Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) For Children

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is a common term when it comes to intervention for adults and children. Is it the same across ages and is it effective when used with children? Read on to understand more about CBT for children. 

What Is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy

CBT is a form of talk therapy used across ages; adults, adolescents and children. When used for children, it is adapted to the needs and age of the child. It mainly focuses on understanding how emotions and thoughts affect behaviour. Many children and adolescents can benefit from CBT and it is not limited to children who have been diagnosed with a mental disorder. It can help children who are experiencing a wide range of personal or mental health challenges. 

Although it is mainly a talk therapy, this does not mean, it involves only talking. All therapists who work with children will agree that therapy which involves only holding a conversation between the therapist and the child will have limited impact and success. When CBT is used with children, it involves a fair share of role-playing, games and any art form that involves the child’s interests, all of which can be used to help the understand and manage their behaviour. 

How Does CBT Work?

CBT largely aims at finding and changing the connections between thoughts, feelings and behaviour. The intervention aims at making a shift in any one of these components. Eg; targeting a shift in a negative thought process to bring about a change in feelings and behaviour or the other way around. In children, these skills about thinking patterns are still developing and depending on the age of the child, the therapist might ask the child to focus on behaviour and in turn, change the associated thoughts and feelings. Emotions, thoughts and behaviours are all interlinked. Therefore therapists intervene at various points in the cycle, mainly focusing on the present and future instead of analysing the past. Techniques include role-playing, modelling, cognitive restructuring, mindfulness, relaxation, journaling and exposure in the intervention plan. 

CBT is a short-term treatment that involves agreeing on the number of sessions, depending on the goals and can involve as few as 6 sessions up to 20 if needed. A parent or caregiver, along with the child and therapist, discuss goals and develop a treatment plan with a structured approach. Therapy can be administered in individual sessions, parent-child sessions, group sessions or family-based sessions and often can be a combination of these.

 How CBT Can Help Children

CBT can be used as the main therapy or complement other therapies to help with specific symptoms. It is used across a wide range of challenges that children experience, including everyday application, ADHD and Anxiety.

Anxiety and Mood Disorders

CBT has been known to be effective in treating children and teens who experience anxiety and mood disorders. As anxiety can have a lot to do with worrying and negative thoughts, CBT can help children break those associations and develop skills to manage their debilitating thoughts and feelings. 

Trauma, Abuse, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

CBT can be effective in helping children who have experienced trauma and PTSD. It can be used to treat children who have suffered abuse or engage in self-harm which is frequently associated with suicidal thoughts, seen in adolescents. In younger children, it can be head-banging to cause self-harm. CBT aims at teaching children and teens skills to manage emotions and react to distress in healthy ways. 

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) 

Most practitioners will agree that therapy should be the first choice to treat children who experience ADHD before they are given medication. This is especially true for younger children. CBT can be effective in helping children who have a difficult time sitting still, focussing on task completion and managing their impulsive behaviour. Even when children are on medication to control their ADHD symptoms, CBT can be administered to help children develop the right skills to manage their condition. 

Eating disorders

This is a serious concern prevalent, especially among teens. CBT can help teens overcome disordered eating and even obesity by changing distorted thoughts about weight, food and self-image.  

Anger management

This is not an issue that only adults experience. Many children have recurrent outbursts of anger and frequent expressions of aggression. Some children also have Oppositional Defiant Disorder which involves negative and defiant behaviour towards any authority figure. This can include not just physical aggression and destructiveness but also resentment and hostile behaviour towards parents and teachers. CBT aims at teaching children to communicate their anger in more acceptable and healthy ways and also develop problem skills. 

 Bullying

This is a common and serious problem that many children unfortunately experience. Using role-play and modelling, CBT can help children deal with bullying.

CBT can also help children deal with

  • Bedwetting
  • Low Self-esteem
  • Substance misuse
  • Sleep difficulties

Realising the power of managing thoughts and emotions and their impact on behaviour can be very empowering. Helping children understand counterproductive thinking, modify their negative thought patterns and replace them with more powerful and positive feelings can help them overcome many challenges. If you would like to know more about CBT and understand how it can help your child, please reach out to our specialists at Tactopus. 

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