Parents come to me because they are worried about their child. They have often worked hard to try to understand why their child seems unhappy or is out of control or not having success in school or with friends.
There is much that is out of a parents' control when it comes to their child. This includes the innate temperment of their child and all sorts of traumas that can occur during a child's development. Illness or stressful events (moving to a new town, changing schools, divorce, a death in the family, birth of a sibling) may contribute to their difficulties. The parents own history may make him/her feel more vulnerable to certain difficulties that the child may have. For instance, a difficult loss that the parent once suffered can make that parent more anxious during periods of their child's growing independence, which may be experienced as a loss by that parent.
My approach with children includes providing a safe space for the child and the child's parents within which we can begin to understand what is interfering or distorting the child's development. With children my goal is to help get them back onto what I would call the developmental path, i.e., their ability to work and play, have relationships and generally feel good about themselves and enjoy their lives. I work closely with the parents; they are the people who know most about their children. If I can help the parents understand how to be helpful to their child I believe I will have a more effective impact than simply seeing the child once or twice a week for 45 minutes.
In the childrens' session I provide a safe space within which they can express themselves. This self-expression happens on an experiential level as well as through our talking together. For younger children (10 or younger) play is an extremely important part of their experience and their way of communicating. This may take place through board games, fantasy play,or art work. One can both experience and express in these various forms of play many feelings and thoughts that are not so easily expressed through language. In part this is because play is “not real” so the child can use play to express things that he or she might feel inhibited in expressing more directly through talking. Play also allows a richness of experience and expression that is not possible for a child when they are simply talking. In addition, it is often through play that children are first able to experiment with an aspect of themselves that they have had difficulty in accessing . For instance, a timid child can begin to experience being more assertive by playing at being a roaring lion. I can also help the child put words to experiences that they are expressing in the play but having difficulty articulating verbally. I have found that at times it can be helpful for the parent to join me in these play sessions. Later, in meetings with the parent without the child, we can explore together the play session and how it helps us understand the child”s current difficulties. Finally, these joint session can also be a helpful (and often enjoyable) way for parents and children to strengthen their relationship.
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