Child therapy is generally not an easy topic for parents to discuss. Nobody wants their child to need therapy, but unfortunately, there are many difficult and even traumatic issues that children may encounter that a qualified professional can help them deal with.
Although child therapy is usually discussed with a focus on the problems that make therapy a necessity, like abuse, neglect, and trauma, it can have an equally weighted or even more salient focus on the positive.
As you will see, child therapy is perfectly suited to emphasizing positive development while addressing negative issues and symptoms. Therapy sessions can focus on working toward an optimistic future, positive coping methods, and boosting the self-esteem, self-confidence, and other positive states and traits in children.
Whether the child is participating in play therapy, behavioral therapy, or an expressive therapy, it can provide them with opportunities to not only survive after trauma but thrive.
This article contains:
- What is Child Therapy/Child Counseling?
- When is Child Therapy Effective?
- How an Emotional Child Can Benefit from Kids Therapy
- Child Therapy Techniques: Behavioral Therapy and More
- 13 Child Therapy Worksheets
- Praising Children: 136 Affirmations for Children
- 9 Child Therapy Books
- A Take Home Message
What is Child Therapy/Child Counseling?
Child therapy (also called child counseling) is much the same as therapy and counseling for adults: it offers them a safe space and an empathetic ear while providing tools to bring about change in thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Just like adult clients, child clients receive emotional and goal support in their sessions. They may focus on resolving conflict, understanding their own thoughts and feelings, or on coming up with new solutions to problems.
The only big difference between adult therapy and child therapy is the emphasis on breaking down mental illness, trauma, or any other difficult issue the child is dealing with, to ensure children understand what is happening and can make sense of what they are experiencing.
Child therapy can be practiced with one child, a child, and a parent or parents, or even with more than one family. It is often administered by a counselor or therapist who specializes in working with children, and who can offer the parents and/or guardians insights that may not be immediately apparent.
The therapist and client(s) can cover a wide variety of issues and problems in counseling, including:
- Divorce or separation
- Death of a loved one
- Witnessing or experiencing a trauma
- Sexual abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Physical abuse
- Family or child relocation
- Substance abuse or addiction in the family
- Mental illness, like depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (TherapyTribe, 2018)
Whatever the treatment is sought to alleviate or address, it will likely be very forward-oriented (meaning there will be little looking back or digging up the past) and will probably be conducted in a non-verbal manner for a large portion of the time (including play, games, art, etc.).
In addition, the therapy sessions may focus on five important goals on top of any situation-specific goals:
- Building the child’s self-esteem
- Helping to improve the child’s communication skills
- Stimulating healthy, normal development
- Building an appropriate emotional repertoire
- Improving the child’s emotional vocabulary (Walker, 2014).
To summarize, child therapy is quite similar to therapy for adults in terms of the purpose, goals, and problems it can address, but it narrows the focus to issues that young children struggle with and emphasizes a future-oriented perspective, along with including techniques and exercises that are appropriate for the child’s age.
When is Child Therapy Effective?
As noted above, child therapy can be effective for a wide range of issues. If a parent is not sure whether the child needs counseling or not, the list of symptoms below can be a good indicator. If the child is experiencing one or more of these symptoms, coupled with the parent’s concern, it’s probably a good idea to take him or her in for an evaluation.
The following are symptoms that may indicate a problem that child counseling can correct or help with:
- Unwarranted aggression
- Difficulty adjusting to social situations
- Frequent nightmare and sleep difficulties
- A sudden drop in grades at school
- Persistent worry and anxiety
- Withdrawing from activities they normally enjoy
- Loss of appetite and dramatic weight loss
- Performing obsessive routines like hand washing
- Expressing thoughts of suicide
- Talking about voices they hear in their head
- Social isolation and wanting to be alone
- Alcohol or drug use
- Increased physical complaints despite a normal, healthy physician’s report
- Self-harm such as cutting (TherapyTribe, 2018)
In addition to these issues, the child may be dealing with:
- Persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- Constant anger and a tendency to overreact to situations
- Preoccupation with physical illness or their own appearance
- An inability to concentrate, think clearly or make decisions
- An inability to sit still
- Dieting excessively or binging followed by vomiting or taking laxatives
- Taking part in violent acts such as setting fires or killing animals (Thompson Jr., 2010)
If parents decide to bring their child to therapy, they should be sure to stay engaged throughout the therapy process. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry suggests asking the therapist or counselor the following questions:
- Why is psychotherapy being recommended?
- What results can I expect?
- How long will my child be involved in therapy?
- How frequently will the doctor see my child?
- Will the doctor be meeting with just my child or with the entire family?
- How much do psychotherapy sessions cost?
- How will we (the parents) be informed about our child’s progress and how can we help?
- How soon can we expect to see some changes?
Similarly, there are some suggestions on how to talk to a child about going to counseling. It can be awkward or uncomfortable for both the parent(s) and the child to talk about mental health treatment, but following these tips can help them get through it:
- Find a good time to talk and assure them that they are not in trouble. Listen actively.
- Take your child’s concerns, experiences, and emotions seriously.
- Try to be open, authentic, and relaxed.
- Talk about how common the issues they are experiencing may be.
- Explain that the role of a therapist is to provide help and support.
- Explain that a confidentiality agreement can be negotiated so children—especially adolescents—have a safe space to share details privately while acknowledging that you will be alerted if there are any threats to their safety (Wells, Sueskind, & Alcamo, 2017).
There are many effective forms of child therapy with evidence to back them up, including Applied Behavior Analysis, Behavior Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive Therapy, Family Therapy, Interpersonal Psychotherapy, and Organization Training (Society of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 2017). Younger children may also benefit from Play Therapy, and older adolescents may benefit from Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Group Therapy, or Psychodynamic Psychotherapy (American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 2017).
These therapies may be administered on their own, in combination with other therapies, or as a hodge-podge of techniques and exercises from several different types of therapies. In addition, it may or may not be accompanied by medication, depending on the situation.
One of these therapies may work for a child far better than the others, and the type chosen will depend on the issue(s) the child and family are dealing with. However, like with any form of therapy, it is most effective when everyone involved is on board, supportive, and actively contributing to success.
How an Emotional Child Can Benefit from Kids Therapy
An overly emotional child (or one that struggles with inappropriate emotional expression or emotional dysregulation) may suffer from one or more of a variety of issues, including ADHD, mental illness, anxiety, or even an autism spectrum disorder. Whatever the issue they are facing, child therapy can help them deal with it.
Cognitive therapy is a good choice for emotional children, as it involves reducing anxiety and learning new ideas and new ways to channel the child’s feelings and energy. It will also help him or her to identify their inner thoughts, and try to replace the bad ones with more positive, helpful ones. Applied behavior analysis can help the child learn how to respond to situations in better, more effective ways, and will teach them about rewards and punishments for their behavior. Play therapy is a good choice for younger children with emotional issues since they can act them out through toys or dolls (KidsMentalHealth, 2009).
The type of therapy and techniques that will work best for the child may also depend on which stage of development they are in; Erik Erikson’s groundbreaking theory on the eight stages of psychosocial development is a commonly recognized and accepted theory and can help differentiate between normal, age-appropriate issues and more troublesome symptoms.
The eight stages are:
- Infancy: Trust vs Mistrust. In this stage, infants require a great deal of attention and comfort from their parents, leading them to develop their first sense of trust (or, in some cases, mistrust).
- Early Childhood: Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt. Toddlers and very young children are beginning to assert their independence and develop their unique personality, making tantrums and defiance common.
- Preschool Years: Initiative vs. Guilt. Children at this stage begin learning about social roles and norms; their imagination will take off at this point, and the defiance and tantrums of the previous stage will likely continue. The way trusted adults interact with the child will encourage him or her to act independently or to develop a sense of guilt about any inappropriate actions.
- School Age: Industry (Competence) vs. Inferiority. At this stage, the child is building important relationships with peers and is likely beginning to feel the pressure of academic performance; mental health issues may begin at this stage, including depression, anxiety, ADHD, and other problems.
- Adolescence: Identity vs. Role Confusion. The adolescent is reaching new heights of independence and is beginning to experiment and put together his or her identity. Problems with communication and sudden emotional and physical changes are common at this stage (Wells, Sueskind, & Alcamo, 2017).
The final three stages are not relevant for the purposes of discussing child therapy, but they are listed here if you’re curious:
- Young Adulthood: Love – Intimacy vs. Isolation
- Middle Adulthood: Care – Generativity vs. Stagnation
- Late Adulthood: Ego Integrity vs. Despair
Based on these life stages, we know that it is common for children in early childhood to throw tantrums when they don’t get their way; tantrums alone aren’t reason enough to seek a therapist! However, if someone of school age is still throwing tantrums, it may be time to explore therapy and counseling options.
Child Therapy Techniques: Behavioral Therapy and More
The exact techniques that a round of child therapy may apply will depend on the type of therapy that is administered. A few of the most common and evidence-backed techniques, as well as the type of therapy they can commonly be found in, are described below.
The Feeling Word Game
There are many play therapy techniques that have proven to be effective, fun, and engaging for children. The Feeling Word Game is one such technique.
It begins with the therapist asking the child to list the feelings that boy or girl of their age experiences. The therapist will write each word down on a card or piece of paper, or draw a face representative of the emotion if the child is too young to read. Once the child runs out of feeling words to suggest, the therapist will line up the feeling cards in front of the child.
Next, the therapist will bring out a container of small tokens, like poker chips, and explain that these are “feelings.” He or she will tell a personal story (real or fictional) that demonstrates both positive and negative emotions that a person may feel. The therapist will then put the tokens on the feeling cards that correspond to the emotions mentioned in the story.
In the next step, the therapist will tell the child a similar story about a child their own age. The story will be non-threatening but will include the potential for several positive and negative emotions. The therapist will hand the container to the child and instruct him or her to put the tokens down on the feeling cards that represent how they would feel if they were the child in the story.
Finally, the therapist will encourage the child to tell a story of their own, preferably about their own life. For each story the child tells, he or she will continue identifying the feelings that each occasion brought up. The therapist will keep the stories going until the child has brought up the major issues that he or she is dealing with.
This is a great way to encourage a child to open up in therapy and get the ball rolling, as well as identifying the presenting problem(s). You can read more about this technique in Hall, Kaduson, and Schaefer’s 2002 paper “Fifteen Effective Play Therapy Techniques.”
The Mad Game
The Mad Game, developed by Patricia Davidson and described by Hall, Kaduson, and Schaefer (2002), can be used to show children that it’s okay to feel anger and to encourage them to express it in a healthy way. It can also be adjusted to work for other emotions as well, like sadness or anxiety.
First, the therapist will take a set of blocks (for play, can be cardboard, wooden, or plastic) and divide them evenly between herself and the child. Next, she will explain the rules: each person will place a block on top of the other person’s block during their turn. They will alternate turns, and at each turn, they will share something that is unfair or something that makes them angry.
The therapist can begin with silly or lighthearted things, like “It makes me mad when I want to play outside but it’s raining” or “It’s not fair that I can’t eat candy for every meal!” Eventually, she will progress on to things that are more specific to the child’s issues.
Once all the blocks are stacked, she will instruct the child to think of one thing that makes them the angriest, make a face that reflects how they feel (a “mad face”), and knock down all the blocks.
This technique allows the child to discuss his or her anger, an exercise that may be unfamiliar if the child is not used to feeling like it is acceptable to express such emotions. It will also give the child an opportunity to act out that anger in a safe and healthy way.
The Slow Motion Game
This technique can be applied to help the child learn about self-control.
It begins with the therapist explaining what self-control is and describing how it is sometimes difficult to maintain our self-control if we are moving very fast.
He will ask the child to illustrate what this fast-moving looks like. This is an excellent opportunity for the child to get moving and burn off some excess energy!
Next, he will introduce a pile of cards that have an action for the child to act out, like playing soccer, climbing a rock wall, or writing a letter.
The child will pick one card at a time and act out whatever is on it, but with a twist—he or she must do it in slow motion! He or she will engage in this slow-motion activity for one full minute, and a stopwatch can be used to time it. If there are multiple children, they can take turns acting out and timing each other.
This game is a fun way for children to learn about the concept of self-control and an opportunity for them to build it through play (Hall, Kaduson, & Schaefer, 2002).
In this games therapy technique, the therapist will use bubbles to explain an important concept to the child.
She will begin by blowing bubbles with the child. While they are having fun, she will explain to the child that he or she can make the bubbles bigger by taking deep breaths and blowing slowly into the hoop. These are “Bubble Breaths,” and they have the power to chase away worries and anxiety too.
The child can then practice Bubble Breaths and make the bubbles as big as possible by taking deep, slow breaths.
This technique is a great way to introduce mindful breathing as well as a good mechanism for dealing with intense emotions like anger or anxiety (Kilpatrick, n.d.).
Second Story Technique
This narrative therapy technique can help the child to open up and share details of their trauma with the therapist (as well as parents and/or other trusted adults, if needed).
During the therapy session, the therapist will gently encourage the child to walk through the traumatic event, providing details about what happened to them. When the event has been fully detailed and is well understood by the therapist, she will encourage the child to tell the “second story.”
The second story is the same story about the traumatic event but focuses on the child’s reaction to the event instead of the details of what happened. It might be difficult for the child to describe the effects of the trauma, but focusing on himself and his role in the story can give him a sense of agency and independence that he may not have had before.
The therapist will encourage him to think about the event and his response in terms of his strengths—how brave he was to talk about it, how tough he is to survive the event, and the ways that he has grown since the event.
This technique is a great way to get the child to focus on his strengths rather than dwell on the details of the trauma he has suffered (Kilpatrick, n.d.).
This talk therapy technique from Jacqueline Melissa Swank will help the therapist assess and improve the child’s sense of self-esteem and encourage positive self-talk.
The therapist will need some construction paper, crayons or markers, and sticky notes.
He can begin by discussing self-esteem with the child, then asking the child to draw an outline of her body on the construction paper. Next, he will instruct the child to use the crayons or markers and sticky notes to write down several of her positive qualities or traits (like “I am kind to my classmates” or “I’m good at playing tag”).
Once the child has several positive quality post-its ready, the therapist will have her stick the notes on her outline. This will help her solidify the connection between herself and these positive traits.
When she is done, the therapist can take the positive self-talk one step further by asking the child to think about a time when she felt very angry, frustrated, or disappointed with herself, and encouraging her to think about how her “positive postings” could help her when she feels that way.
This technique can also be adapted for use in group and family therapy sessions. You can read more about this technique in Liana Lowenstein’s (2011) e-book Favorite Therapeutic Activities for Children, Adolescents, and Families: Practitioners Share Their Most Effective Interventions, which you can find here.
13 Child Therapy Worksheets
In addition to the techniques described above, there are tons of worksheets, handouts, and other resources that can be used in child therapy or as a complement to child therapy. A few of the most popular and most helpful resources are listed and described below.
Small Talk Family Discussion Cards Handout
This resource is a PDF with three printable sheets containing “discussion cards” that can be used to spark conversation among family members.
The first page includes discussion cards labeled “Family,” which focus on getting to know the family as a whole and individual family members better. They all include one question for the family to discuss together, and a “Dig Deeper” option if the child wants to continue discussing that topic.
It includes discussion questions like:
- Question: Who is in your family?
o Dig Deeper: What makes someone family?
- Question: How can you tell when someone in your family is mad?
o Dig Deeper: Look in the mirror and make a mad face. What does your face do?
- Question: Do you have close friends who feel like family? Who are they?
o Dig Deeper: Write a letter to a friend or a family member who lives far away.
The second page includes discussion cards labeled “Feelings.” These cards focus on emotions, both positive and negative. They also include one broader question and one “Dig Deeper” question on each card.
These cards include:
- Question: What are three things that make you happy?
o Dig Deeper: Share a story about a time you were very happy.
- Question: What does your body feel like when you are worried?
o Dig Deeper: Share something that is worrying you right now.
- Question: How does your body feel different when you are worn-out or tired?
o Dig Deeper: What is your bedtime routine?
Finally, the third page includes discussion cards labeled “My World,” which include broader topics that help the family get to know each other better. It includes “What if…?” type questions, “favorite” questions, and observation questions. Like the other two categories, each card offers one general discussion question and one “Dig Deeper” question.
Some of these cards include:
- Question: What is your favorite time of year? Why?
o Dig Deeper: How does the world change during your favorite season?
- Question: What kind of wildlife have you seen near your home?
o Dig Deeper: What animals have you touched? What did they feel like?
- Question: If a magical genie granted you one wish, what would you wish for?
o Dig Deeper: What do you think your best friend would wish for?
These discussion questions can help a family improve their communication and get to know one another better. Click here if you’d like to give it a try with your children or your clients.
Anger Stop Signs Worksheet
This worksheet is an excellent resource for parents with a child struggling to control his or her anger. Children can complete this worksheet with a parent or other adult, or by themselves, if they are old enough.
It begins with a little lesson on how anger can start out very small, like feeling “annoyed” or just a little angry. It then prompts children to draw what they look like when their anger is small.
Next, it describes how anger can grow almost uncontrollably until it seems like it’s way too big to deal with. It may feel hard to control, like a car without breaks. It notes that someone who is very angry may yell, hit, cry, or break things. Children are then prompted to draw what they look like when they are very angry.
On the next page is a big, red stop sign. The text prompts the child to look for anger stop signs or clues that begin to appear when their anger is small but can let them know that it is growing. When they notice these signs, they can stomp on the brakes and get their anger under control.
The prompt above the stop sign reads: “Everyone has their own anger stop signs. It’s important to learn what yours are, so you can spot them in the future. Write your anger stop signs in the space below.”
It also includes some common anger stop signs the child may recognize as one of their own, like:
- My face feels hot.
- I start to shake.
- I raise my voice.
- I go quiet.
- My eyes get watery.
- I try to bother people.
- I can’t think straight.
- I feel annoyed.
- I want to hit something.
This worksheet can be a great help for a child dealing with anger issues. It will lead him or her to identify the signs that the anger is rising and learn how to put a stop to it before it gets to the brim and starts to overflow.
Click here to view or download the Anger Stop Signs worksheet.
My Changing Family Worksheet
If a child is struggling to deal with a change in family situation, like separation or divorce, remarriage, or the death of a family member, this worksheet can be a great way for them to get their feelings on paper and help them explain how they feel to a therapist, parent, or other trusted adult.
It is a sentence completion worksheet, in which several prompts are presented for the child to fill in.
These prompts include:
- My family is different now, because…
- When I think about my family, I feel…
- Things I don’t like about the changes to my family are…
- Things I do like about the changes to my family are…
- My biggest worry about my family is…
- My hope for my family is…
Use this worksheet to help a child accept changes in the family structure, like getting a new stepmom or stepdad, gaining new step-siblings, or seeing a parent less often than before. Click here to see the worksheet.
Dealing with Bullying Worksheet
It’s a sad fact of life that every child will witness bullying at some point, and may even be the victim or the bully. Luckily, most children grow out of bullying and get over their bullying as they age; however, if a child is really struggling with bullying, this worksheet can help him or her understand what is happening and figure out how to respond to it.
It begins with an explanation of what bullying is:
“Bullying is when a person purposefully hurts others with words or actions. Bullies will pick on their target over and over, and it can be hard to make them stop.”
Next, it lists the different types of bullying and a few examples of each and instructs the child to circle the examples that have happened to them and underline the examples they have seen happen to someone else.
The examples include:
- Physical Bullying
o Hitting / Kicking
- Verbal Bullying
o Name-calling / Teasing
o Making hurtful comments
- Social Bullying
o Spreading rumors
o Causing embarrassment
o Encouraging others to exclude from the group
- Cyber Bullying
o Sharing embarrassing photos or videos
o Sending hurtful comments or messages
o Impersonating another person online
Next, the worksheet lists five different ways to handle bullies:
- Tell an Adult
a. It explains the difference between telling and tattling and instructs the child to write down three adults they can tell when they witness bullying.
- Don’t Show Your Feelings
a. When you hide your sadness or anger until the bully is gone, they will often stop bothering you.
- Avoid the Bully
a. Sometimes the best choice is to simply avoid the bully, walk away, or pretend you don’t even see or hear the bully.
- Act Confident
a. This technique doesn’t require you to be confident, only to act confident; if you seem confident, the bully might decide you aren’t worth the effort.
- Respond Neutrally
a. Many bullies only say mean things to get a reaction, so if you pretend you don’t care about what they’re saying at all, they may stop. You can try things like:
i. “Eh, maybe.”
iii. “Hmm, I don’t know.”
iv. “Who cares?”
These five ways to deal with bullies will probably include at least one or two methods for dealing with bullying that the child will not have thought of or tried before. Encourage the child to try a new one if they find one of them isn’t working. Click here to download the Bullying worksheet.
Emotion Faces Handout
This handout provides cute and easy to understand examples of what different emotions might look like on someone’s face. This can be especially helpful for children who are on the autism spectrum or are dealing with an emotional disorder.
It includes two pages of faces, with 20 emotions on each page. These emotions include:
Use it in conjunction with other emotion-related exercises or techniques, or simply use it to boost the child’s ability to recognize different emotions. You can see it for yourself by clicking here.
About Me Sentence Completion Worksheet
The About Me worksheet is intended to help the child focus on the positive and improve their confidence and self-esteem. It’s good for very young children (who may need your help writing their answers) all the way up to pre-teens or young teens.
There are six prompts the child is instructed to complete:
- I was really happy when…
- Something that my friends like about me is…
- I’m proud of…
- My family was happy when I…
- In school, I’m good at…
- Something that makes me unique is…
Work through this worksheet with your young child, or go over the responses with your older child when they have finished. Remind them of all the things they are good at, the things they have to be proud of, and reasons why they should love themselves.
Click here to download this worksheet and begin working on your child’s self-confidence.
Why I’m Grateful Worksheet
This worksheet can help your child or client to realize all the things they have to be grateful for. It can be an excellent tool for use in positive child therapy, as a complement to child therapy, or just to help children learn about gratitude.
Like the previous worksheet, it includes six sentence completion prompts that the child is supposed to fill in.
These prompts include:
- I am grateful for my family because…
- Something good that happened this week…
- I am grateful for my friendship with… because…
- I am grateful for who I am because…
- Something silly that I am grateful for…
- Something else I am grateful for…
If you’d like to download this worksheet and use it with your child or client, click here.
Using Rewards and Punishments Handout
If you or your client’s parents are looking for ways to effectively implement rewards and punishments, this handout is an excellent resource for you. It describes best practices for rewards and punishments, with some other helpful advice on dealing with behavior problems.
For Rewards, it includes tips like:
- Rewards should be given regularly and consistently. Instead of offering one big reward for a long-term accomplishment, try offering smaller rewards as your child completes steps toward the larger goal. For example, offer rewards for completing homework rather than a good report card. Children can’t plan for the future in the same way adults do, and a report card that’s three months away feels like it’s one-hundred years away.
- Don’t take away rewards that have already been earned. If your child earns a trip to the movies, and then they get in trouble for something unrelated, don’t take away the reward. You can still use punishment, but it should be separate. Taking away rewards can lead to a constant sense of defeat when a child works hard, yet never sees positive outcomes.
For Punishments, the suggestions include:
- Don’t overdo it. Many parents have a habit of dishing out extreme punishments when they’re upset. Grounding your child for a month is as much a punishment to you as it is to your child. After a few days, most parents have cooled down, and they’re tired of having a bored kid around the house, so they end the punishment early. This tells your child that you don’t really mean it when you threaten punishments.
- Never use corporal punishment (not even spanking). Hitting your child might get you what you want now, but it will cause trouble later on. Children who receive corporal punishment learn that hitting and violence are appropriate responses to their problems, and they tend to be more aggressive with other children, and they carry this into adulthood.
Finally, it ends with good general advice, like:
- Choose your battles. So, your child has picked the clothes up off the floor and put them in the dresser, but the clothes are folded neatly. Let it go! Ask yourself: “Is this problem really that important right now?”
- In some cases, it’s better to ignore bad behavior than to punish it. Oftentimes bad attention is better than no attention, and children know that they are noticed when they are irritating. In other words, taking the time to talk with and punish your child can be interpreted as a reward in these situations. If your child’s behavior isn’t dangerous or destructive, and you think they’re just trying to get your attention, ignore them until they stop.
To read up on the other drops of wisdom regarding using rewards and punishments, click here.
Reward Coupons Printout
If you like the idea of using rewards and punishments, this printout may be a useful guide for coming up with and doling out desirable rewards.
It includes 12 reward “coupons,” or little rectangles of paper that specify the reward you are handing out. They include:
- _____ extra minutes of TV.
- Go to __________.
- Visit the park.
- A fun night with family.
- My choice of dinner.
- Get a new toy!
- Stay up _____ extra minutes.
- Sleepover with friends.
- Have some candy!
- Watch a movie.
In addition to these 10 coupons, there are two blank coupons that can be filled out with whatever reward you wish, or whatever reward you have agreed on with your child.
Click here to download these coupons and print them out for your child or client.
Goal Sheet Worksheet
If you’re a fan of goal-setting, you’ll love this simple and straightforward worksheet for helping young children stick to their goals.
At the top, there is room to write in the child’s name and mark it as their goal sheet.
Under their name, there is a prompt for you or the child to fill out:
“This week, my goal is to…”
Work with the child to figure out an appropriate goal and write it down here.
Next, keep track of goal striving over the week. There is a little schedule with a box for each day of the week, Monday through Sunday, where you can place a check mark if they succeed, an “X” if they fail to reach their goal, or notes on how well they did.
It’s best to complete this worksheet with the child to ensure he or she is connecting their goal to their behavior and seeing the consequences of working toward (or ignoring) their goals.
You can download this worksheet here.
What is Worry? Worksheet
This worksheet is an excellent resource for parents or therapists of children with anxiety issues. It will walk the child through what worry is, what is a normal amount of worrying, and what they can do about it.
First, it provides a definition of worries:
“Worries are unpleasant thoughts that you can’t get out of your head. They’re like annoying bugs that keep buzzing around and won’t leave you alone.”
Next, it lists many different things that people worry about, including:
o Arguments or Fights
o Upsetting Family
o Family’s Safety
o Getting in Trouble
o Sick Family Member
o Following Rules
o Fitting In
o Making Friends
o Being Teased
o What to Talk About
o Getting Hurt
o Being Embarrassed
o _______________ (blank space to write in another worry)
The worksheet instructs the child to circle at least three things they worry about from this list.
Under the lists of worries, the worksheet describes the changes that the child’s body may experience when he or she worries. The child is instructed to circle each of the worry symptoms that he or she has experienced from the following:
- Fast Heartbeat
- Feeling Sick
- Feeling Hot
Finally, it ends with the positive message that worrying may not be fun, but that a little worry never hurt anybody. It encourages the child to figure out ways they can control their worry, and instructs them to fill in the sentence prompt with the things they already do: “To control my worry, I…”
To download this worksheet for your little worrier, click here.
My Fears Worksheet
This worksheet can help children learn about how fear is a normal reaction to the world, what it feels like, and what makes them scared. For the child to confront and overcome their fears, they must first acknowledge them!
First, they are asked, “What are some things that make you feel nervous or scared?”
Once they have answered this initial question, another one is posed: “What do you think about when you are nervous or scared?”
The next task allows for a little creativity. There is an outline of a child’s body and instructions that say the following:
“How does your body feel when you are nervous or scared? Color the areas where you can sense these feelings.”
Finally, the worksheet closes with one final question: “What’s something you can do to feel better next time you are afraid?”
If you would like to try this worksheet with your client or child, you can find it at this link.
Family Mindfulness Schedule
This handout is an excellent resource for families that want to incorporate mindfulness into their daily routine. It provides a brief description of what mindfulness is and why it is important, then jumps right into the many ways to be mindful during an average day.
It includes mindfulness techniques for six activities or times of day:
- Waking Up
- Free Time
For each activity or time of day, there are one or two techniques that you can practice with your child (or encourage your child to practice on their own, like the school techniques).
For example, the Waking Up section includes the Five Senses technique:
“Five Senses. With your child, take a few moments to explore the morning through your senses. Take turns naming things you see, hear, feel, taste, and smell. Try to notice things you would normally tune out, like the distant buzz of a neighbor’s lawnmower, or the softness of a pillow.”
The Meals section includes a technique on mindful eating:
“Rather than rushing through a meal, eat slowly and mindfully. Notice how the food looks, and how it smells. What does it taste like? What does the food feel like on your tongue? Take turns sharing different things you notice about the food, no matter how minor the observations might seem.”
It ends with the Progressive Muscle Relaxation exercise, one you are probably familiar with if you’ve tried mindfulness. You can talk your child through it by slowly reading the following script:
“Close your eyes, and pretend that you’re holding two juicy oranges—one in each hand. Start to squeeze the oranges by making fists. Squeeze hard to get all the juice out. Notice what your fists feel like when you squeeze hard. Now let go of the oranges, and let your hands rest. Notice how good it feels to relax your hands.
Next, pretend like you’re sitting on the beach. Squeeze your toes as if you are trying to pick up sand between them. Hold onto the sand by squeezing even tighter. Now, let go of the sand, and relax your feet. Notice how your feet feel different when you let them rest.
Finally, pretend like a fly landed on your nose. You want to get it off, without touching it with your hands. Scrunch up your face, wiggle your nose, just go crazy! Keep moving your face so the bug will fly away. Now, stop, and let your whole face relax. Pay attention to how it feels.”
If you’re interested in seeing the rest of the techniques or downloading it for your own use, click here.
If these 13 worksheets still aren’t enough, you’re in luck! For fifteen additional great resources from ParentCoachPlan.com that you can use with your child or client, click here.
Praising Children: 136 Affirmations for Children
There are tons of sources you can find on what not to say to a child to promote healthy development. For example, this piece from Parenting.com lists the 10 things that you shouldn’t say to your child:
- “Great job.”
- “Practice makes perfect.”
- “You’re okay.”
- “Hurry up!”
- “I’m on a diet.”
- “We can’t afford that.”
- “Don’t talk to strangers.”
- “Be careful.”
- “No dessert unless you finish your dinner.”
- “Let me help.” (Crouch, 2014)
Another piece from Fatherly.com lists 8 further things you shouldn’t say:
- “Get it out of your system.”
- “You’re a bad kid.”
- “… or else…”
- “Stop being shy.”
- “Go to your room.”
- “Why can’t you be more like your sister.”
- “If you really loved me…”
- “You’re asking for it.” (Coleman, 2017)
Some of these are obvious, some you may find questionable, and some may even be bewildering!
The merits of each item could certainly be discussed, but we may not even notice that we’re missing something pretty important… have you ever wondered whether there are lists out there about what you should be saying to your child instead of what you shouldn’t be saying?
As it turns out, there are! There are some excellent lists of positive things you can say that contribute to healthy child development. In addition, there are tons of resources on affirmations for children to use themselves (although you should help them get started and encourage them to continue with them).
For example, this resource lists 66 positive things you can say to your child, like:
- I’m grateful for you.
- You don’t have to be perfect to be great.
- This family wouldn’t be the same without you.
- I’m excited to spend time with you.
- Seeing you happy makes me happy.
- I learn new things from you every day.
- Watching you grow up is the best.
- Not everyone will like you, and that’s okay.
- You are beautiful inside and out.
Click here to see the rest of the positive statements you can make.
If you want to help your child learn how to say positive things to themselves, as well as hearing positive things from you, there are some excellent lists of affirmations you can share with him or her.
This list of 50 positive thoughts and affirmations includes:
- There is no one better to be than myself.
- I am enough.
- I get better every single day.
- I have people who love and respect me.
- I can do anything I put my mind to.
- I am free to make my own choices.
- I have the power to make my dreams come true.
- I believe in myself and my abilities.
- My confidence grows when I step outside of my comfort zone.
- My positive thoughts create positive feelings.
- Today is going to be an awesome day.
For young children, this list of 20 simple and straightforward affirmations will make it easy to remember to do their affirmations every day:
- I am smart.
- I am a great listener.
- I am unique.
- I show empathy to others.
- I have a strong body.
- I am creative.
- I care for others.
- I am helpful.
- I have a positive attitude.
- I love my life!
- I am a good friend.
- I am loved.
- I am compassionate.
- I am brave.
- I like myself the way I am.
- I am resilient.
- There is no one quite like me!
- I am funny.
- I try my hardest.
- I am beautiful inside and out.
You can view or download this list of affirmations from DearCrissy.com at this link.
If you still can’t get enough affirmations for children, this link lists a staggering 147! You’re bound to find at least a few that resonate with your child or client.
9 Child Therapy Books
If a child is new to therapy or needs a little prompting to discuss some difficult issues, there are some great books you can show them or read with them to give them some encouragement.
Books for Children in Therapy
For example, the book A Terrible Thing Happened by Margaret M. Holmes is an excellent choice for helping a child to learn that it’s okay to open up and that talking to a therapist can be really helpful. It tells the story of Sherman Smith, a raccoon who saw something terrible happen and doesn’t know how to deal with what he saw. It covers some of the most common symptoms of trauma and depicts a friendly counselor who can help victims of trauma work through these symptoms. You can read more about this book or buy it here.
Jill Osborne’s Sam Feels Better Now! An Interactive Story for Children has a similar message. In this book, Sam saw something traumatic and sees a friendly therapist who helps him feel better. Reading this book will help children to identify the difficult feelings they are dealing with and address them. Click here to read about this book or purchase it in paperback or e-book format.
The book A Child’s First Book about Play Therapy by Dr. Marc A. Nemiroff is another great introduction to therapy for young children. It will walk the child through common symptoms of problems that therapy can address, entering treatment, the environment of the therapist’s office and equipment, and the process of play therapy. It’s intended for children around the ages of 4 to 7, and can act as an excellent precursor to entering therapy for the first time. You can learn more about this book at this link.
Do You Have a Secret? (Let’s Talk About It!) by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos is another excellent resource for helping children to learn about secrets and determine which secrets are okay (a surprise party or a birthday gift) and which are not (secrets that make them feel bad, like bullying or being touched inappropriately). The fun illustrations will guide children from the ages of about 6 to 9 through the differences between these secrets, and what to do with the second kind. Click here to see the many positive reviews of this book or purchase it for your own child or client.
The book My Day is Ruined! A Story Teaching Flexible Thinking by Bryan Smith is not focused exclusively on therapy or problems that require therapy, but it can be a helpful and humorous lesson for children who struggle with emotion regulation. Click here to see it listed on Amazon.
Finally, the book Healing Days: A Guide for Kids Who Have Experienced Trauma by Susan Farber Straus provides children with a resource to help them through the coping process. This beautifully illustrated book tells the story of four children who learn how to cope with the trauma they have experienced, teaching children about tools they can use to cope with their own trauma. It’s appropriate for children ages 9 through 12 (or grades 4 through 7). Click here to find the book on Amazon.
If you’re more interested in books about child therapy that can help parents, teachers and educational staff, and counselors in training learn the ins and outs of child therapy, these three books may be exactly what you’re looking for.
Books About Child Therapy (For Adults)
Creative Interventions for Troubled Children & Youth by Liana Lowenstein (the same author of the book on child therapy techniques mentioned earlier) is a great introduction to child therapy. It includes techniques and exercises on everything from diagnosis and treatment planning to saying goodbye to the client(s). The techniques it describes are appropriate for a wide range of ages, from 4 years all the way to 16 years. This book can be a valuable resource for students and new therapists and counselors in particular. Click here to read more about this book.
Child-Centered Play Therapy by Rise VanFleet, Andrea E. Sywulak, and Cynthia Caparosa Sniscak also offers some excellent insight into implementing play therapy. This book is a great resource for students and new therapists as well, but it can also give parents of children in therapy and other curious individuals a comprehensive overview of what play therapy is, how it works, and the outcomes that can be expected. Click here to read the reviews or purchase this book for yourself.
Eliana Gil’s edited book Working with Children to Heal Interpersonal Trauma: The Power of Play is an in-depth dive into child therapy. It includes several chapters and case studies from experienced clinicians in the field, and details how to encourage your child or client through posttraumatic coping and help them build resilience. Play therapy, art therapy, and expressive therapy cases are presented, with a focus on building healthy and trusting therapeutic relationships. You can view this book at this link.
A Take Home Message
I hope you found this resource-packed piece useful and informative, whether you are the parent of a child in therapy, a student or new child therapist, or just someone curious about child therapy.
It can be a difficult topic to discuss, but as many of these resources have shown, it doesn’t have to be a wholly negative and trauma-focused activity; it can also focus on the positive, facilitate the development of resilience and healthy coping, and bring out a child’s unique strengths and boost their sense of identity and self-esteem.
What are your thoughts on the techniques and exercises listed here? Have you tried any of them with your own clients or children? Are there any other go-to techniques you like to use? Let us know in the comment section!
Thanks for reading!
- American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. (2017). Psychotherapy for children and adolescents: Different types. AACAP. Retrieved from https://www.aacap.org/aacap/families_and_youth/facts_for_families/FFF-Guide/Psychotherapies-For-Children-And-Adolescents-086.aspx
- Coleman, P. A. (2017). 8 things a parent should never say to their child. Fatherly. Retrieved from https://www.fatherly.com/parenting/bad-child-discipline-phrases-parents-should-never-say/
- Crouch, M. (2014). 10 things you should never say to your kids. Parenting. Retrieved from https://www.parents.com/parenting/better-parenting/advice/10-things-you-should-never-say-to-your-kids/
- Hall, T. M., Kaduson, H. G., & Schaefer, C. E. (2002). Fifteen effective play therapy techniques. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 33, 515-522. doi:10.1037//0735-7028.33.6.515
- KidsMentalHealth. (2009). Behavioral therapy for children with emotional disorders. Kids Mental Health Informational Portal. Retrieved from http://www.kidsmentalhealth.org/behavioral-therapy-for-children-with-emotional-disorders/
- Lowenstein, L. (2011). Favorite Therapeutic Activities for Children, Adolescents, and Families: Practitioners Share Their Most Effective Interventions. Toronto, CA: Champion Press.
- Society of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology. (2017). Evidence-based therapies. Effective Child Therapy. Retrieved from http://effectivechildtherapy.org/therapies/
- TherapyTribe. (2018). What is child counseling? Therapy. Retrieved from https://www.therapytribe.com/therapy/child-counseling/
- Thompson Jr., D. (2010). When children need therapy. Everyday Health. Retrieved from https://www.everydayhealth.com/emotional-health/when-children-need-therapy.aspx
- Wells, J., Sueskind, B., & Alcamo, K. (2017). Child and adolescent issues. GoodTherapy. Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/issues/child-and-adolescent-issues