Engaging Children In Counseling
When I began my doctoral internship, I was introduced to treating childhood disorders. I had worked in a variety of settings, under several conditions, but engaging children in treatment was a new challenge. I had to obtain the wisdom of others and remember my childhood as reference points.
I was blessed with two very loving parents. My mother played games with my sister and I when dad worked late hours. She had a beautiful voice, having been a professional singer before marriage. She often sang with us. I treasured those moments. She talked about her childhood and life experiences. I was very connected to her sensitivity and calming.
My father provided great security as well. We built structures with my Lincoln Logs and Erector Set. We glued together countless model airplanes and cars. We drew buildings, people, planes, scenery, and houses. We took long walks, played catch together for years, and most of all, he talked to me about his childhood and life. He, like mom, offered me wisdom about friends, enemies, feelings, God, and many facts about people and science. Dad seemed prescient about the impending behavior of people. Also, both he and Mom tried to teach me about how to stop annoying my sister or driving them crazy. They had only limited success in these areas! As a grown man today, their thoughts and words are part of my soul. Often times, at the cemetery, or other places of reflection, I look to the sky in emotionally accented gratitude.
I have been blessed to be a father of two girls who have matured into wonderful women. I give credit to God and my bride for who they have become. From the gifts of my own childhood, I was able to be close to the girls from birth. I embraced their world and logic at different points of development. Often times I say that children were created to raise their parents! Indeed, I have learned much through their thoughts, experiences, and emotions. Frequently, I have asked myself, “How does the world look through the eyes of my children?”
What I once thought to be a difficult task, working with children has become a place of comfort. Education and training, recollection of childhood experiences, and being a father, have been cornerstones for engaging children in counseling.
Before a meet a child for counseling, I obtain an idea of what a child is like upon the referral of the parents. They are the experts of their own children. Most often, parents have a sound understanding of what the world looks like through their child’s eyes. I share with parents how to bridge, or prepare, their child for coming to therapy. I advise them to use the concept of a “tutor” for solving problems, developing control, changing behaviors, or managing emotions.
When I work with children, we draw or build with blocks, creating symbols of a relationship, and the targeted problem for change. Visual symbolism, developing notebooks from ‘tutoring’, or creating props for reminders are powerful as a foundation for behavioral change. I give them as much control over a foreign context as possible, and make assumptions about what they are experiencing. The ‘magic thought’ or “The change that you would make if you had all the power in the world” is often times introduced to identify the child’s perspective of the problem. Simplicity, comfort, and straight forwardness are what children frequently respond to. I let children know that their parents will be part of counseling, since I “tutor” them also. Subsequently, therapy is redefined, trusting, non-threatening, and bridged between the session and home.
As always, thanks, in perpetuity, to my mother and father…