Have you ever tried traveling to a new destination without the use of a map? It's impossible to know where you are going without some sort of direction. Emotional Child Assessments can provide the counselor, as well as the parents, with a “map” on where the child views himself and his world and where the child needs to go. Notice that I said: “Where the CHILD needs to go” and not “where the counselor and/or the parents want to go”. This is an important part of child assessment: “To see the world through the eyes of the child”.
In more scientific terms an assessment is the process of gathering, organizing and evaluating information in order to form a holistic view of the client's world. During my experience most of the clients that sat before me were children. Therefore my goal was to gain information and insight into the world of the child. With this insight I could develop a specific intervention plan for each individual child and make the correct recommendations and referrals.
During counselling we cannot treat children the way that we treat adults. We need to move down to the level and developmental stage of the child and talk to the child through play. During the assessment process the counsellor uses a variety of play techniques (drawings, sand play, and clay) to gather the information needed to help the child. This information is used to compile an intervention plan and to help the child in his/her own individual way. Assessment is not therapy; it is a tool that the counsellor uses to create the map to effective intervention.
How can an emotional assessment help you and your child? As a counsellor one of my worst fears is to hurt a child even more by trying to gain information that the child is not ready to share. It is my opinion that children are the experts of their own life and that I'm not there to tell them what to do and how to feel. During a child assessment I try to follow the child in order to gain information. I do not, however, force the child to share what he/she does not feel comfortable sharing. The assessment process can therefore sometimes be a long process, but doing it right is worth it!
Does my child need an emotional assessment? This is a frequently asked question of worried parents. Because the goal of the assessment is to gain insight into the way your child sees he's/her world, an assessment can be valuable during the following circumstances:
- When parents feel that they need a greater understanding of their children
- When children start to act differently at home or at school (or any other place)
- When your children went through a traumatic event (divorce, accidents, etc.) and you would like to assess the trauma they experienced in order to help them
Another important aspect of an assessment is to note that it's an on-going process. While the first assessment might give you a general view of the child's thoughts and feelings, more and/or different information might come out during the follow up sessions. That is why it is very important to explore the information that the child gives to you and not to assume or to analyse. I've had a parent bring me her child's drawings, asking me what they mean. I told the parent that I don't know what they mean and that we should ask the child about her pictures because she is the expert; she drew them. Therefore an assessment is not done in the hopes of analysing your child, but to understand the way in which THEY experience their world.
To conclude: The goal of an emotional child assessment is to get to know the child's view of his or her world, through play. The goal is not to analyse or to label your child but to create a holistic view of the child’s thoughts and feelings. Only when we understand the child's world, can we create the map to effective helping.