Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Or CBT For Kids

Psychologists consider cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to be one of the most effective forms of therapy, but it can benefit patients of all ages. Behavior is affected by thoughts and emotions in cognitive behavioral therapy. For CBT to be effective, your child does not need a diagnosed mental illness.

Usually, therapy involves a certain number of sessions and a predetermined goal. Your child will be taught more productive ways of thinking by the therapist. Playing role-playing games and practicing other methods can help your child develop alternative methods for dealing with stressful situations.

Related: Introduction to behavior problems in children

We’ll go over how to find a qualified therapist and what you should know about CBT for kids.

What is CBT or cognitive-behavioral therapy?

People who are using cognitive behavioral therapy to learn how to change unhelpful thoughts and behaviors have a better chance of recognizing their issues and changing them. It is important to focus on the present and future when providing therapy.

It can be used with other therapies to improve symptoms such as those associated with ADHD, but it is not designed to “cure” the condition.

Kids can benefit from CBT daily. Through this type of therapy, you can teach your child how to approach thinking more positively while understanding the negative thinking patterns they have. Taking new perspectives on things helps kids learn how to deal with stressful situations more effectively and not worsen them.

Your child can benefit from the here and now by receiving this type of therapy. After becoming habitual, these skills do not fade away.

Among the skills that kids can acquire through CBT are:

  • overcoming negative thinking
  • defiance
  • tantrums
  • impulsivity

helping to replace negative reactions with:

  • improved self-image
  • problem-solving skills
  • new coping mechanisms
  • more self-control

How does CBT work for kids?

Therapy usually involves talking about goals and establishing a treatment plan among the parent, the child, and the therapist.

Through structured sessions, CBT aims to solve problems in a prescribed amount of time. In some cases, as few as six sessions may suffice, but in others, 20 or more may be necessary.

Talk therapy is a component of CBT, but it’s so much more than that. Taking control and empowering your child can be achieved through the therapist’s tangible methods. The skills they teach will be able to be put to immediate use.

Your child may also need medication or another type of therapy in addition to CBT. Depending on the culture or region of the patient, the treatment plan can be modified.

CBT techniques

  • Play therapy. To help kids deal with problems and solve them, arts and crafts, dolls, puppets, and role-playing can be used. Younger children will also be engaged this way. For this we recommend you to read our article: How to entertain children.
  • Trauma-focused CBT. Children who suffer from traumatic events including natural disasters can receive treatment through this method. To address problems associated with trauma to which the child has been exposed, the therapist will focus on behavioral and cognitive issues.
  • Modeling. Therapy can be performed by acting out an example of desired behavior, such as responding to a bully and asking the child to duplicate the behavior or to use other examples. On, we recommend you to read our article: Parenting Tips to Help Children Respond to Cyberbullying.
  • Restructuring. Through this technique, children are taught to change their negative thinking into a positive one. I am terrible at soccer, for example. The statement “I’m a total loser” can be framed as “I’m not the best soccer player, but I’m very talented in other fields.”
  • Exposure. By gradually exposing the child to anxiety-provoking things, the therapist helps alleviate his anxiety.

It is possible to conduct CBT through a variety of methods, including:

  • Individual. A child and a therapist are the only participants in the session.
  • Parent-child. Parents learn parenting skills that will help their kids get the most out of CBT by working with their therapist and their child together.
  • Family-based. Families, siblings, and other close relatives can participate in sessions.
  • Group. Including the child, therapist, and other children experiencing a similar problem.

Conditions that can be helped by CBT

For your child to benefit from CBT, he or she does not need to suffer from a mental illness. In some cases, however, it may be quite effective, such as when:

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

An individual with ADHD may find it hard to sit still, as well as engage in impulsive behavior. In some cases, medications aren’t the only option for treating this disease.

Children with persistent symptoms may require medication even if they are taking it. According to a study CBT may be more effective than medication alone for some teens.

Mood disorders and anxiety

Treatment for anxiety and mood disorders in children and adolescents with cognitive behavioral therapy is effective.

Kids with anxiety disorders may benefit from CBT as a first-line treatment, according to a review published in 2015.

Parental involvement is possible, too. The results of a study from 2010 indicate that parent involvement in CBT can be an effective therapy for kids with anxiety ages 3 to 7. Despite the small study size, the children showed considerable improvements in 8.3 treatment sessions on average.

Autism spectrum disorder and anxiety

Throughout the autism spectrum, there is an increase in anxiety in adolescents. An autism spectrum disorder plus clinical anxiety program was designed for preteens in a specific study in 2015. Topics covered included:

  • exposure
  • Caregivers provide behavioral support
  • Irrational beliefs need to be challenged
  • The autism spectrum disorder-specific elements of treatment

A small number of children aged between 11 and 15 were involved in this study. CBT led to a decrease in anxiety symptoms, according to parents.

Trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder

In children and adolescents with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), cognitive behavioral therapy is the standard treatment. The benefits of cognitive-behavioral therapy are both long- and short-term.

Following a follow-up 18 months and 4 years later, a 2011 review noted significant improvement. Even for young children, CBT has proven beneficial when they suffer traumatic experiences acutely and on a chronic basis.

The following conditions may also benefit from CBT:

Children’s CBT worksheets

Simply introduce CBT to Young kids. Children can visualize certain concepts with worksheets, which makes things easier for therapists.

On a worksheet, for instance, the child may be asked to fill out thought bubbles. If the therapist asks the child what the person in the picture is thinking, the child might start to tell the story. Some worksheets teach children how to recognize signs they are losing control of, such as stop signs.

Kids and adolescents can benefit from worksheets illustrating the relationships between thought, feeling, and action. The worksheets can help students reinforce their learning. You can use planners, checklists, and rewards charts for CBT for kids, assisting them in remembering and completing tasks.

What is the effectiveness of CBT for kids?

You can treat a variety of health issues effectively with cognitive behavioral therapy.

Following CBT for anxiety disorders, up to 60 percent of youth recover with a significant improvement in symptoms, according to studies. Following treatment in community mental health clinics, there is a likelihood that the recovery rate will continue at 4 years after most of these children have recovered.

CBT has been shown to significantly reduce symptoms in many adolescents with ADHD.

The symptoms of PTSD, depression, and anxiety can be greatly improved in kids who receive trauma-focused CBT. CBT eliminated symptoms of PTSD in 92 percent of participants in one study. And after six months, the gain was still evident.

How to find CBT for a child

Many schools with a psychiatric specialty offer CBT. Finding a child-experienced therapist is essential. Consider these things:

  • Credentials. You can consult with counselors, family therapists, clinical social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists for help. Licenses are recognition that professionals have demonstrated that they meet state law’s standards.
  • Experience. Consider hiring a professional who has experience with children or teenagers.
  • Transparency. After a first assessment or session with you and your child, look for a professional who is willing to outline goals and present a treatment plan.


If you’re looking for mental health professionals who have experience in CBT for kids, here are a few resources:

  • Seek a referral to a CBT specialist from your family physician or pediatrician.
  • Contact local hospitals, medical schools, or universities to get a referral.
  • Find out how CBT has helped your family and friends.
  • Find out which CBT providers are in your insurance network or will cover it.

What to remember

Using cognitive behavior therapy, children can learn how thoughts and emotions affect behavior and can change their behavior and feelings by altering their thoughts and emotions.

There are many conditions and concerns kids can be helped with by CBT, a safe, effective therapy.