Can You Do Therapy With an Infant, Toddler or Preschooler?
Yes…You can do therapy with a baby or very young child.
Sometimes even the smallest and youngest of people need a little extra help. Babies and little kids have problems too…think about the baby who was born too soon and spent weeks or months in the NICU before they ever felt sunshine on their face. Or the toddler who lost a parent to divorce, deployment or death or who is overwhelmed by things such as potty training or learning to sleep in their own bed. Or the preschooler who is trying to adjust to starting school and making new friends and doesn’t feel they belong. These are examples of major life issues for little people who do not yet have the emotional skills to manage them.
Early childhood therapy looks very different than therapy for an older child or adult. People say “but they cant even talk yet.” That’s true in the youngest of babes but that doesn’t mean that they don’t feel and need help. Not all therapy involves understanding your problems or using words to address them. Early childhood therapy in children under 3yo is often done with a trusted adult in the room. The relationship between the child and the trusted adult (parents, grandparents, foster family, etc.) is the ‘client’. The goal is to help a child feel safe and seen by their trusted adult so their nervous system can relax and be free to explore, play and learn.
When a very young child has an emotional problem it causes ‘dysregulation’ (crying, screaming, tantrums, throwing things, even withdrawing or turning away from an adult). When a child (or adult) is dysregulated they feel unsafe, unsure, worried, fearful and powerless to change that situation. Young children have not yet learned to regulate themselves on their own (this doesn’t happen until they are much older) and they need their trusted adult to help them calm down or regulate. When an adult keeps themselves calm even in the face of a very upset baby or child, they are able to help the child stay or get calm too. This is called ‘co-regulation’ and its one of the most important parenting skills that every baby and young child needs from their parent.
Co-regulation informs the baby and young child that even their biggest, most overwhelming emotions, that they cannot themselves handle, won’t push the trusted adult or parent away. It informs the child that even though they are out of control the parent is still there, still available, still loving, still kind. It tells the child that even though they can’t control themselves, their trusted adult can maintain control in the face of these very big emotions. The child then learns they are safe, they are protected and they are loved – no matter what. They learn that they are valuable even in their worst moments and that their needs will be met.
Therapy with a baby or young child is focused on helping a parent learn to read the child’s behaviors, signs, and signals, interpret those signs and understand their needs – this is called attunement. Therapy also helps a trusted adult or parent help the parent learn to stay calm or get calm so they can co-regulate with their child, helping their child calm down too. This is much easier said than done.
If you feel that you and your baby or young child could benefit from therapy reach out for support – you both deserve it!
Contact me today, together we can make this better.
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