Helping Our Children to Help Themselves

If we are to have real peace, we must begin with the children
– Mahatma Ghandi

During times of stress and uncertainty, children tend to turn their fear, anger and anxiety inwards. This common reaction often makes it difficult for parents to know that their child is silently crying out for help.

How can parents know if their children need help; what kind of help they need; and, who is best qualified to provide expert assistance and proven results?

Internal and External Pressures of Childhood

Sometimes the worst pressure that children can experience is the pressure that they put upon themselves. Children are a bit like barometers. As parents experience difficult places in their lives, young people will often start to register their own general acting out behaviour at the same time, The stresses of family, school, developmental and social pressure can cause them to stumble along the ever changing pathway to adulthood. Children often try and hide their feelings so they don’t upset an already strained family system. However, depending on their age, they may still show signs of distress at school, meal times, at bedtime and with friends.

When your clients are experiencing great stressors in life, you can usually make the correct assumption that their children will be reflecting that same strife in some form in their own lives as well.

Referring Clients with Confidence

In our busy practices, we can’t be all things to each client and depending on our modalities and professional practice, it may not be possible to see the children of our clients. But we do need to ask the questions and be responsive to the concerns about our clients’ children.

We also need to be able with confidence to refer those children to a professional with a strong reputation, as well as having someone we will be comfortable working with on a professional level.

The following questions may be helpful when evaluating a potential counselor for children:

  • Is the practitioner registered by a professional organisation to work as an expert in their field?
  • Do they provide independent references from appropriate sources?
  • What type of experience do they have?
  • How long has the therapist worked with children and adolescents?
  • Would your client’s children find this person non-threatening and a “good-fit”?
  • Does the therapist collaborate with you as the referring professional and keep you updated on progress if appropriate?
  • Are they able to clearly explain their specific methodology or type of therapy and what benefits it can provide to the children and their family?
  • What are their professional credentials, achievements, recognition and proven results in their field of expertise?
  • Can you trust their professional ethics in interacting with your client’s family?

Referring a child takes careful consideration to get it right the first time. A bad first impression can result in that child refusing to “give it a go” a second time with someone else.

Revealing the Child’s Hidden Voice
Case Study: The Colour of Anxiety

Work with children need not be long term and problem saturated. In fact often the very experience of revealing their true feelings may for a child rapidly unlock the sad clench of worry which is preventing them from concentrating or sleeping.

Take little James, aged 7, referred to me by a lawyer for child. James had terrible tummy pains and Starship Hospital in Auckland repeatedly sent him home saying there was nothing physically the matter.

James identified the Worried Bear in my pack of Bear cards and proceeded to tell me that the very biggest worry in his life was what colour to have Daddy paint his bedroom at the new flat. ‘Why was that such a huge worry?’ I asked. ”Because”, James explained to me, with sad resignation,” Mummy loves blue and Daddy loves green and I don’t know which colour to choose”.

It wasn’t difficult to explain the impact of his parents’ conflict on James. When gently asked, James agreed that his worry should be passed on to mum and dad.

The result was that the worry of their son became a potent metaphor for these parents to modify their acrimony. They spoke together to James about how they both loved blue AND green. James was released back to being a seven year old. The tummy aches went but his parents remained mindful of the impact of their conflict on their son and moved on to find constructive resolutions.

Read Part 2: The Family in Transition: Recognising & Mitigating the Impacts of Change on Children

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