Resources for Parents

Resources for Parents

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Kids

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Kids

Takeaways for busy parents:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a short-term, evidence-based therapy for children over eight years old.
  • CBT can be an effective treatment for children with anxiety or depression and additional mental health needs.
  • Relaxation techniques are helpful to teach children with anxiety how to calm their minds and bodies.
  • Children will learn how to identify and challenge negative thinking patterns through CBT.
  • Parents are essential to a child's treatment to reinforce the generalization of skills outside the therapy session.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a highly effective form of psychotherapy used widely to treat various mental health disorders in children and adolescents. This evidence-based approach focuses on the interconnectedness of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. CBT aims to help children develop specific skills to overcome their challenges. The therapist employs various CBT techniques and strategies to help the client challenge and modify unhelpful thoughts and behaviors. These interventions may include cognitive restructuring, exposure therapy, relaxation techniques, and problem-solving skills training, among others.

Understanding Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT differs from other therapy approaches by recognizing the intricate relationship between thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Therapists can help children and adolescents break free from negative thought patterns and develop healthier coping mechanisms by intervening at different points in this cycle. The ultimate goal of CBT is to empower children with the skills to manage their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors effectively. The therapist employs various CBT techniques and strategies to help the client challenge and modify unhelpful thoughts and behaviors. These interventions may include cognitive restructuring, exposure therapy, relaxation techniques, and problem-solving skills training.

In CBT, the therapist and the child or adolescent work collaboratively to set goals for therapy. These goals are often established in close collaboration with parents, ensuring a holistic and comprehensive treatment approach. Throughout the course of treatment, the therapist tracks progress toward these goals, adjusting strategies and interventions as needed. CBT emphasizes the child's power and ability to choose positive thoughts and behaviors, promoting a sense of autonomy and self-efficacy. Throughout therapy, the child actively participates in skill-building exercises and homework assignments to practice and reinforce the skills learned in treatment. These exercises help them develop mastery over new coping strategies and apply them in real-life situations.

Adapting CBT for Children

While many forms of therapy focus on learning from past experiences, CBT primarily focuses on the present and equips kids with practical skills to address current challenges.

CBT with children is typically completed individually, where the child works one-on-one with the therapist. Children usually meet with a therapist weekly or bi-weekly for 12-24 short-term sessions. The length of treatment ultimately depends on the child's severity level and presenting symptoms. While working with children, engaging them in the process and ensuring they are active participants in the treatment is essential. CBT is an active form of therapy that requires clients to participate in and out of therapy sessions. Homework assignments and skill practice are often included to reinforce and generalize the skills learned in therapy.

Developmental age is a significant factor in assessing if a child is ready for CBT. Young children engaging in CBT may struggle to understand abstract thinking to be able to apply the skills appropriately. Children under the age of 7 or 8 may struggle to understand how their thoughts differ from their feelings, making the concepts and strategies too advanced for them. Research shows CBT is most empirically effective for children eight and older.

CBT has been extensively researched and proven effective in treating various psychological disorders in children and adolescents. Children with internalizing disorders, such as anxiety or depression, can benefit significantly from CBT. While working with children through CBT, parental involvement is essential to supporting the whole child. By involving parents directly in the treatment of their child, this approach equips parents with techniques to support their children's fears and anxieties at home. Psychoeducation, individual therapy, and behavioral parent training techniques are all integral components of this therapy.

CBT Strategies

During CBT sessions, the therapist will work with the child to develop coping strategies and problem-solving skills that can be used in real-life situations. These strategies can include teaching the child relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation, and helping them to develop a plan for managing their symptoms when they arise.

CBT helps children identify negative thinking patterns, often called cognitive distortions. There are many thinking traps that children (and adults) fall into. One that comes up commonly for children is black-and-white thinking. Black-and-white thinking, or all-or-nothing thinking, is a cognitive distortion in which a child sees things as either entirely good or bad, with no middle ground or shades of grey. This type of thinking can be problematic because it can lead to rigid and inflexible beliefs, difficulty seeing alternative perspectives, and an inability to tolerate ambiguity. It can often result in extreme reactions and behaviors, negatively impacting their relationships. Through CBT, children are taught to challenge negative thinking patterns to develop more adaptive and helpful thoughts.

Relaxation techniques are taught to children in CBT. Some relaxation techniques used in CBT include deep belly breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, and mindfulness. These techniques aim to help children learn to calm their minds and bodies, reduce tension, and manage their stress levels. The therapist teaches the child how to use these techniques effectively and encourages them to practice these exercises regularly to build mastery and reinforce their use outside therapy sessions.

One of the strengths of CBT is its emphasis on skill-building and practice outside of therapy sessions. The skills learned in therapy can be applied to various situations and challenges, providing clients with long-lasting tools for managing their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

One of the benefits of CBT is that the child can learn coping skills they can use for the rest of their life. They can use these skills to manage their symptoms and improve their overall quality of life. If you believe your child may benefit from CBT, it's essential to speak with a mental health professional to determine the best course of treatment. Children can learn to lead happy, healthy lives with proper support and treatment.

Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only and is not meant nor intended to be health care advice or treatment. Should you need assistance with any mental health or psychological issue, including any parenting issues, you should contact a mental health professional.