JFS Perspectives

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

How to Find Counseling for Kids During a Global Pandemic

How to Find Counseling for Kids During a Global Pandemic

We are all facing a bit more stress than usual these days – as our world has completely changed over the course of just a couple months. While many people have been talking about the fear and uncertainty that adults are facing, there hasn’t been as much conversation around how children have been doing during these times.

Children have had to deal with unprecedented changes to their daily routines and normal lives. Schools have been shut down all across the country, children are missing out on social activities, playdates are no longer allowed, sports games are cancelled, and other fun activities that kids look forward to are no longer an option.

One recent study from China found that 22.6% of the children who had been under quarantine because of coronavirus expressed symptoms of depression and 18.9% experienced some levels of anxiety. This study also concluded that the COVID-19 outbreak could influence the mental health of children in the same way that traumatic experiences would – and the effects could last far beyond the global pandemic.

It’s important to observe the behaviors of the children in your life to understand their emotional state. If they’re acting irregularly, or exhibiting any of the following signs, it could be time to consider the benefits of counseling for kids.

Common signs of childhood depression and anxiety can include:

  • Restlessness or jitters
  • Overly tired
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Frequent stomach aches or headaches
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Acting out more than usual or having temper tantrums
  • Asking more questions than normal
  • Less talkative than normal
  • Less interested in playing or participating in their hobbies
  • Tearful
  • More clingy/cuddly than normal
  • Inability to self soothe and/or doesn't respond to soothing from parents

Keep in mind that all children are different! Just because a child shows one or more of the signs above, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re depressed or anxious. It would be our recommendation to find a child counselor to help understand the child’s mental state. Continue reading to discover how to find a great child counselor during COVID-19 and how to properly work with your counselor to find the best therapeutic solution for your child.

Talk to Your Child’s School and Family Physician

While parents usually know their children best, it is wise to talk to other adults who may have some perspective on the child’s behavior and mental state. Start by reaching out to individuals that you know and trust. This list might include teachers, school counselors, or any other mentors your child may have.

Most schools have guidance counselors that can help shed some light on the situation, whether it be from personal interactions with your child or generalized advice on how to help. They may also be able to refer you to specialists for your child’s specific situation.

If you’re unable to speak with individuals from your child’s school due to the pandemic, you could also seek advice from Mental Health Colorado or your child’s pediatric or family doctor. Referrals from trusted friends and health professionals will often steer you in the right direction quickly.

Speak with the Therapist Before Introducing Your Child

Once you’ve found a child therapist you’d like to consider, it’s always a good idea to speak with them prior to introducing them to your child. You should compile a list of questions you want to ask and identify how to best explain your current situation. You want to be able to vet whether the therapist is the right fit and understand whether their personality will mesh well with your child’s personality.

Questions you might want to consider are:

  • How much experience do you have treating children?
  • What types of treatment do you practice?
  • How will you monitor my child's progress?
  • How will I (as the parent) be involved in the treatment?
  • How do I tell my child they're going to therapy?

An experienced counselor will be able to answer any questions or concerns you may have and will be able to guide you through the process. Remember, if you don’t feel that the therapist is a good fit for your child and his/her problems, it is okay to continue looking.

Speak with Your Child About Therapy

Prior to your child’s first consultation with the therapist, you’ll want to talk to your child about therapy. Depending on your child’s age, this could be a tough conversation. For instance, younger children may not necessarily grasp the concept of counseling, but you will need to tell them why they are meeting with this new adult. Your therapist should give you excellent advice on the best way to introduce your child to the concept of counseling and what to expect. If you need more guidance, we’d recommend this article.

Matthew Newbury, the newest clinical social worker to join the Jewish Family Service mental health counseling team, explains “It’s often incredibly helpful to talk to your kid using the therapist’s name. Let them know that you've met with the therapist first and share your own impressions (i.e. are they nice?). Explain to your child that a therapist helps kids understand and talk about "yucky" emotions so that they can feel better. It's also good to explain that the therapist helps parents know how to better help their kids.”

Preparing your child for their first interaction with the counselor can set them up for success and make them feel more comfortable when they start their therapy sessions.

Understand the Different Types of Available Therapy

While most child psychologists or counselors typically have their own office or make home visits, this is not recommended during the pandemic. Your child’s physical health is extremely important, so it is best to encourage social distancing as much as possible while still getting them the help they need from a professional.

Thankfully, technology makes it possible to connect virtually through teletherapy for mental health counseling. Teletherapy can be done over the phone, through online chats, or via video conferencing. Not only is this type of therapy recommended for health and safety reasons, but it also offers more flexibility for families with busy schedules.

If you’re planning on scheduling a teletherapy appointment for your child, understand that some types of therapy might translate better than others. Consider the type of treatment that you and the child's therapist believe is the best fit for your child.

  1. Play therapy – often used with toddlers and young children. Counselors will use various toys and games to get the child to open up about their personal emotions or experiences, and it can be used to evaluate their developmental levels. This can be a bit tricky to conduct virtually since the counselor is not physically in the room, so a parent may need to be present to help.
  2. Group therapy – recommended for children struggling with social skills, social anxiety, or trouble focusing. This involves getting a small group of children around the same age together along with one or two counselors to facilitate. Video conferencing tools like Zoom make this a viable option, with added privacy to protect the client’s confidentiality.
  3. Cognitive-behavioral therapy – similar to the traditional “talk” therapy we are most familiar with, and is often the best choice for older children or teens who are able to clearly articulate their thoughts and feelings.

Finally, consider if it would be best to have your child participate in individual therapy or whether family counseling would be a good choice. Oftentimes, family therapy can augment the individual child therapeutic work. The entire family is likely under great stress dealing with their own uncertainty as it applies to health, work and school. In fact, 45% of Americans have experienced some level of anxiety or depression due to the global pandemic.

When parents are stressed, anxious, or depressed, their children will often be affected, too. Therefore, getting the entire family involved could be a great way to help everyone deal with their emotions during this time.

In Conclusion

We all need a little bit of extra help these days – including our children. Kids are faced with stressful circumstances they have no control over, and many do not really know why things have changed so suddenly. Getting help through a counselor could be the best thing to do for your child to help them process their thoughts and feelings in a healthy manner.

If you want to learn more about counseling for kids or are searching for mental health services in Denver, CO, please reach out to Jewish Family Service. We are a highly experienced team of licensed therapists providing high quality treatment to those in our community that need help.

Call 720.248.4701 or email centralintake@jewishfamilyservice.org to chat with someone today!