Healthy Kids | Therapy not always the best answer

Children need less therapy. 

Not a statement you may expect from a child psychologist. But too many children are in ‘therapy’ for simple and common issues that are best dealt with by parents.

I recall a recent event in which a car rammed into a school bus.

There were no injuries sustained by anybody on board. The news camera then cut to frantic parents standing with their children at the scene reporting that ‘‘counselling had been arranged for all children involved’’.

Way to make a minor incident a big deal and induce anxiety in innocent minds (that would otherwise have had a ‘‘cool’’ story to tell at school).

Now, I can hear my critics say, are you suggesting we teach children to bury feelings? No, I’m not. 

I’m suggesting we pause after these events to observe, reflect and intervene as necessary. In a world where ‘negative feelings’ are still all too uncomfortable to face, there is a rush to shove kids in front of someone to deal with them.

At a time when much talk is made of bringing up resilient children, we fail to remember that resiliency is not avoiding feelings, it is facing them, experiencing them, coming through it, and realising that you can survive.

Parents are often the best therapists for children. At times of trauma, or family change your children will look to you for guidance and reassurance. If you are ok, they will invariably be ok. 

There are of course exceptional circumstances, but I am not referring to the exceptional. I am referring to the times when parents pre-emptively book children in for counselling because they are about to separate from their spouse, or the times that I am requested to see children because they are struggling with not being a winner all the time, or the child who is in weekly sessions because they refuse to eat breakfast.

Somewhere in the advancement of our knowledge in mental health we have forgotten the art of “downplaying”, of reassuring a child all is ok, and moving on. 

In our effort to teach our children that they should be open to talking about their feelings at the first sign of a problem, are we in fact stripping away their own capacity for self-healing? And at worst, creating issues in the minds of children when there was no issue to begin with.

  • Clare Rowe, Child & Family psychologist, clarerowe.com.au