Childhood Emotional and Behavioral Issues
1 in 5 children are affected by childhood disorders that interfere with their social, emotional, and cognitive development.
Some common childhood disorders include (but are not limited to):
•Depression •Anxiety •Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders •Conduct disorders •Autism •Obsessive-compulsive disorders
Such disorders can have strong biological roots, or can be a result of the child’s environment (e.g. exposure to violence, stress, loss, toxins). When left undiagnosed or untreated, children and their families continuously struggle and may feel frustrated, despair, and disconnected from one another.
Children cannot overcome such overwhelming problems alone. In addition to support from family, enlisting the help of a mental health professional can provide some relief and hope for the child and family. Marriage and Family Therapists are uniquely trained to assess the possibilities and diagnose and treat the true problem (e.g. trauma, family dynamics [using child as scapegoat to displace the responsibility for some other serious family problem], a true disorder).
Fortunately, with the help of experienced marriage and family therapists, most children can overcome these challenges and continue into adulthood as successful healthy individuals. When mental health disorders are diagnosed and treated comprehensively with the full cooperation of the child, the family, and the therapist, children often have excellent long term outcomes, and are more likely to grow up and develop into happy, healthy, well-adjusted adults. Seeking the help of a therapist for your child’s emotional health is comparable to taking your child to a physician for a physical ailment; they both can assess and treat the problem that is impairing components of the child’s health and quality of life.
Possible effects on the family:
- Parents may develop anxiety, depression, or hopelessness stemming from trying to understand or “fix” their child’s problems
- Parents may experience high conflict or constant arguing from conflicting parenting styles
- Siblings may feel "neglected" since all the attention is being directed at child with emotional/behavioral problems
- Siblings may become resentful if they are compared to each other and measured up against one another by family members
- Family members may feel frustrated, concerned, and have questions about what is going on with the child and how to interact with them
- Siblings may also develop emotional and behavioral problems as a result, or in tandem with what is happening
- Family members may begin to feel very disconnected from each other
Some effective treatments for children with emotional and behavioral issues:
The three stages of therapy:
•Assessment: During this first stage, the therapist gets to know the child and works on building a trusting relationship with him/her. The
therapist asks specific questions that will help him/her learn about the child and the child’s situation that they are in therapy to improve.
•Intervention: This second stage consists of the sessions that are meant to bring upon positive change in the child’s thoughts, feelings, and
behaviors. For example, the therapist may teach the child relaxation and socializing techniques, along with continual processing of what the child is experiencing. Additionally, the therapist may educate the child about the problem they are experiencing and may assign the child
“homework,” such as practicing the techniques he/she learned in the sessions or teaching their parents the techniques, which allows the
child to practice them and connect with their parents.
•Stabilization: During the final stage, the interventions have brought upon the positive changes that the child was seeking in their life, and
they are maintaining those changes and make them last. The therapist will teach the child repetition and self-monitoring to maintain their
new, effective patterns over time. At this point, the child may end therapy or arrange to visit with or call the therapist on an occasional
• Cognitive-behavior therapy: CBT is an effective treatment approach that is based on the idea that our thoughts cause our feelings and behaviors. Therapists help children and their parents identify problematic thoughts or patterns of thoughts, and develop more successful thinking patterns and habits. Behavior and feelings change for the better as thinking habits are adjusted.
• Trauma-focused cognitive-behavior therapy: A therapy approach for both parents and their chidren who have emotional and behavioral difficulties due to a traumatic life event that teaches new skills to process one's thoughts and feelings related to the trauma. Parents and children learn how to manage and resolve distressing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and develop a sense of safety, growth, parenting skills, and family communication.
• Play Therapy: Play therapy provides a way for children to express themselves through a natural, self-guided, and self-healing process. Children feel safe and able to fully communicate and receive therapeutic feedback during the play process.
• Psychoeducation: Psychoeducation has proven effective at teaching parents and their children about what they are experiencing, why, and how to cope with it. Parents and children often feel relief after learning that what they are experiencing is normal (or not) and how to proceed.
• Family Therapy: Family therapy is a highly effective approach that addresses the family's structure, patterns, communication and each individual member's experiences. Often the family’s strengths are identified and used to help them resolve their problems, while other times families are taught new interactional skills. Typically, all family members are taught strategies to interact in a healthy way with one another and to handle conflicts and changes within the family in a more positive manner.
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