Building rapport with children can be difficult at times. A child’s cues for safety are often from the parent or guardian. If the parent develops a good rapport with the counselor, the child is more likely to as well. Often the first inclination is to jump right to the problem that brought the child to treatment. However, a more successful outcome for treatment might occur if more focus is placed on rapport building at the onset of treatment. What are ways a counselor can build rapport with children with or without the influence of the guardian?
Initially the child needs to acclimate to the therapeutic environment. For the first session time is often spent with the parent gathering information so the child should be given freedom and access to explore the office such as the toys and other items available in the office. Also try to engage the child by talking about his or her interests. These interests could help gear the activity of the second session which is often done individually with the child. The goal is to use the interests of the child to spark discussion and help the child relate to the counselor. Children are excited when the counselor knows what they are talking about.
For example, a child was referred for services due to issues with anxiety, including possible separation anxiety. This child’s identified main interest was the game of Minecraft. To help acclimate the child to therapy, videos were used of his favorite game as a session activity. If the child was able to feel at ease in the session then the activity could more focus on his anxiety. After a couple of sessions, the child was able to separate in the waiting room from his mother and become more talkative with the counselor. Session structure began to focus on dealing with anxiety and his interest in Minecraft became a reward that was used at the end of session. By focusing on what he liked, he felt more at ease with the counselor and was able to deal with the main reason he was referred for treatment.
Rachel Collins, LPC is a clinical therapist working with children and adolescents in New Haven, Connecticut. Her specializations include eating disorders, self-injury and trauma related work. She has a history of writing articles, giving presentations and serving in leadership positions at the local, state, regional and national level.