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How to Help a Child Who Is Afraid of Pediatric Counseling


When you think about going to therapy, you might exclusively imagine an adult walking into a session and talking about their struggles. While it’s true that adults seek treatment for mental illness, traumatic experiences or everyday stressors, children work with therapists, too. Unlike adults, children don’t choose to go to counseling. They’re in an unfamiliar environment, and they might be afraid.

Children see counselors for a variety of reasons. Unlike traditional psychologists who see adult clients, pediatric counselors work exclusively with children. They create a safe therapeutic environment where kids can express their feelings.

Each child is unique, and it’s crucial for therapists who work with children to recognize that. What works for one child won’t necessarily work with another. It’s crucial for a pediatric therapist to pay close attention to their client and notice how they communicate, what their learning style is and when they’re able to express their feelings freely.

It’s tempting for a pediatric counselor to jump in to try to see what’s bothering the child, but many children are reserved with adults and won’t open up to their therapist immediately. Counselors working with kids: don’t push them to tell you why they’re angry or hurting on the first session. You might be curious to know why they are in counseling, but they need to be comfortable with you before you start asking these intimate questions. Once you’ve established a bond with the child, then you can begin to look into their emotional world and help them heal.

To break the ice, you should find out what this child likes. Ask them what movies, TV shows, video games, toys, sports or music they enjoy and take notes. Children often have excellent memories, and they’re paying attention to what you remember about them. If the child is small, you may try practicing play therapy. A successful approach to get a child to communicate with you is to stay light-hearted and fun, at least in the initial sessions. There will be time to get to the harder issues later on in your sessions together.

Remember, you’re not working with an adult who can articulate their mental health history. Each family has its own set of challenges, and even if you haven’t been in their shoes, you can use empathy and compassion to support them through challenging emotional times. It’s essential that you refrain from labeling the child with a diagnosis or making determinations about the family dynamic before collecting all the facts you can to make educated assessments. The parents or guardians can sometimes help you in the process of gathering pertinent information about their child so you can be the most effective and compassionate pediatric counselor.

When you first meet a child for pediatric counseling, you have to face the fact that you are a stranger to them. Acknowledge that you are a new face and say things like, “I know we just met, and I want to learn more about what your favorite things are.” If you’re using play therapy, here’s a chance to let the child direct the session.

It’s important to remember that children don’t like being pushed to share their feelings. You may be tempted to pry information out of them, but that’s not going to serve you or the child. Just like adults, children have boundaries, and you need to respect them. Pay attention to when a child doesn’t want to talk about a sensitive topic. That’s when it’s time to back off and talk about something else. They’re entitled to their emotional space, and they don’t owe you an explanation for why they don’t want to talk about a specific topic.

Being a pediatric counselor is a challenging job, but it’s rewarding when you see your clients start to heal. You’re in this profession because you care, and at the same time, you are changing children’s lives.

Photo by KatarzynaBialasiewicz via Getty Images.

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