Most parents who I see in my office in Hoboken, NJ or for online (video/ phone) sessions want help with changing their child's behavior. Most times, parents prefer for me to see just their child and to change their behaviors directly through play therapy. While I do see children and help them change their behaviors through play therapy (find out more here), I also find working with parents on the side leads to the most successful changes.
How do parenting counseling sessions work?
I prefer to meet with all parents, or guardians, of the child. Let's say you have a child and you are divorced from your spouse. If both you and your ex-spouse are still spending time with your child, then I would prefer to see both parents for parenting sessions. These sessions are different from couples therapy because we would not be working on your relationship between one another, but will focus on your parenting skills to help your child. I will help you co-parent while helping one another change your child's negative behaviors. If there are multiple guardians involved in the child's life, it would still be helpful for everyone to come in. If there are more than 2 guardians then we may break it up into a few different sessions.
Parenting sessions are scheduled separate from a child's session. If I am seeing a child for play therapy then I am seeing the parents separately. It is possible that some sessions are combined into family sessions which include the child and parent(s). It really depends on what is going on for the child, how much change is occurring, and how old the child is.
I like to meet with only the parents for the first session. This is so that I can assess what is going on within the family and to assess the best way I can help. From there, we will figure out how therapy will work going forward. This may include play therapy with the child only, parenting sessions only, or a combination of both. Usually if a child is under 6 years old, I meet with the parents for parenting sessions to try to change their child's behaviors through their parenting skills. Usually if the child is in grade school then I would meet with the child for play therapy sessions and would meet with the parents as needed. When a child is in their teens, I usually only meet with the child to build and maintain trust.
What can be learned in a parenting therapy session?
Through parenting therapy sessions, parents will learn how to work as a team. First, it is most important that parents can communicate with one another how they plan to reward and discipline their child. As an example, if a mother plans to not let her son play a video game at night since he did not finish his homework, but the father then allows the son to play the video game then there will be no behavioral changes. If anything, the child will learn that he can manipulate his parents to get what he wants by making sure they are not communicating.
After we work on these important communication skills, we then will come up with a plan together that will target behavior changes within your child. If the child has a single parent then that makes our work easier and we can jump right in towards making behavioral changes.
A simple example may be for your child to get dressed and ready for school in the morning without it being a blow up fight or meltdown.
Once we discuss your child's morning routine in detail, we will break it down to see what specific points within the morning routine we can start to change. If this is a young child (under 6 years old), I might suggest a rewards sticker chart. You can make this along with your child as a fun project. Take some photos in your home of the steps to getting ready in the morning. Then print out these photos and put them on a poster board to hang in your child's room. This will be easier for your child to comprehend than just writing things to do in a list.
To continue to help your child change their behaviors and prevent meltdowns, I would then take your child to a store to have them pick out some stickers they like. Each morning, the child will then get rewarded a sticker on their sticker chart, which will be next to the poster board photos of what to do in the morning.
As parents, you will discuss how your child should be rewarded as they earn a certain amount of stickers. Some examples of rewards can be that the child can pick out what is cooked for dinner, they get to go to their favorite park, they can pick a movie to watch, they can play a video game for extra time, etc.
It is then important, as parents, to not give your child the rewards assigned to the stickers earned unless they truly earn it. This is the most challenging part to stick to as parents. So it is important to make the rewards realistic and easy for you to follow through with. And it is important to continue that open communication as parents so that you are on the same page.
This is one example of many that I work on with parents to help their children change their behaviors.
Some information about parenting online therapy (video or phone sessions):
Parents lead very busy lives and sometimes it is hard to physically come in for therapy. This is true especially for a postpartum parent. This is why I provide video and phone sessions so that parents can talk to me on their lunch break or from the comfort of their own home without needing to get a babysitter for the children. There are many reasons why a video or phone session can be more convenient. And my parents find that they are just as helpful as in-person sessions. I also see parents for a mix of in-person sessions and online sessions. I am flexible since I know parents lead busy lives.
Courtney Glashow, LCSW
is a licensed psychotherapist practicing in Hoboken, New Jersey. She specializes in helping teens, young adults, and parents through counseling. Courtney can help NY or NJ residents through telehealth therapy sessions as well.