Our team of specialist child and adolescent clinical psychologists offer everything from tailored parenting advice, to comprehensive full course assessment and therapy. As with so many things, early intervention for children and young people is crucial. We – you as parents and us as professionals – have a key opportunity to catch problems before they become entrenched. Together we can help children develop the skills they need to navigate their challenges both now and for the future.
Many parents have told us that they hesitated to seek support because they felt they somehow ought to be able to ‘solve’ things themselves. When it is your child who is struggling, your own emotions are under great pressure. The challenges children and young people face today are in many ways the same as what parents may have experienced when they were younger but are also quite new, leaving parents feeling ill-equipped to know how to respond.
Please remember that seeking support is a sign of good parenting – reaching out to get the help you and your child need is a sign of wisdom and strength. We are here to work alongside you.
Learning to understand and manage emotions is a key developmental challenge for every child. For some children and young people that process is especially tricky. Strong feelings of anxiety, shame, disappointment, confusion, low mood and others can be overwhelming. Children and young people often don’t themselves understand what they are feeling and can struggle to know how to communicate their emotions to others in helpful ways. Sometimes ‘coping responses’ can serve to exacerbate the very feelings they are designed to avoid. For example, an anxious child may avoid or refuse situations that trigger their anxiety, showing instead anger and defiance. A child who is feeling low may withdraw from others, appearing aloof and disinterested. A child who feels overwhelmed with worry and disappointment may turn to self harm to try to ‘get rid’ of what they are experiencing. All these attempts at coping in the short term can push others away, lead others to become frustrated or cross, or can shift the attention of others to the coping behaviour rather than the emotion lying beneath. When this happens children can end up not getting the help they need to make sense of their feelings, nor the support to cope in more helpful ways.
As clinical psychologists we are trained to assess and understand these patterns, getting down to the emotional challenges at their root. We work to share that understanding in age appropriate ways with children and young people, and their parents. Together, we can then work in therapy on building new healthy ways to cope. Children and young people develop skills that become lifelong templates for navigating life’s ups and downs.
We use a variety of evidence-based approaches for children and adolescents, usually in an integrative way and as indicated by the outcomes of the initial assessment. Some approaches are adjusted versions of adult therapies based on research into adaptations for younger people.
'Challenging behaviour' is not easy to manage – for anyone. Defiance, fussiness, hurting other people, excessive anger and tantrums are enough to push even the calmest parent over the edge. These behaviours are also not what we imagine parenting will be like, and they don’t just play out in young children either; the struggles experienced by teenagers can be just as – if not more – challenging for parents.
Knowing how to support a child or young person acting in this way is confusing and emotionally fraught. It can help to take a step back and connect with the fact that the child in question is exasperated – their emotions have become too strong for them to handle. They are expressing this exasperation the only way they know how and though it’s tough, it’s our job to help them navigate things differently. We may also have a role to play in changing the triggers they are facing – sometimes it can be that aspects of their life really are too much. It’s about helping children to feel heard and to understand themselves, so they can cope better with the frustration that comes from life’s inevitable disappointments.
First and foremost, as professionals we have the automatic benefit of not being the child’s parent, and not therefore having to deal with the challenging behaviour directly while also trying to manage a household, look after other children, maintain a relationship and go to work. Parents are trying to do all of that and so are at an automatic disadvantage (as we know all too well when it comes to our own children). We are also trained specialists working with methods to understand what may be lying beneath exasperated emotions in children, identifying triggers and helping both the child and their parent(s) find more helpful ways of identifying and expressing the difficult feelings.How it Works Contact Us
Just like adults, children and young people can be subjected to trauma, loss, very significant challenges and substantial change in their lives, often unavoidably. It was not that long ago in our culture that well-meaning advice was to try to shield children from these events by keeping quiet and pretending everything was ok. Unfortunately, this approach was unsuccessful – children do notice things and do experience difficult feelings.
When the adults around them ‘keep quiet’ children are denied the opportunity to learn how to cope in healthy ways with these challenges. Instead, they can assume what they are feeling is somehow ‘not right’ and try to find their own ways to feel better.
Fortunately, we now know a great deal about how to support children facing these challenges and can help them build resilience, confidence in their own feelings and skills for the future as a result. Having these conversations with children is difficult however and brings up challenging emotions in parents and carers too. No wonder – these are very challenging experiences to negotiate.
Using our knowledge of this evidence base, we help children and young people begin to talk about, process, make sense of and cope with the challenges they have to face. It is not about banishing their difficult feelings, more about helping them know how to mange emotions in ways that don’t make things worse. We also help families to understand what their child is experiencing and help them support the young person to practice the skills they are learning.
All our work with children and young people starts with a thorough assessment. We usually ask parents and the child themselves to complete some secure, online forms before the first appointment and will ask for copies of any pre-existing reports. Preparing carefully to meet with you for the first time means we can cover more ground and tailor the assessment right from the start.
Assessment appointments are usually 90 minutes in length. This is to allow time to speak with the child or young person as well as parents (sometimes together, sometimes separately, but always working with what the child feels most comfortable with), to cover detailed history as well as current concerns and to feedback our understanding of the difficulties (what is likely to be causing them and what is stopping them from resolving). Once we have that shared understanding, we can agree together the best way forward with an intervention plan.
It is usually possible at the end of the assessment to give a fairly accurate idea of what is evidenced to help, and what that actually looks like in practice (including a rough idea of the number of sessions involved). The exact nature of the intervention will vary considerably depending on the formulation, the age of the child and the difficulties involved.
Sometimes we only work with parents and sometimes mainly with the young person with a parent joining for the last few minutes of a session. We also work with schools where helpful (and of course only with consent). Your psychologist will be able to explain the way forward with the intervention, including the rationale, and answer any questions you may have as you go. All our specialist clinical psychologists are trained as ‘scientist-practitioners’ – they evaluate and assess with you and your child as the intervention progresses to ensure we are on track to meet the goals.
Our aim is always to equip you and your child with the skills to manage on your own/their own for the future. However, life has a habit of throwing curve balls and, because children change as they develop, there is sometimes a need for follow-up or check-in. We are always here if you need us to offer top-up sessions. We always link you back up with the psychologist you already know (providing they are working) so everything is familiar and you don’t need to start from scratch.