Personally, I adore being around children and talking and playing with them. Interacting with children came easily to me, and I always enjoyed each moment that I spent with them.
Professionally, counselling children is one of the hardest experiences I have had, and it is still the most difficult for me to wrap my head around.
I worked with school-aged children (ages 5-12) for the first time during the practicum for my master’s program and learned very quickly that I had to readjust my own expectations about what could be called counselling.
The concepts and style of counselling that is taught during undergraduate and master’s degrees is focused mostly on working with adults. I found it easier to shift what I was taught in school towards working with youth because I had worked with youth for two years before starting my master’s program and because youth are able in some ways to think about themselves and connect their thoughts and feelings to their actions.
When working with school-aged children, I struggled to understand how to use my experience and education in a way that the children would understand in their own way and also enjoy.
It pushed me to be the most creative I have ever had to be, and it pushed me to step outside my own comfort zone to use much more art, games, storytelling, and other activities in the counselling session. I gradually became more and more comfortable working with school-aged children and began to really enjoy the fun and playfulness that came with spending time together.
The content involved in a counselling session with a child depends mostly on the child’s unique situation and what it is most important to discuss in that moment. The session is different for each child but will most likely be split between time spent with both the parents and the child and time spent one-on-one with the child.
This allows the counsellor to check in with the parents and provide feedback on parenting strategies that may be helpful for the child.
The alone time also gives a child the space to express their own thoughts and feelings, which usually happens when talking with the counsellor while engaging in an activity.
Support for a child has to come from many directions and requires the child, the family, the counsellor and any other important individuals working together towards a common goal.
The other area when working with school-aged children that I had to push myself in was being more direct and active in the counselling session.
I had been taught in school to treat the client as the expert and work as equal partners in finding a way to work through the challenge they were facing.
I now had parents and their children looking to me for specific answers to their questions and concerns.
I am not a parent myself and have very little parenting experience outside of what I learned briefly in school. It was a challenge for me to be more active and helpful with the family while also encouraging them to come up with their own ideas about what would work best for them.
Counselling children is very fun, playful, and exciting, and I learned the most in working with this population because it pushed me out of my comfort zone and changed my view of what I thought counselling had to look like.
There is nothing else like having a child trust and open up to you while sharing laughs and quality time together.
Blog post by Sarah Nixon, Volunteer
For more on individual children counselling, click here.