DBT for Kids: How the Therapy Helps Children with Emotional Challenges

DBT for kids

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) was first created for adults with a specific disorder, but now it’s also used for kids who have big feelings they need help managing. DBT works well to help kids who have anxiety, depression, or a disease that makes it hard to control their mood. It does this by teaching kids how to handle their feelings and actions.

Getting to Know DBT

DBT, or Dialectical Behavior Therapy, is a therapy that helps people handle their emotions better and improve how they get along with others. It was first made to help adults with a specific condition, but now it’s used to help all kinds of people who have strong emotions.

DBT teaches skills like mindfulness, which means paying attention to your thoughts and feelings, and emotion regulation, which helps you control your emotions. You can use these skills to handle the ups and downs of life.

Is DBT suitable for kids?

DBT can be used to help kids between 6 and 12 years old. It’s often called DBT for children or DBT-C. If your child is very sensitive and gets upset over small things, to the point of acting out physically or verbally, DBT-C might be a good option.

It’s important to know that DBT for children doesn’t try to change who a child is but rather helps them change how they act. The aim is to teach a kid how to relax and feel less stressed. In DBT-C, parents and caregivers also learn these skills so they can help their children at home.

How is DBT applied to kids?

Adapting DBT for kids is different from DBT for adults because kids have unique needs based on their age and development. Therapists have to change how they teach DBT concepts to kids, often using play and other creative methods. Parents and other adults who care for the child can also help them learn and use these skills at home.

Here are some ways DBT is changing for kids:

  • Focus on emotional regulation: DBT for kids puts a lot of emphasis on helping kids control their emotions. This is because emotional control is something that kids need to learn, and some kids find it harder than others.
  • Involvement of the caregiver: Parents and caregivers play a big role in DBT for kids. They help the child practice their DBT skills at home, like doing a calming activity when they’re upset.
  • Shorter sessions: Kids’ attention spans are shorter, so DBT sessions for kids are usually shorter, too, around 45 minutes to an hour.
  • Simpler language: Therapists use simple words and examples that kids can understand easily based on their interests and experiences.
  • Age-appropriate materials: Therapists use tools like feeling charts, storybooks, and games to help kids learn DBT skills in a way that’s fun and easy for them.
  • Parent training: Parents learn DBT skills, too, so they can help their child grow at home.
  • Family therapy: Sometimes, the whole family participates in therapy sessions to learn problem-solving skills and understand how to support the child better.

DBT Skills for Kids

In Dialectical Behavior Therapy for children, kids learn four main skills:

  • Mindfulness: This is about paying attention to thoughts and feelings without judging them. It helps kids figure out why they feel the way they do and how to handle their feelings better.
  • Distress Tolerance: These skills help kids deal with tough emotions without doing things that might make the situation worse. When we say distress tolerance for kids, it’s like learning how to stay calm when things are hard.
  • Emotion Regulation: Emotion regulation skills teach kids how to understand and control their feelings. It helps them learn how to handle their feelings in healthy ways.
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness: These skills help kids improve their relationships with others. They learn how to talk to their friends and family better, set limits, and work out their differences.

What mental health conditions is DBT therapy for children used for?

DBT for kids works well for conditions where emotions are hard to control, which can affect how they act and get along with others. It helps kids learn ways to manage their feelings better and behave in less disruptive ways. Sometimes, therapists use DBT along with other therapies like CBT and medication.

DBT can help with these mental health disorders in children:

  • Anxiety: DBT can help kids become aware of their anxious thoughts and learn to calm them down.
  • OCD: DBT, with its mindfulness part, can help reduce obsessive thoughts in kids with OCD.
  • ADHD: DBT teaches emotional regulation skills that can help kids with ADHD control their impulses and frustrations.
  • DMDD: DBT can help kids with this disorder learn to handle their feelings and react calmly.
  • Depression: DBT skills like distress tolerance can help kids with depression cope better with their emotions.
  • PTSD: DBT can help kids with PTSD manage triggers and feel calmer.
  • Autism: Therapists use different methods, like picture books or listening activities, to match the child’s learning style.

Benefits of DBT for Children

The benefits of DBT for children are numerous and can have a lasting impact on their well-being. Here are some key advantages:

  • Emotional Regulation: DBT teaches kids how to understand and deal with their feelings. This might help them deal with stress better and act less impulsively.
  • Improved Relationships: Kids can get along better with family, friends, and peers if they learn how to interact with others.
  • Behavioral Changes: DBT helps children develop new, healthier ways of responding to challenges and conflicts, reducing disruptive behaviors.
  • Enhanced Self-Esteem: Kids often feel better about themselves and have more confidence as they learn to control their feelings and actions.
  • Better Coping Skills: DBT teaches kids useful ways to handle tough scenarios, which makes it less likely that they will do harmful things like hurting themselves.
  • Parental Involvement: DBT involves parents and caregivers, which can strengthen the parent-child relationship and provide additional support for the child.
  • Long-Term Benefits: The skills learned in DBT can have long-lasting effects, helping children navigate challenges well into adulthood.

Manage Big Emotions With DBT for Kids

DBT for kids is a great therapy that teaches important skills for managing emotions, improving relationships, and dealing with stress. You should talk to a child therapist if you think DBT could help your child. They can assist you in picking DBT as the best option for your child.


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