Does your child need therapy? Here’s what to look for in the therapist

First: Oppositional behavior & emotional dysregulation are best addressed in real time!

Are you considering therapy to treat your child’s oppositional or defiant behavior, emotional dysregulation, or physical aggression? If you are, you should know that while psychotherapy can be an important support for kids who’ve experienced family upheaval or trauma, and it’s great for helping kids to feel listened to and heard, traditional therapy is not a great solution if your goal is reducing meltdowns or getting the kids to listen.

In other words, especially when it comes to kids, oppositional or defiant behavior, emotional dysregulation and physical aggression are much better addressed in real time, when and where the behavior is happening.

This is because it’s actually very difficult for kids to transfer what they learn in the therapist’s office to the home or school environment – partly because of where kids are in their development, and partly because the real world is much more challenging. Transferring lessons from therapy is even more difficult if the child is in the midst of a meltdown, simply because this transfer is more of a “rational” process – and our rational brains are inhibited when we’re really angry. And let’s not forget the role our choices play in our behavior: Quite often kids with oppositional behavior are UNWILLING to transfer their therapy to the home!

This ”from-therapy-to-real-life” problem is something some therapists talk about, and the parents in our coaching programs talk about it, too: “He had a therapist, and he liked his therapist, but the behavior didn’t change,” or “She won’t use the tools she learns in therapy. In the moment she just screams ‘No.’” And I remember one mom who told me about her son’s equine therapy: “Why are you still so mad all the time,” she asked the boy. “Your therapy is supposed to help you calm down!” And the boy’s response? “I AM calm when I’m around the horses!”

What to look for in the therapist: 3 things:

At Wits’ End Parenting we believe that the person best suited to intervene in your child’s problem behavior is you, the parent. Not only would you be working in real time; you’re also able to intervene much more often, so your child is continually learning! But if you DO want to try therapy for your child, you’ll do better if you have the right therapist. If you’re wanting therapy for oppositional or defiant behavior, emotional dysregulation, or physical aggression, here are three things the therapist should offer you:

1. Experience. The therapist should have significant experience with kids with these behaviors – because the strategies needed to solve these problems are very different from the strategies that work with the more easygoing kids. The therapist should also be able to tell you approximately how long it will take for you to see the changes you want to see, and they should be able to describe the expected outcomes in some detail – for example, “I expect you to see a 90% reduction in the tantrums within 1-8 weeks.” This clarity around outcomes is entirely possible if the practitioner has an effective protocol and they also have experience with that protocol.

2. Parent coaching. In addition to working with your child, the therapist should also work with you directly, giving you practical, effective strategies you can use to address the problems in real time. Of the time the therapist spends with your family, at least half that time should be spent working with you. This is important, as not only do you need to know WHAT to do, but the therapist also needs to see you through your learning curve. Change is a process, and your child isn’t the only one learning new habits!

3. Timely solutions. If the therapist is prescribing the right strategies and you’re using them consistently, you can expect to see a significant reduction in the problem behavior within 1-8 weeks. We see this routinely in the families we work with – and our practice is focused on kids on the far end of the “problem behavior” spectrum. We think it’s important for parents to realize: It does NOT have to take forever for you to reach the goals you have for your child and your family! If you haven’t seen a significant positive change in 1-8 weeks, that’s NOT your child’s fault – you just need better strategies.

There are a number of reasons therapy can be attractive to parents of kids with oppositional or defiant behavior, emotional dysregulation, or physical aggression. But we’ve worked with thousands of families, and we know without a doubt that it’s the parents who are best positioned to intervene in these problems, simply because these behaviors are much better addressed in real time, when and where the behavior is happening. If you DO want to try therapy for your child, be sure you have the right therapist, and remember – you should expect to see change quickly!

Having a hard time with your child’s behavior?

YES, I want the free download, Five Top Mistakes Made by Parents of Strong-Willed Kids! Send me the download and ongoing tips!

Scroll to Top