Parenting

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Children

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Children

Key Takeaways

  • In children, one of the most popular methods of cognitive behavioral therapy is exposure and response prevention.
  • CBT in children may slightly differ from the CBT in adults.
  • Depending on the type of problem, there are several ways to practice the methods of CBT.

There are a number of characteristics that separate children and adolescents from adults. However, the main difference between the two is the fact that adults are more in control of every aspect of their lives compared to children and adolescents.

We do find it normal for a child to experience anxiety to some extent. Such anxiety may be as a result of shyness or nervousness. However, when the anxiety becomes so frequent and intense that it starts to interfere with the child’s day-to-day activities and how he or she relates to other people, it is considered to be alarming. Therefore, it is important to seek professional help.

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If such a case of anxiety is left unattended to, it does not get any better since the child may come to the realization that isolation from the surrounding environment tends to reduce it even if it is for a short while. If both the child and the family as a whole try to avoid triggering the anxiety instead of using a head-on approach, it will only get worse over time.

There is always a prescription for children who suffer anxiety just like in adults. The first remedy we can think about is through taking antidepressants.  What we do not know is that cognitive behavioral therapy in children is as effective as shown by research. Studies in the last 20 years have proved that cognitive behavioral therapy is the most effective way of controlling one's anxiety. It also provides ways for a child to manage their current anxiety. The child also acquires skills to deal with his or her anxiety in the future.

What is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)?

It is thought from the idea that our feelings are affected by our thinking and actions. If we stop thinking in a way that is of no help to us, we can easily control our emotions. When dealing with children, we first focus on their behavior, with an objective of helping them forget unhelpful or destructive behavior.

In children, one of the most popular methods of cognitive behavioral therapy is the exposure and response prevention (ERP). Children are exposed to situations that spark their anxiety in a structured form. Their anxiety is increased safely and in steps. As the steps increase, the child gets used to the anxiety and is able to deal with the ever increasing types of anxieties.

The ERP differs from the typical talk therapies. In talk therapies, the patient with the help of the therapist will look at the source of the anxiety together with hopes to influence the behavior of the patient. In an exposure and response therapy, the therapist tries to change the behavior of the patient hoping that the anxiety will go away.

There are various types of anxieties that an exposure and response therapy can deal with effectively. They include:

  • separation anxieties
  • different phobias
  • obsessive-compulsive disorders

CBT in children may slightly differ from the CBT in adults. As an example, most parents call for perfection. Failure is common if a child's only objective is perfection. When a child fails, he or she will be very unhappy. The child may have negative perfection, thereby acting in a very negative way, if he or she tries to achieve success in vain. In order to avoid such circumstances, parents can help by accepting the errors of their child.

Once the child becomes an adolescent, CBT focuses on breaking the cycle at the phase where the child thinks. The child is helped by focusing on helpful thoughts to break the cycle. Helpful thoughts may help children change their behavior and emotions.

The Bully in the Brain

The guardians or parents of children with anxiety disorders should consider that the anxiety is not who the child is. An easy method of doing this is through using the "bully in the brain method" where the child nicknames the bully and talks back to it.

The therapist then tells the child that they are going to show them how to deal with the bully. This method will lead them to the idea that they can control their anxiety instead of their anxiety controlling them.

CBT Specialists

There are a number of mental health specialists that can give cognitive-behavioral therapies. They can be social workers, counselors, or licensed psychologists.

Depending on the type of problem, there are several ways to practice the methods of CBT. CBT can be short or long-term with around 18 sessions. The techniques used during the sessions include:

  • Guiding self-statements
  • Working on self-esteem
  • Giving yourself verbal instruction
  • Relaxation training
  • Recognition of false cognition
  • Working out problems using acquired CBT skills

How to Find a Qualified Therapist or Program

You may be referred by your doctor to a qualified professional, who can psychologically handle your child. This professional should be in the list of your health insurance. You and the healthcare professional will discuss their experience, the types of problems that the professional deals with, how frequent the types of problems are treated, and how to communicate with your child to help their CBT be as effective as possible, among others.

CBT Treatment 

From as young as 6 years old, children can always benefit from a CBT. A child, however, must be able to recognize self-talk and self-instruction.

Children with conditions on the behavior part are given the freedom to express themselves until they fully trust the counselor. Slowly, the therapist will now help the children recognize what triggers their behavior and slowly helps the children understand on how to deal with such situations if they arise.

As a parent, you should monitor the behavior of your child and record them on a diary before sending them for therapy. If you notice a disturbing behavior or strings of emotions, then you should contact your child's therapist. In return, the therapist should record the progress made by the child.

The Benefits of Cognitive-Behavior Therapy

The following are some of the benefits of CBT:

  • helps children in conflict resolution
  • helps children understand the impact of feeling on actions and thoughts
  • helps one get emotional support
  • helps your child find appropriate ways of dealing with stress
  • leads to a boost in your child's self-esteem
  • improves your child's educational and social situations
  • changes bad or useless habits

Cognitive behavioral therapy in children can be used alongside with antidepressants to treat children with severe depression. It can also be used to treat other conditions that are related to anxiety in children.

Drawbacks of Cognitive-Behavior Therapy

The child has to be willing to take the therapy. If not, then CBT will not be effective. On the other hand, the parents or guardians must also be willing to be there to encourage their children. If a child becomes uninterested to resolve a situation, the parent or guardian can help the child understand the importance of resolving such problem. It is only the parent or guardian who can make a child understand the concept of the therapy.