yes, therapy helps!
A child psychologist tells us how to help the formation of self-esteem in the little ones

A child psychologist tells us how to help the formation of self-esteem in the little ones

January 22, 2021

Psychological and behavioral problems do not only occur in adulthood, but also should also be taken into account at early ages, during childhood

If they are allowed to pass and are not treated properly, the consequences can be negative and the symptoms can get worse over time.

  • Maybe you're interested: "Educational psychology: definition, concepts and theories"

Interview with a child psychologist

Luckily, it is possible go to professionals of Psychology specialized in children's therapy , which help the youngest to develop and build healthy self-esteem, improve communication, social skills, stimulate development and improve their emotional and relational intelligence.


Psychotherapy with children presents some differences regarding adult therapy (For example, it involves the family in the therapeutic process and uses the game as a key element), and that is why we wanted to talk Mireia Garibaldi Giménez, psychologist and psycho-pedagogue of the Mensalus Institute, one of the most prestigious clinics in Spain, for us helps to understand what this form of therapy consists of.

If you want to know more about the Mensalus Institute, you can read this article: "Discover the Mensalus Psychology Center with this photo report".

The characteristics of child psychology

Jonathan García-Allen: What do you think are the main differences between childhood therapy and adult therapy?


Mireia Garibaldi: All psychotherapy, whether with children and adolescents or with adults, consists basically of 4 elements: the therapist, the patient, the therapeutic relationship and the therapeutic process. These are the 4 elements in which the two types of therapies differ.

Beginning with the first element, the child therapist must have a different training to the adult therapist, with specific knowledge for that type of population and the ways to intervene in it. A good example is the need to know the stages and milestones of evolutionary development (cognitive, social, emotional, etc.) in different phases and ages.

Regarding the second element, the patient, it is evident that we intervene in a very specific type of population but at the same time very heterogeneous, since it is not the same to treat a 5-year-old as a 10-or 15-year-old child. that following the previous point, knowing well the evolutionary characteristics of each one is essential to exercise. As regards the therapeutic relationship, it varies in its main elements: framing, asymmetry, and alliance.


For example, in child therapy, the alliance with the patient is not unique, that is, it is not only established with the child, but usually a multiple alliance must be carried out, since it must also be done with parents, teachers, etc.

Finally, the differences regarding the process are closely related to the specificity in the evaluation and intervention techniques, which are different from those used for adults, such as, for example, the use of drawing.

Therapy based on play is usually associated with infant therapy. But, what does it consist of? They are the same?

The therapy based on the game is a type of intervention in child therapy in which different processes are used for children are playful with a dual purpose: on the one hand, to evaluate and obtain information on the problem situation and, on the other, to intervene on it.

Given that the cognitive, social and emotional characteristics of children are very different from those of adults, who will probably come to consult and express their problems more or less accurately, children need alternative ways of communication and oral and direct language. in order to work.

For example, if a teenager can express in a direct consultation that they are concerned about the discussions in their home and expose it to the therapist, a child will need an indirect way, such as the symbolic game to do it, that is, through dolls that They will represent their significant people close to them (parents, siblings, etc.). They can express and reproduce what happens in their environment or how they feel indirectly through them. The same will happen to work different objectives of the intervention.

We can intervene using symbolic games or other types of games for specific purposes, such as construction games to work the spatial notion and fine motor skills in cases of learning difficulties such as dyslexia. However, it is important to point out that in the therapies children are not only used in the game, but this is a very important but not unique resource and child therapy and play are not synonymous.

Who else harms a fit of anger or a disproportionate response from a parent, the parent or their child?

Both will be very negatively affected by this type of response, but in a very different way. Leaving aside the parents who are not aware of the harmfulness of this type of reactions, in consultation it is very common to find parents who do know that their ways of managing some situations with their children are not the most appropriate and that in Sometimes their reactions are disproportionate, but they have no alternative ways and tools to do otherwise when they are overwhelmed.

It is very common to see feelings of helplessness and even guilt when talking about this type of episodes, so it is important, in a process, to help them learn new ways of managing situations in which they can feel deprived. One thing is certain, and that is that both adults and children react in inappropriate ways when we do not have enough resources to manage situations and day-to-day problems, so we both need help for this.

And obviously, for children, anger and / or disproportionate responses on a regular basis by their parents lead to the creation of an insecure type of attachment, which will affect their social and emotional development, their self-esteem, the way they to behave, etc. may have difficulties in their future relationships and adolescents and adults. It is essential to remember that many behaviors are learned by imitating the referents, which in childhood are the parents.

What are the most common disorders or problems that you usually treat in therapeutic sessions?

In my practice I tend to attend many children who come because of difficulties in academic performance or behavior problems. Sometimes, these are not problems in themselves, but expressions of an underlying problem. That is, it is true that there are specific learning disorders and behavioral disorders as such, which in themselves are what generate dysfunction in the child's life and environment, but in other cases, a drop in school performance or a Inappropriate behavior are only symptoms of something that goes beyond, such as a case of bullying, problems in family relationships, etc.

When parents expose me a problem, I always give the example of fever: someone can go to the doctor with fever as a symptom, but it will not be the same as a fever from a severe urinary infection to a fever from a cold. The symptom is the same, but the basis and treatment will be very different. Therefore, it is important to adequately explore those "symptoms" that children express, since the same behavior can have different origins.

Thus, apart from problems in school performance and behavioral problems in all its aspects (difficulties in impulse control, tantrums, disobedience towards authority figures, etc.), very common cases in consultation are: difficulties in social relationships, fears and phobias, interventions in separation processes, divorce and / or family reunification or autism spectrum disorders.

What is the role of parents when they go with their child to a child psychologist?

The role of parents is essential in any intervention process that takes place with a child. This point is important to expose it from the first moment that a therapy is initiated, in the setting or setting, so that the parents can adjust the expectations of the process.

Sometimes parents believe that taking their child to a child psychologist will only work with the child, which is totally wrong. As mentioned above, a multiple alliance must be carried out both with the child and with their parents and other persons and / or institutions in which the child is involved (school, open center, mental health centers for children and youth) , etc.) so that the intervention has the greatest possible success.

Parents should be oriented so that they can work with their child outside the consultation sessions, either by offering management guidelines or by teaching them specific exercises and / or techniques to apply in the child's natural context. Without this intervention, supervised at all times by the therapist, it will be difficult for the changes that can be observed in consultation to be generalized outside of it (although it is evident that each process is unique and will depend on each case).

How important is the family in developing the self-esteem of the children?

The role of the family is basic in all facets of child development (emotional, social, etc.) and among them, in self-esteem. This is the assessment that a person makes of herself, according to thoughts, evaluations, beliefs, feelings and emotions about her way of being, acting, her physique, etc.

Therefore, this evaluation will be closely related to the assessment that significant people make of their environment and, the main significant persons for children are their parents.During childhood, they are their referents, their main attachment figures, so they exert a very important influence in the creation of a tight and healthy self-esteem. Possessing low expectations about what a child is capable of doing or making negative comments constantly about it, will cause the child to perceive a low evaluation of himself by his parents, which in the end will affect that self-assessment, devaluating

It makes sense to think that if, for example, a father or mother constantly repeats to his son that he is a lazy man who knows nothing, the child can reach the following conclusion: "If my parents, who represent that they are the ones who The more they know me and they want, they think that way about me ... that's how I am. " Therefore, it is essential to enhance the development of skills, reinforce the successes and give confidence to the children in relation to their abilities, so that they themselves can develop that trust and respect towards themselves, signs of a good self-esteem.

Punishment is a controversial issue. Can punishment be used in the education of a child? What is the best way to apply it?

The punishment is a behavior modification technique based on the behavioral principles of operant conditioning, which aims to reduce or eliminate the appearance of unwanted behavior.

Mainly, there are two types of punishments: positive punishment, which consists in applying an aversive stimulus in a contingent manner to a certain behavior (for example, copying 100 times a sentence for bad behavior), and negative punishment, which consists of withdrawing a positive stimulus after the performance of a certain behavior (for example, leaving a child without his playtime).


Although it is true that punishment is sometimes effective to eliminate behaviors quickly, I do not consider it the most appropriate method to do so, apart from the fact that it is not applicable in all cases, I always consider it a last option (ahead we find positive reinforcement). This is because in many cases the behaviors are diminished or eliminated in the short term by the fear of the threat of punishment itself and not because there is a real reflection on the inappropriate behavior that advances and learns the child, so the changes do not they tend to stay long term.

In addition, this fear can negatively affect the relationship between the person who applies it and the child, creating a threatening relationship based on fear, which can sometimes lead to defensive behaviors or even bigger explosions of anger, which will worsen the situation. All this, added to the fact that if the child does not understand exactly the reason for the punishment and the error of his behavior, his self-esteem will be negatively affected. Obviously, physical punishment is totally unjustified in any of the cases, which will only lead to generate in child and in the relationship with the adult.


What are the benefits of positive reinforcement and what are the consequences for a child's character and emotional well-being?

Positive reinforcement consists of applying a rewarding stimulus after the performance of an appropriate behavior so that it appears or increases. It is the main way to educate the children in the creation of a healthy self-esteem, with a secure attachment and based on trust and respect. It is important to differentiate between reward and positive reinforcement, because when we talk about positive reinforcement we do not always talk about a material reward, which can be a positive verbalization by the father ("I am very proud of what you have done") or an act in which he is given attention (play together).

For children, especially the youngest ones, there is no positive reinforcement greater than the attention of their parents. So it is important that, when children do things well (for example, they are sitting playing autonomously for a while in an appropriate way) we reward them with a shared game time. It is usual that, at this time, parents take advantage to carry out other things, so that in the end, children learn that in order to have the attention of their parents they must perform less appropriate behaviors.


It is also important to emphasize that we must reinforce the things that children do independently between them, that is, if a child carries out two inappropriate behaviors and one correct, we must continue reinforcing that appropriate behavior so that it continues to appear, even though there is done other things incorrectly. For example, if a child picks up his glass but leaves his plate, it is more effective to congratulate him for having picked up the glass, than to scold him for having left the plate, but he will feel that what he has done well has not been recognized, so he will stop do what.

Therefore, the reinforcement is so important, not only in the behaviors that children do, but in the formation of their character and their self-esteem, providing emotional well-being.

According to the Spanish Association of Pediatrics and Primary Care, 15% of children have problems of disobedience. What can a father do in this situation?

Faced with a problem of continued disobedience, it is important to go to the specialist, in this case the child psychologist, to assess the situation and determine if this is a normative behavior for the child's age and development (for example, there is a child stage between 1 and 2 years in which it is usual for children to maintain a constant denial), if it is part of the personality or way of acting of the child (for example, if it is a child with a basic innate temperament) or if there is presence of a specific disorder or problem (such as a defiant negative disorder, for example).

Once the situation has been evaluated, it is important to intervene with professional guidelines, whatever the case may be, since according to whether this disobedience has one origin or another, the orientation will vary (as in the example of fever).

The parenting process is very complex, but ... could you give our readers (those who are parents) some basic tips to educate their children?

Based on my professional knowledge, but also my experience with children and families, there are some basic guidelines for all parents that will promote a quality education and upbringing:

  • Educate within certain limits and basic, stable, coherent and consensual rules that offer a context of security and protection to the child so that he learns to distinguish what is good from what is wrong.
  • Be based on models of assertive communication in which one can express desires, points of view and opinions, as well as feelings and emotions, respecting oneself and others. Express and listen
  • Lead by example. We can not ask a child not to shout and tell him screaming.
  • Use a democratic educational style, neither excessively lax nor excessively authoritarian.

Promote the autonomy, personal capacity and worth of the child. Give you opportunities to learn, including making mistakes in this learning. If we do everything to him, he will never know how to do it alone and the message that we will send him implicitly will be "I do it to you because I do not trust that you can only do it", so we will reduce his self-esteem.



The Attachment Theory- How Your Childhood Affects Your Relationships. (January 2021).


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