Essential qualities to work therapeutically with children

In this blog, we will consider six essential qualities that are necessary for someone to work therapeutically with children and young people. These qualities provide a great platform from which you can develop yourself as a practitioner in the childcare industry.

Four young people jumping

Those who currently work with children and young people do not get the recognition they deserve. We hope to highlight qualities that people may assume to be very basic. However, these qualities are more complex. We will look at the deeper meaning of these essential qualities to show that they should not be undervalued.


Essential Qualities


Patience is an essential quality needed to work therapeutically with children and young people. We need to expect resistance and take time to build rapport. This is because a therapeutic relationship could take longer to build and there may be a number of barriers along the way. We have to be mindful that children and young people often have negative experiences of professionals. These experiences can involve the young person feeling let down or not in control as professionals have made decisions that have had negative impact on them. We need to ‘put in’ to the relationship as it is a two-way process. Children and young people need to see that we are consistent, safe and trustworthy.



We need to be able to accept that a young person is the expert of their own experience and we can only imagine how something might feel. We should not assume that we understand. Everyone’s experience is different from each other’s. Sometimes challenging behaviour will occur when we are working therapeutically with children. Sometimes we won’t know why it has occurred and we need to accept that. Usually the ‘why?’ comes later. We also need to accept that we don’t have a ‘magic wand’. Although we would very much like to solve all of the young person’s problems and rescue them. In reality, we need to do what we can, manage our own expectations, and not make comparisons.



We have to be prepared to share some appropriate details about our lives. We are not robots and the young people we work with are expected to share a great deal with us. Additionally, we must not hide behind our title or role. Young people first and foremost should be given more control and power when it comes to working therapeutically with them. Their previous experience have involved a lack of control and professionals more powerful than them making decisions that will affect their life. We have a responsibility to reduce this power imbalance. Honesty and openness are important attributes and we should employ when communicating with young people. We should avoid sugar coating information. With this, we need to be able to own our mistakes and apologise where necessary.



The ability to be self-reflective enables us, as professionals, to constantly develop our skills and consider how to improve our clinical practice. In order to be reflective, we must rid ourselves of negative emotions so that we can reflect objectively. Being self-reflective does not mean we are self-critical. Instead, it is a way of understanding ourselves, our strengths and areas in which we can grow further. No-one is perfect and there is always something that we can improve on (in everything that we do). Young people need us to improve our practice as this will benefit them too. They also need to see that there is no such thing as perfection.



The most important quality to have is compassion. Compassion towards oneself and others helps buffer us to the emotional impact of the work we do. Those who work in the care industry are unique because they have the capacity to care for those which are not their own flesh and blood. Compassion relates to having a deep commitment to alleviate the suffering of others and ourselves. Those without compassion for others will not last in the caring industry. Furthermore, the young people and their colleagues will be able to spot that they are not caring. Compassion should not be confused with sympathy. Sympathy requires us to get into the same negative emotional state as the person whom we have a duty of care to support. Therefore, it does not help them or help us, as how can we support those if we are also feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope?


Positive Attitude

We need to be able to see the positives in every situation if we are to work therapeutically with young people. When times are tough and if things aren’t quite going to plan, we need to hold on to these positives. Working with young people is challenging, but it can also be extremely rewarding. We are likely to feel that it is more rewarding and consider it to be a positive experience if we have a positive attitude towards it in the first place. Negativity can breed just as much as positivity can. Young people are very attuned to our own thoughts and feelings. Our thoughts and feelings can also be put onto the young people without our knowledge. Therefore, we need to consider the version of ourselves that is coming across.



We have considered a number of qualities that we consider are essential for working therapeutically with children. If you feel you hold these qualities and you are not working with young people, we would strongly suggest that you seek out these opportunities.

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