What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based talk therapy that is beneficial to people of all ages, including children and adolescents. It focuses on how our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are linked and affect each other.  CBT helps us identify, challenge, and change our unhelpful or maladaptive thinking patterns and behaviours, leading to enhancement of our emotional regulation, self-esteem, and coping skills.

This diagram shows the basic model of CBT:

Who can benefit from CBT?

CBT is suitable for all children, with or without a diagnosis of additional needs. In particular, it is effective in treating children suffering from Anxiety, Depression, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Recent research also found that CBT can improve specific symptoms of children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Some evidence suggests that combining CBT and medication may be more effective than either treatment alone for the above conditions and diagnoses.

Simple CBT practice to enhance our emotional and behavioural regulation

Below are three simplified steps of cognitive restructuring, i.e. one of the CBT techniques that focuses on changing a person’s thoughts or thinking patterns.  You may try to follow the steps yourself or with your child:

  1. Understand that in a scenario, our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are linked.  For example, when we see a dog, if we think “The dog will bite me.”, then we will feel scared and run away.
  1. Using everyday incidents, identify the unhelpful thoughts or thinking patterns that may lead to undesirable behaviours and feelings.  For instance, having self-defeating beliefs before assessments and games (e.g. “I am never going to do well”, “This is too difficult for me” etc.) may result in excessive anxiety, which hinders our performance or makes us give up easily.
  2. After recognising and accepting the unhelpful thinking patterns, replace them with more helpful or adaptive thoughts, so that more desirable feelings and behaviours may result.  Examples of helpful thoughts include “It may be difficult, but I will still give it a try”, “It is normal and okay to not do well”, or “Failures make me stronger and better next time”.


If you are interested in trying professional CBT with your children, make sure you look for psychologists or therapists who have the appropriate credentials and experience. It is also important that they work together with you in setting goals and a treatment plan.