How old is old enough for therapy?
I’ve often been asked what age are the youngest children I work with. The common reaction when I say that I regularly see children as young as 3 is “3? What do you do for a kid that young?” I think the idea here is a that a 3-year-old does not even understand what therapy is and would not really be able to gain the kind of deep insight into their behaviors that people associate with therapy. However, children of any age can have disruptive behavior, anger, anxiety, and even, in rare cases, depression. Of course, some amount of each of these can be a normal part of development. We all know about the terrible 2’s. What happens when those behaviors continue, though, at age 3, 4, 5, and don’t show signs of letting up? Or when the behavior is so disruptive that it causes major stress to parents and other caregivers? Separation anxiety interfering with drop-offs at school even after the first few weeks? Shyness so severe that a child will not talk to many adults/peers? If problems with mood, anxiety, shyness, depression, or disruptive behavior are significantly impacting a child’s functioning, therapy can help—no matter the age.
This therapy may look different than therapy for adolescents or adults, though. In therapy for children and adolescents of any age, parental involvement is key. Often, with younger kids, depending on the nature of the problems, parents may be more heavily involved, and many sessions may be spent with the parents alone helping them to respond to their child’s behavior and to learn therapy skills themselves to coach their children at home, and the therapist may spend less time directly with the child.
There is a substantial amount of research showing that these parent coaching approaches can be incredibly helpful. In fact, the younger the children, often the less ingrained the patterns of behavior are, so progress can be made quickly and future problems prevented. If you’re concerned that your child or a child you know has significant anxiety, shyness, lack of interest or pleasure in most activities, irritability, anger, or disruptive behavior, consider a consultation with a therapist trained in evidence-based treatments for children.