As a psychologist who has been counseling children online all over the world for several years now, I remember all too well how I struggled with forming relationships and moving toward counseling goals in this whole new venue. I won’t lie: it took me some time to find my groove. I know many of you out there are just embarking on the same journey now, so I wanted to share with you some of my biggest lessons over the past years. I hope these tips save you some time and help you transition more smoothly with your young clients as you move online.
1. Consider the Child’s Age
If you are holding sessions with young school age children (6-7 year olds), consider scheduling shorter sessions in advance to avoid fatigue. The length of the session should match the concentration abilities of the child. Engage primary school children using movement games, videos, colorful charts and tangible objects. Young children should know what to expect from the session! Create a visual overview of the session and have them check off the boxes as you progress. Make sure to have a few activities to choose from, and involve the child in the planning of the session to increase engagement. If you wish to work with even younger children online, family meetings that include at least one parent are advisable.
2. Technology / Set Up
Talk with parents in advance about the importance of finding a quiet private space to hold the session. Encourage use of computers or ipads over phones, to allow a hands-free session with movement breaks.
3. Building Rapport with New Children
If you are meeting a new client online, make sure to dedicate the first few meetings to assess if online work is suitable for that individual child. In case of doubt, refer to or work in collaboration with a specialist who can see the client face to face. When a face to face counselor is not an option, shift instead to do as much as work as you can with the parents. You will get a feeling for this over time.
Introduce yourself and the goal of your meeting in the presence of the parents and validate any awkward feelings about meeting online for the first time (after all, it is probably weird for you as well!). Let the child know in advance the duration of the meeting and begin with several introduction games based on the child’s interests.
4. Set expectations
Start the session with a parent present and set rules for getting them if something happens. For example: You might need to ask the parents to come in to help troubleshoot a problem. You can begin the session by answering the following questions:
“What do I expect to be different in this session?”
“What new things can we try working online?”
5. Discuss the opportunities and weaknesses of the medium
For example, let the child know there are different games to choose from, but there might be some technical difficulties to troubleshoot or overcome. Siblings could open the door and interrupt. On the other hand, you can explore new games together and learn new skills you don’t get to practice usually. Respect feelings and expressions of frustration and validate them first, before trying to provide suggestions to feel better.
6. Don’t forget - Online can also be tangible:
Use this opportunity to allow children to share things they have at home with you. You can ask them in advance to choose something they want to share.
Use dice, blocks, pens and papers and therapy cards that you usually use. Children can draw how they feel, or set their feelings on a graph you create together using a virtual whiteboard.
Make sure to involve movement games: Simon says, Charades, Create a movement activity dice or a fortune teller. Try to match the session to the child’s needs: if a child usually moves often during a face to face session, make sure to involve more movement in the session. You can set a timer for a movement break.
Online work is perfect for sharing written resources, creating coping strategies lists or and decorating them.
7. Model your Growth Mindset
Remember- changes hold a great opportunity to develop a growth mindset, to find our own creativity and to get out of our comfort zone. Modeling dealing with frustrations and adjusting to new situations will help children you are working with learn how to do the same.