Family Therapy for
young children

Is Your Young Child’s Behavior Causing Strain in Your Family? 

  • Is your young child refusing to listen when you tell them to do something?
  • Does your child throw tantrums, act out and make a huge fight out of every little thing?
  • Are you worried about the way your child’s behavior is impacting or influencing his or her siblings or classmates?
  • Are you embarrassed by your child when you are in public? Or do you avoid taking your child out in public for fear of your child’s behavior?
  • Are you concerned that your child may have experienced a trauma, and you don’t know how to help him or her?
  • Have you tried everything, but still feel judged by others for your child’s behavior?
  • Do you wish you could help your child develop the tools and skills he or she needs to succeed in life?

Family Therapy for Young Children - Hilo, HI - Stephanie Dodge, PhD

Raising a young child between the ages of 2-7 can be an exhausting, overwhelming and frustrating experience, especially if you child is strong-willed and behaves in ways that feel out of control. You may feel as though your entire life revolves around your child’s unpredictable behavior, and you never know when you will receive a call at work or have to reschedule your day because of a temper tantrum at pre-school or school. Perhaps you and your co-parent disagree on the best way to handle your child’s behavior. If you and your co-parent are separated, you might worry that your child is not receiving consistent discipline and wonder if he or she will develop some of your ex’s negative traits. Or, if you and your co-parent are together, you might feel as though your child is tearing your relationship apart and making it difficult to feel like a family. Maybe your co-parent or others have told you that the problem is your fault.

If your child throws fits when you bring him or her to school, you might feel embarrassed and inadequate in front of teachers and other parents. A teacher might have told you that your child is a “problem,” and you need to start doing something different. Perhaps you feel frustrated with your child’s day care or school and wonder why no one is helping you. Maybe you are starting to feel like you just don’t like your child, and that thought fills you with guilt. Or, perhaps your child has experienced a trauma and you can’t stop feeling responsible for his or her pain. You may feel helpless and hopeless and wonder if you have failed in some irrevocable way.

Parenting a Young Child Is Not Easy

If you feel as though your child has driven you to the end of your rope, you are not alone. Building a family is one of the most important jobs we have, but no one gets a training manual when their first child is born. Some kids are more outspoken, spirited and difficult than others. Even though parenting is difficult for everyone, many people blame parents for their child’s hyperactive and disruptive behavior. But, in reality, a child’s personality and all environments (home, school, daycare, extended family members) influence the way he or she interacts with the world.

Parents are unique people with different experiences and backgrounds, which influence the way the approach their children. Sometimes, couples don’t find out that their parenting styles clash until they begin to have children. It can take time to develop parenting tools as an individual, and even more time to learn to effectively parent together. And, some children just take a little more work than others. Every child is different, even within the same family. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to parenting. Thankfully, with help, you can learn the skills you need to effectively parent your child and restore harmony in your household.

Family Therapy for Young Children Can Help Your Family Come Together

Family therapy for young children is extremely effective, especially because small children are very adaptable and changes made in their environment can have an almost immediate result. By working together as a family, you can begin to feel more confident as a parent and help your child feel as though he or she is doing well. You can develop communication and behavioral skills that will help your family manage challenging issues now and through the future, including into the teenage years. With support and guidance, you can create effective change and discover the joy of being a family.

I have been trained in Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), an evidence-based effective treatment for children 2-7 years old with difficult behaviors, and I have helped hundreds of families return to order and harmony. When your child is between the ages of two and seven, any therapy that can address his or her behavioral issues will be family therapy. Your child is too young to regulate his or her own impulses, but your dedicated involvement can help your child learn appropriate behaviors, and in time to internalize those behaviors into their own moral code. In sessions, you can develop the tools you need to stop rewarding negative cries for attention, such as tantrums, and instead to give your attention to your child’s good (or at least neutral) behaviors. While it can be very difficult to ignore crying and screaming, I can coach you so that you feel better equipped to deal with negative behavior in a productive way. The goal of PCIT is for your child to obey 75 percent of your commands within 10 seconds by the end of therapy. Most parents find this difficult to believe, but I have seen over and over that if parents put a little time and effort into learning to be more skilled in managing their child’s behavior, this can be a reality. This is the perfect time to address behavioral issues before they really begin to impact his or her life.

If your child is exhibiting worrisome behaviors after a trauma, I can help you understand typical responses that children have to frightening or painful experiences. I can offer you compassionate support and the tools you need to help your child heal. Often, when a small child has experienced a trauma, his or her entire family has experienced it as well. Family therapy for young children offers a place for the whole family to process and begin to move forward.

So many families feel as though they can’t win. As your therapist, I can serve as your cheerleader and coach. I am not here to judge you or criticize your parenting. Instead, I will work to help you be the most efficient and effective parent that you can. Some children require “super parenting skills” because they are more challenging, and I can help you learn these skills. Studies have shown that when a child improves his or her behavior, mothers report lower levels of depression. You can replace your feelings of guilt and shame with confidence and success. It is possible for you to enjoy being a parent again.

You may believe that family therapy for young children can help you parent more effectively, but still have questions or concerns…

You are going to tell me this is my fault, just like everyone else does.

Parenting is the hardest job in the world, and I understand how difficult it can be. You are facing a daily struggle with your child, and on top of all of that, you might be facing criticism and feelings of guilt and deep unhappiness. In sessions, I offer a warm, compassionate, nonjudgmental environment. I am here to be on your side. By seeking help, you are demonstrating what a good, concerned parent you are.

I’m ready for this, but my co-parent won’t come.

While family therapy is most effective when both parents attend, you can still benefit from counseling if you and your child come alone. The best outcomes are when both parents use the same techniques, but outcomes can still be very good if one parent uses the skills and the other does not interfere with parenting. In sessions, I can help you feel better equipped to discuss parenting with your co-parent, identify your differences and interact civilly. And, even if your co-parent is not cooperating now and decides to be the “fun” parent while you try to create structure, remember that your child will not be young forever. Some day, your child will be able to choose his or her own preferred way of moving through the world, and many come to see that while they might not always enjoy having limits, they are better prepared to succeed in life by the efforts of the involved parent (rather than the “Disneyland” parent). By doing the work on your own, you are offering your child the choice of consistency and stability.

Family therapy for young children sounds like too much time and effort. 

Parenting a young child can be overwhelming and chaotic. However, I invite you to consider how much time you spend trying to control tantrums or manage hyperactivity every day. By dedicating a little bit of effort to therapy, you can practice changes that will make an enormous difference in the long run. Learning new parenting skills can make your life so much easier. In addition, you are welcome to include siblings in the therapy process so that you don’t have to worry about babysitting. The entire family can work together.

You don’t have to struggle with your child’s destructive behavior alone. I invite you to call (808) 747 3445 for a free 15-20-minute phone consultation. I’m happy to answer any questions you have about family therapy for young children and my practice.

Other Information:

Parent-Child Interaction Therapy:  Information for Parents

Boys Town:Starting Toilet Training: The 7 P Plan

Boys Town: Game Over: Biting, Bullies and Other Bad Behavior At Preschool

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: Fighting And Biting

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: Physical Punishment

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