Mental Health Therapy Techniques for Young Children

Mental Health Therapy Techniques for Young Children

Mental Health Therapy Techniques for Young Children

By Tara Will, MAT, MS


Often, individuals think of mental health therapy in terms of “talking out problems.”  We know, however, that most young children do not use verbal communication to build the skills they need to regulate (during both co-regulation and self-regulation), develop/strengthen attachments to others, and identify/share their feelings. Many interventions used with young children include music, movement, storytelling, and grounding exercises instead of traditional “talk” therapy.

Before any interventions can be deemed successful, therapists must connect and build therapeutic relationships with the child and his/her/their family as well as any care managers or other social supports the child may have. It is important to focus on the child-therapist relationship in order to create a foundation for a strong sense of trust, healthy boundaries, and safety.  Establishing and maintaining these elements are essential to the success of the child’s treatment.

Once the therapist has built a rapport with the child, specific interventions can begin. Here are some common interventions used with young children and their benefits:

Kinesthetic Exercises- These types of interventions are active and may assist with problem-solving. They encourage participation, increase autonomy and self-confidence, and strengthen relationships (especially with team/family activities). They also provide opportunities to practice setting safe boundaries and increasing body-awareness. Examples include relay races, balance activities, dancing and reciprocal interactions (throwing/catching a ball).

Pretend Play: This form of play provides opportunities to gain an understanding of cause-and-effect relationships. Symbolic representations may also provide insight into an individual’s past experiences and allow them to process their feelings about these events. Pretend play can prepare youth for unfamiliar experiences. It allows them to exhibit control in their pretend world, while using social-emotional skills to practice sharing, turn-taking, and negotiating. Examples include the use of pretend doctor’s kits, baby dolls, dress up clothing (community helpers, superheroes, family roles), and puppets.

Sensory Experiences: Experiences including a focus on the use of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell help individuals make sense of the world around them.  Nerve connections are created in the brain during these types of experiences. Exploring your senses can lead to grounding and increase mindfulness, which may reduce stress and anxiety. Other benefits include emotional regulation, improved sleep, and an increase in concentration skills. Examples include sand/water play, connecting with nature, slime/clay, sensory bins, and filial therapy interventions.

At The Thrive Network offers, we offer a unique approach to the concept of therapy, especially regarding our work with young children. We integrate various techniques specifically for young children to meet each child’s individual needs. We are a strength-based organization and assist children and families with focusing on what they CAN do, rather than what they can’t.


For more information on our therapeutic services for children please visit