It is interesting to consider how different children are than adults. We often forget that although they are smaller beings, they actually think, act, and process very differently. And therefore, they can’t be expected to fit into the same timeline, path, or journey as adults in therapy. As a result, I often explain to parents that their understanding and awareness of how things will go needs to be flexible and fluid. Kids live in the here and now, so their responses and reactions to therapy are largely tied to their emotions in the moment. They don’t process problems in a linear, sequential, or chronological fashion. In fact, while adults can go logically through the chain of events or history and recall what happened in order, kids are more like a heart rate monitor with jagged ups and downs, jumping around all over the place.
However, even in their own way, there is consistency and themes that emerge with children in therapy. In 50 minute sessions in the play room, they might bounce around to five different topics and seem to follow no pattern. However, looking back over four or five sessions, there are always connections and repetitive play, indicating that they are working through a struggle.
Another interesting element to therapy with kids is that they don’t stay focused on the issue for very long. Often five or ten minutes is all they can handle, and they go back to playing with something else that requires less emotional processing. Although those therapeutic bursts are short, they are significant and helpful in the healing and growth of the child.
A final difference for kids in therapy is that often their progress is not a straight upward line on the graph, either. I like to explain it as more of a vertical zig zag, as they test and try and navigate new skills and tools. They usually feel comfortable with their old patterns of behavior, because that was safe and normal before treatment. So, sometimes it takes some back and forth before the new patterns stick permanently.
Regardless of what issues a child is facing, they handle the process differently than adults. As long as there is an understanding and acceptance of that difference, both parents and kids can walk the therapeutic journey with confidence and contentment.