Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) For Kids | What Makes It The Right Therapy For Your Child

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) For Kids

We all are different. We all have different emotions, thoughts, and actions in a particular situation. These differences can be subjected to various demographic dimensions, age being one of the most important ones. That is why we can’t apply the same therapy to adults and kids. With age the needs, the challenges, and the area of development changes, and so changes the therapy. As not all therapies are perfect for the child there is a therapy that works well with kids- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. No, it is not the classic CBT for adults that we are referring to but, CBT for kids, that is especially designed for kids and youth.  Let us explore it in detail.

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for Kids

CBT is a talk therapy that is found to work effectively for all ages. It focuses on thoughts, emotions, and behaviour. The best part of CBT is that it works for all, kids with and without any mental health concern can both benefit from it.

The theme behind CBT for kids is similar to that of the adults. Wherein a child is taught to be aware of their unhelpful thoughts, understand the emotions behind it, and further take reasonable action to change them.

  • Thoughts: They are the words that run through our minds. They are triggered by a situation. Each individual will have different thoughts about a given situation.
  • Feelings: It is all about how that emotion makes you feel? It can make you feel happy or sad, comfortable or overwhelmed, depending on the thought.
  • Actions: Depending on the first two factors, you take the actions. Basically, your thoughts and emotions are the reasons why you behave in a particular manner.

How CBT Works For Children

CBT is a systematic approach where the therapist, the parent or caregiver, along with the child discuss the goals and develop a treatment plan. It usually lasts for 6-20 sessions depending on the issue that is being resolved. The aim here is to teach the child effective skills that empower him or her. Also, the practical implication of the same is taught. This is usually achieved through different CBT techniques and worksheets. The best part is that CBT doesn’t follow the one fit for approach, which means, depending on the variables like- age, culture, and issue, it can be molded.

CBT can be conducted in several ways. This includes:

  • Individual sessions: This involves only the child and the therapist.
  • Parent-child sessions: The therapist works with parents and child together, ensuring a growing environment at home as well.
  • Family-based sessions: Here the therapy will involve the child, parents, and other important family members.
  • Group sessions: When a group of kids faces the same issue then the therapist works with them together.

Example of CBT for Kids

Imagine a child has a negative self-image. He thinks that if something wrong is happening it is due to him. Here is how CBT will help the kid.

Situation: Child A is upset as his friend Pixie has not spoken much to her in the past few days.

Before CBT:

  • Thoughts: Pixie is not talking as much to me as she used to. She must be mad at me.
  • Feelings: This makes me feel sad and little of myself.
  • Actions: As a result, Child A decides to ignore and avoid Pixie at all costs.

Result: This sours the kid’s relationship with others and adds a maladaptive coping skill in his life’s tool kit.

After CBT:

By learning that the thoughts are just guesses and they don’t determine the final outcomes, the child learns to build healthy thoughts. For the same situation child, A is now likely to have new thoughts, feelings, and corresponding actions.

  • New Thought: Pixie might be upset about something unrelated to me.
  • New Feelings: I am worried about her.
  • New Actions: I should go and talk to her. I might be of some help to her.

Result: Child A improves his relationship with others and learns an important life skill.

relationship with others

CBT Techniques That Work for Kids

This new ideology and living style is developed by a child through different techniques. Some of the techniques that are most frequently used for kids in CBT are:

  • Play therapy.
  • Trauma-focused CBT.

 Issues Resolved Through CBT in Kids

The reason why CBT is being used for kids proactively is that it can resolve different issues being faced by a child. It only helps with mental health conditions but also the specific ones that a child is likely to face as he grows. Some of these issues are:

  • Anxiety and mood disorders.
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
  • Trauma and PTSD.
  • Anxiety with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
  • Self-defeating thoughts.
  • Impulsivity and tantrums.
  • Negative self-image,
  • Maladaptive Coping Strategies.
  • Low self-esteem.

Is CBT Effective For Kids: Research Evidence

A large body of research has shown that CBT works effectively for kids. According to a meta-analysis of available research 60% of youth was treated for anxiety disorder through CBt. Not only they recovered but also showed positive follow-up progress even after 4 years. Clearly showing that the benefits earned by CBT are not just for the short-term but for the long run as well.

CBT is a safe place for a child wherein they learn to address a wide range of concerns. Thus, making it an effective treatment approach for kids.

effective treatment approach for kids

 List of Benefits of Using CBT for Kids (Research-Based)



Reduced Anger

CBT is found to improve moderate to severe levels of anger, physical aggression, and irritability among children and adolescents.

Sukhodolsky, 2016
Improved Social Skills

Young adults with autism have shown a positive change in their expressiveness and social skills through CBT. They also reported decreased social anxiety.

PenCRU, 2017
Better Coping With Emotions

CBT teaches a child to be able to cope with their emotions effectively. Which in turn reduces their chances of having mental health issues later in life.

University of Cambridge, 2011
Reduced Anxiety

Children experienced improved emotional awareness and regulation through CBT. This in turn resulted in reduced levels of anxiety.

Suveg et al, 2009
Perceived Sense of Mastery

CBT is found to enhance social skills, problem-solving skills, self-control, self-efficacy, and zeal to participate in activities. This brings a sense of mastery in their life.

Clabby, 2006
Improved Sleep

CBT has significantly improved sleep onset and instances of waking after sleep, sleep time, and sleep efficiency.

de Bruin et al., 2014
Relief in Migraine & Related Issues 

CBT combined with other treatment has resulted in reduced headache.

Powers et al, 2013
Treatment of Mental Health Conditions 

CBT (play therapy) is found to be used in treatment of different mental health issues such as selective mutism, OCD, separation anxiety, abuse (physical, social, and emotional), trauma, unhealthy negative emotions, and anxiety disorder.

Knell, Wozner, & Rahav, 1999

From the above discussion, one thing is clear that Cognitive Behaviour Therapy can definitely help children reframe and recreate their perception, emotions, and actions altogether. This in turn makes them ready to face life realities with effective coping skills in hand.

So if you wish to guide your child in a productive and positive light along with resolving issues that might hamper his wellness, then you can opt for CBT for your kid.

Thank you for reading!!!


  1. Chris Smith

    We most of the times perform these activities but we never knew that these are therapies. Thanks for this wonderful compilation!

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