I’ve never worked with small children in a clinical setting before, and I suddenly find myself in a position at a private practice that sends many of them my way. I’m learning my way through this work and am actually enjoying it. I often think to myself, “How cool that these kids get to come to therapy so young, and that their caretakers are making this a priority.” Thinking back, I might have liked a reliable, safe place and person to myself for an hour each week!
I’m realizing how different the dynamics between therapist and caretaker(s) can be and am learning the importance of remembering a few things while working with kids. Allow me to share what I reiterate to myself weekly:
•The child is my client. No matter how demanding a caretaker can be, I am ultimately working with the child and am advocating for what is best for her or for him. I cannot go into sessions with an underlying agenda that comes from someone else. No matter how pushy, mean, or forceful aforementioned person can be. Assertiveness on my part is key.
•This work is a PROCESS. I can easily admit that is the case with adults, but for some reason, I forget more easily with kids. I think a lot of that comes from caretaker’s expectations that the child will be “fixed” in x amount of time. Again, this work is a process. Some days, we won’t talk at all, and we will play for 50 minutes. And guess what? That’s part of their process. I cannot know all that is going on in their little minds and how what we are doing or the way in which we are simply being present with one another is helpful.
•Kids are honest. Sometimes brutally so. I recently decided to challenge one of the little 8-year-old boys I see each week. I realized he had had enough of my “challenge” when he simply left the session after 40 minutes and announced that we were finished. Well, ok then! Remaining observant and following cues from children is KEY.
•Kids need reliable, safe, and genuine. Those little ones are perceptive- they need you to be real and will often detect when you aren’t. They need to feel safe. They need stability- that they are often not getting at home or at school or at either of these places. If I can be this for them for 50 minutes each week, then I’m doing good work.
•I get to have FUN! I like working with kids, because I get to play, and many days, this is a welcomed change of pace. I get to enter their world and go with them…whether this entails playing with army figurines, engaging in a game Connect 4, or drawing.
Fred Rogers so eloquently sums up this “work” of play. He said, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”
So go ahead— play! After all, it is the work of childhood.
Megan Broadhead is a counselor who enjoys working with all populations in the Atlanta area. She also has a Masters of Divinity and is especially interested in women's issues and the integration of spirituality into therapeutic work. For more info, visit her blog at www.missintermission.com