Working with children and teens: Information for parents

As they grow up, children have to deal with change, loss, bullying, violence, criticism, low self-esteem, and changing body image as they move through rapid growth periods over short periods of time. There are numerous challenges to cope with in daily life, such as making friends, moving to a new school, challenging academic work, sports activities, peer pressure, as well as the pressures of social media, and parental expectations.

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Teenagers as a group have special needs that are different from adults. Covid-19 has completely disrupted the normal school and university experience, and with the well-known pressures from social media, teens may suffer more than usual from mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, poor body image, disrupted sleep, low self-esteem, loneliness, and academic underachievement. Add chronic illness, disability, or neurodiversity to that mix and you have a recipe for a problematic adolescence. I teach coping skills, emotional management, practical skills, and strategies for navigating today's tricky world. I have worked with teens with a variety of chronic disorders or conditions (see list below) including autism, Tourette syndrome, POTS, Crohn's disease, and cancer.

I worked closely for several years with the Department of Pediatric Gastroenterology at the University of North Carolina who referred children to me after they had undergone extensive physical testing to determine the cause of symptoms that remained unexplained. One of the doctors there told me that up to half of the patients they assess at the hospital have no discernible physical illness. GI issues included difficulty eating or swallowing, hiccups, holding onto stool or urine, nausea, stomach pain, IBS, chronic diarrhoea or constipation. Unexpressed emotions may cause physical symptoms. This is true even when a child does have an actual physical diagnosis.

Why children and teens experience problems

Children and adolescents, like adults, show their reaction to stress, change, and traumatic life circumstances in different ways. Performance in school might begin to drop. The child could become forgetful, distracted, perfectionist, self-critical, angry, irritable, depressed, anxious, and even violent. They might become clumsy, sleep too much or too little, have headaches or develop stomach problems or eating issues. Sometimes children compare themselves to others they see online. This can elicit feelings of inadequacy or low self-esteem.

 

Some children turn to repetitive, self-soothing habits like nail-biting, or hair-pulling. Others may begin wetting the bed after a period of being dry. Health problems like asthma or allergies may become prevalent. Stuttering may start or get worse. A child might want to stay home from school - perhaps complaining of a sore stomach. There may be trouble with other pupils or teachers. A child could be shy or worried about speaking in front of the class or be unable to understand a subject and feel stupid. Teenagers might be sullen and uncommunicative and turn to maladaptive and potentially addictive coping mechanisms like alcohol or drugs, video games, or pornography.

Other common concerns are poor sleep, separation from parents, fears of animals or insects, needles, doctors or dentists, or social anxiety. Concerned parents often become frustrated with their own inability to offer support to the child that actually seems to make a difference, and the child may have already gone through rounds of appointments that include physical tests and screenings, psychological assessments, and the prescription of medications. Unfortunately with medical issues, this type of therapy is not often considered until other avenues have been exhausted - along with both parents and children!

 

If the child or teenager is expressing concern about their own behaviour or ability to manage complex situations and is looking for help to address these concerns, then Human Givens therapy can be very beneficial. Guided imagery and relaxation offer a chance to learn more appropriate coping skills to use in daily life.

What to expect in a session

At the first session, I will first listen to your concerns and those of your child in order to gain a complete picture of the problem and its context. With younger children, it is often not necessary to explain in detail to your child that they are going for "therapy." It may simply be explained that they will be having a relaxed and quiet time in which they will listen to stories and use their imagination to solve their problems. They will also learn short, practical techniques that they can practice at home and use in daily life.

 

The participation and acceptance of the parent in this process is important. A parent’s stress or anxiety about a particular behaviour can often make change more difficult for the child. During the session, for children 12 and under, the parent or guardian is welcome to be present if the child wants the parent to be there. This also allows the parent to experience the benefits of guided imagery and relaxation. With teens, after the initial information gathering in the first session, it is recommended that the parent leaves the room, unless the teen is particularly anxious about being separated from the parent.

How do you do therapy with young people?

Just like with adults, I will look for unmet emotional needs and missing coping skills. When addressing a particular problem using guided imagery, I will introduce positive suggestions that are tailored to the child or teen. These are often presented in the form of a story or a metaphor, and this makes it easy for the child to take in new information. Children respond very well to stories, and most children have vivid imaginations. I will use this ability, so the child can mentally rehearse making changes, through visualization. With younger children, this might include using meeting a hero or character from a favourite TV program, movie, video game who advises the child what to do. These are all ideas that are easily accepted by children. Older children and teens are helped to access their own internal resources to create new mental scenarios for success.

Young people have an openness to new ideas that makes them especially good candidates for this type of therapy. They become relaxed and focused quite easily, and are happy to take on ideas that will help them to deal with any problems they are facing and make changes.

 

Suggestions might include being more relaxed, having more energy, feeling confident, feeling happy, liking themselves better, improving their sleep, remembering more easily or reading faster. Children are very suggestible and respond well to these types of suggestions. If your child is able to sit still, listen, and follow directions, for a period of time e.g. 15 minutes, then they will be able to take advantage of guided imagery. Very young children are often not able to do this, but you know your child best.

Will my child have to do homework or practise at home?

I will provide mp3 recordings for your child to listen to regularly at home. This homework is usually about 10 minutes per day for younger children and 15-20 minutes for teens.  The practice your child does at home will make all the difference as regular repetition helps to reinforce what the child has done in a session with me. 

The list below gives some idea of issues that I have worked on with children and adolescents:

  • Allergies

  • Anger

  • Anxiety & repetitive/intrusive thoughts

  • Asthma

  • Athletic ability or performance

  • Bedwetting (Enuresis)

  • Chronic illness, disability, or neurodiversity

  • Concentration and memory

  • Confidence or self-esteem

  • Death or loss of a beloved pet

  • Divorce

  • Domestic violence or abuse

  • Eating issues

  • Fear of medical/dental procedures

  • Fears and phobias

  • Getting along with siblings

  • Grief and loss

  • Headaches

  • IBS (functional stomach/bowel issues and nausea)

  • Motivation

  • Nail biting, nervous habits, behaviours or tics

  • Negative self-talk

  • Pain

  • POTS

  • School problems e.g. bullying, exam nerves

  • Shyness or social anxiety

  • Sleep problems or nightmares

  • Stealing

  • Stuttering

  • Stress

  • Time management/procrastination

  • Thumb-sucking

  • Trouble making or keeping friends

  • Weight management