Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Elementary Age Children

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Elementary Age Children

By Dr. Jenna Del Valle

Using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be an effective treatment modality for children struggling with various social, emotional, and behavioral growing pains. As with all treatment modalities, the therapist first needs to assess if this treatment option will be a good fit for the child, including their age and development, before incorporating CBT into their treatment plan.

To help orient the client to the CBT model, I like to provide brief age-appropriate definitions of thoughts, feelings, and actions. Once basic definitions have been understood, I then use the client’s previous examples of experiencing an unpleasant situation and have them identify their own thoughts, feelings, and actions. It will take time for the child to understand the impact each domain in the CBT model will have on their responses, and for them to get into the habit of evaluating and interpreting the situation before responding. So, I am not surprised when I see several setbacks with clients during this phase because even if they understand the concepts quickly, they still need to work on making it a habit, and that can take time and constant practice. The task of slowing down to think about one’s thinking can be difficult for anyone as people are not typically trained to slow down and analyze thoughts. We usually learn to make quicker assessments and move on.

Once the CBT foundation has been set, I provide the child with examples that contain different common situations with various responses and further prompt the child to identify any triggers or thinking errors; this is done to start strengthening their knowledge and reinforcing the concepts of CBT. Some children will still need lots of support at this stage and that is when patience is important. In addition to identifying the core elements of the model, helping the child practice thought reframes is also very important. A thought reframe is a way for you to rephrase the original thought with a healthier mindset or point of view. A reframe does not always have to be positive, it can be neutral or even just less negative. The important part is that the reframe makes one feel less negative. Once the child is able to identify and understand the different components of CBT with textbook examples then they are ready to use their own personal examples and establish their own reframes. This is the goal and one positive way for children to work through their daily struggles, but as always it will be a work in progress with some successes and failures.

If you want to learn more about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for children or to see if CBT would be a good fit for your child, please contact Dr. Jenna Del Valle for more information at drjennadelvalle@gmail.com.

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