Explaining CBT to Children

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a structured, goal-oriented form of psychotherapy. It helps manage struggles by changing the way you think and behave. CBT is based on the idea that your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and physical sensations are interconnected. Distressing thoughts and feelings can trap you in a negative cycle. This therapy benefits people of all ages, including children and teens, helping with issues like anxiety, depression, OCD, autism, externalizing disorders, and PTSD.

What Does CBT for Children Look Like?

CBT helps children manage distress through a structured approach. Therapists teach children practical skills to control their thoughts, feelings, and emotions, empowering them. These skills can be used immediately. Children can receive CBT alone or with medications or other therapies like group or family therapy. CBT helps children identify and replace unhelpful thoughts, using adaptive coping skills to maintain positive moods, healthy relationships, and realistic thinking patterns.

How Do I Explain CBT to My Child?

Getting children to agree to therapy can be challenging. They may not see the benefits, feel it won’t work, be embarrassed, have had a bad experience before, think they don’t need help, or feel forced. To help, try to explain CBT in a relatable way. Compare it to something they know, like sports or music. For example, “Even professional football players need coaches to learn new strategies and skills. In therapy, you learn new skills and practice them until you don’t need the therapist/coach anymore.”

Explain that helpful thoughts make them feel comfortable, while unhelpful thoughts make them uncomfortable. Help them identify what comfortable (“happy,” “good”) and uncomfortable (“sad,” “angry”) mean. Explain that uncomfortable thoughts can lead to unhelpful reactions, like yelling at a classmate. CBT helps catch these thoughts and cope with them in better ways, like forgiving a friend for an accident.

Use simple terms. Tell your child they will talk to another adult about their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to feel better. The therapist, like a coach, will help them learn useful skills for difficult moments.

The Importance of the CBT Therapist

Finding the right therapist is crucial. Involve both you and your child in choosing a therapist. This can create a sense of autonomy and independence. When children help choose their therapist, they may be more willing to engage in treatment. If you have questions or want to ensure a good fit, consider a parent-only meeting first, then a session with the therapist and your child.

How Capital Institute Can Help

At Capital Institute, we use practical, skills-based CBT approaches to help children with issues like anxiety, depression, social fears, eating disorders, sexual and gender identity concerns, OCD, self-harm behaviors, and ADHD. We are dedicated to helping youth learn the skills they need for happier, healthier lives.