Psychotherapy can help children address a variety of challenges, including sadness, anxiety, behavior issues, loss and transition, and difficulties with family and peer relationships. Successful child therapy is usually inclusive of multiple family members, and scheduling complications or resistance by children or other individuals in the family can present obstacles to accessing therapy. Especially when issues are discrete and fairly mild, parenting consultations can offer an alternative to help families resolve concerns about their children.
In contrast to psychotherapy, where parent guidance is one aspect of the healing process, parenting consultations focus on enhancing parents’ skills and giving them concrete tools to solve problems. The number of sessions can range from as little as two to several. In initial sessions, the consultant (who frequently is also a child and family therapist) elicits information from each parent about their approach to parenting, including rules and consequences, and ways in which they communicate and interact with the children. The consultant generally also inquires about the children’s social and emotional development, activities and interests, relationships with family members, and friendships and supports. They might also ask about routines involving mealtimes and bedtimes, chores, and family rituals. Other topics of investigation might include the nature of sibling relationships, and how parents support each other and coordinate their approaches.
As consults progress, parenting consultants help parents make changes that have a direct impact on children. Changes might include: new methods for imbuing children with feelings of security, safety, and love; techniques for encouraging positive behaviors; effective limit-setting strategies; and ways adults can best synchronize their approaches. The consultant and parents might also generate ideas about activities for children, develop strategies for better academic success, devise methods for managing influences outside of the family, and come up with ways that adults can better manage their own stressors.
Psychotherapy, where a therapist engages directly with children and other family members, is a potent method for addressing many of children’s challenges. When obstacles prevent families from making use of therapy, parenting consultations can offer a powerful alternative vehicle for growth and healing.