siblings can take on a powerful role with guidance from a family therapist.
It’s important to emphasize, however, that depression in children isn’t something that needs to be resigned to as something purely biological (meaning it’s not simply a genetic phenomenon that a kid has to live with). In family therapy, we help look at ways in which the family can help treat the child’s depression.
Family Therapy Can Help Strengthen Closeness Between A Parent And Child
A parent (or parents) and a child can drift apart, and there are endless ways that closeness can break down in families with childhood-aged kids. These might be broader changes in a child or parent’s life, including divorce, school changes, or medical problems. It also may be that the relationship struggles as the child changes and grows (and needs different things). Being close to an 8-year-old is altogether different than being close to a 14-year-old. As kids grow older, parents receive the loss of their younger selves. Even as parents celebrate their kids’ growth, they may struggle to be close to them as older children need different things.
Frequently the first step is the most important in facilitating closeness. We help a parent and child who have become distant be able to see that. Beyond that, we look at whether they want to repair and get close, provide space to identify how they drifted apart, and look at how things need to change so we can reduce barriers to a closer relationship.