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Mood Disorders Center

Dialectical Behavior Therapy: Children and Preadolescents

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Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is an evidence-based treatment used to help children and preadolescents who struggle with big feelings and behaviors. DBT for children and preadolescents uses multiple modes of treatment including individual therapy, skills training, working directly with parents, and 24-hour coaching by phone to help children and their families.

Children and preadolescents who benefit from DBT are often described by family members as:

  • Thinking about things in extremes — Believing everything is great or everything is horrible and “sticky” or inflexible thinking
  • Behaving in extremes — Hurting themselves or others, breaking objects or possessions, and making decisions quickly and without thinking through the consequences
  • Feeling in extremes — Being highly sensitive to their own feelings and the feelings of others, beating themselves up over things that seem small, feeling their emotions more strongly than their siblings or friends, and having trouble moving on from negative feelings

Parents and teachers sometimes say that they have to “walk on eggshells” around these children in order to avoid explosions of feelings and behaviors. DBT for children and preadolescents addresses these issues through structured treatment to improve upon their abilities and the abilities of their families to increase flexible thinking, and gain more control over their big feelings and behaviors. DBT also helps children and preadolescents learn how to make and keep appropriate friendships and relationships with other people.

Click here for information on DBT for teens and adolescents

DBT Treatment for Children and Preadolescents

The Child Mind Institute is pleased to offer the following comprehensive DBT options to families of children and preadolescents. Our clinicians can help determine the most appropriate approach for your family.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Children (DBT-C)

DBT-C is an empirically supported adaptation of DBT for children and preadolescents ages 6 to 12 years old. It is a comprehensive DBT program that has been modified to fit the needs of children in this age range. DBT-C begins with an extensive parent-training component, followed by weekly or twice-weekly family therapy sessions with a focus on building, practicing and reinforcing new coping skills to achieve emotional and behavioral regulation. Families receive individualized attention as they work together to improve upon and practice their skills together with the support of an experienced clinician.

Mood Masters

The Mood Masters® program is a comprehensive DBT intervention for children and pre-adolescents who are 8 to 13 years old, as well as their parents. Mood Masters includes all components of adherent DBT in a format that has been modified to fit the needs of this age group.

Mood Masters families receive specialized teaching and support from our clinical team to manage big behaviors and big emotions at home, at school and in the community. They also receive unique support from the members in their skills groups. Parents work through ways to effectively support their child or preadolescent in a collaborative learning environment together with other parents dealing with similar difficulties. Children learn and practice new ways of managing their behaviors, emotions and choices with a group of peers with the same sensitivities as they work towards the same goals. Both groups provide parents and their children with a safe, non-judgmental space to learn and practice new skills.

Families who join the Mood Masters program will receive the following:

  • Weekly DBT Individual Therapy: For preadolescents to learn and practice new behavioral and emotional regulation strategies to use in their day to day lives.
  • Preadolescent and Parent Skills Groups: Weekly 60-minute sessions held for 28 weeks. Preadolescents and their parents/caregivers attend separate DBT groups that meet at the same time to learn the core DBT skills. Parents will learn how to enhance their own coping ability while supporting their child’s use of DBT skills to manage emotions and solve interpersonal problems. Clinicians may recommend that families complete a second 28-week “cycle” at the conclusion of the first 28 weeks.
  • Phone Coaching: Available for parents to help support parent and child use of skills at the moment they are needed and apply these new skills to the real world.
  • Consultation Team: Our clinicians meet regularly as a consultation team to think creatively about the best ways to help children and their families.
  • DBT Parent Management Training (as needed): Parents have the opportunity to work on specific problem behaviors and parenting goals by combining techniques learned in the skills group with parent management training. Sessions are held weekly or twice-weekly with an experienced clinician.
  • Medication Management as Needed

Our Office

This program is only offered at our New York and California offices.

New York City
215 East 50th Street
New York, NY 10022

San Francisco Bay Area
2000 Alameda de las Pulgas, Suite 242
San Mateo, California 94403

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