Therapist for Preschooler

Parent Q&A

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  • Hello! We have an awesome 4.5yo kid who is highly sensitive and is overwhelmed with everyday situations like getting dressed, having a meal, going to bed etc.  Any change, particularly holidays or a parent traveling sends the kid off the rails for weeks (or even months).  To be honest we are at wits end, we’ve tried strategies that books offer and we end up testing things that may help a bit, and some days are sunny days, but we cannot have a stability.

    Has somebody approached this via child therapy?  In the end, I feel I am not giving my child what he needs and I am wondering if somebody has worked with a therapist that can help manage/help self-regulate/provide further strategies for sensitive kids.

    I have found occupational therapy to be extremely helpful for my sensitive (now 5 year old). We had her assessed by a developmental pediatrician -- get a referral from your regular pediatrician -- who found that she had sensory processing issues. OT helps with all of these every day challenges. We are at Full Circle for OT. They usually have a waiting list but if you are flexible about the first appointment they can usually find a way to fit you in. 

    I echo the first respondent - it sounds like you will want to explore an evaluation with a developmental pediatrician for some of the issues you discuss, and once you have an official diagnosis you can begin therapy. Wishing you a smooth road!

    After my twins began kindergarten, one of them began exhibiting separation anxiety and would plead with staff to call her parents and assure she was going to get picked up from school. By the end of the school year her teacher recommended I get help for her. I found Dr. Fortunee Kayra-Stuart and she saw my daughter weekly for seven months. Her twin sister attended with her biweekly, and the four of us would have a family session every 4-5 weeks. Dr. Stuart employs play therapy. She’s a remarkable, incredibly experienced and knowledgeable psychologist and I remain very grateful for all she did with/for all of us. My daughter gained the confidence and assurance required and Dr. Stuart eventually ended the sessions.
    This was almost 20 years ago and Dr. Stuart appears to still be in practice.

    Best wishes for a positive outcome for your family. 

    I am a therapist and have worked with children before. I would absolutely recommend looking for play-based therapists or art/music therapists to support your son. Highly sensitive kids are also incredibly gifted and need a lot of support and tools to help them through, and the help out there is absolutely transformative and worthwhile. All the best to your family and your son!

    I agree with the posters suggesting starting with a developmental pediatrician.  When you say that you you are "not giving my child what he needs", I hope you can talk to the pediatrician, because I think you are doing a great job in trying to figure out what might help best.

  • Hello, my 2-1/2 year old is expressing sadness about his mom's cancer treatment. It especially happens at night. We thought it would get better following her surgery, but he continues to express sadness. It's possible it will go away with time, but I did want to check in with a therapist, to see if there are other concerns he has that I am not understanding, or if there is anything we can do to assuage his sadness.

    Does anyone know of a therapist in the Oakland / Berkeley / Alameda area, that works with 2-1/2 year olds?

    Even better is if they are in the UnitedHealthcare network.



    Griselda Oliver Bucio is fantastic. She is highly trained in early childhood trauma and has been part of the UCSF child trauma program. She has a private practice in Walnut Creek which may be far but I would consider it - she’s that good.

    Contact the Women’s Cancer Resource Center for referrals. There are some free/low-cost support services for families where the parent has cancer. 

    You should reach out to Haley Pollack who runs Bright Spot Network - specifically targeting young families affected by cancer with kids under 6yrs old. She is also based in the Bay Area and has tons of resources even though the org is international.

    Haley Pollack contact [at]>

  • Do you know of an excellent therapist that does therapy at a child's home? 4 yo with aggressive behavior.  I know there are lots of great therapists out there but we are specifically looking for recommendations of early childhood mental health professionals who do therapy in the child's home. Thanks. 


    I recommend Kristen Hurwitz.  She will come to you, which is very convenient and especially good for young kids.  My son really likes her.  Good luck. 

    Our family works with whole child and they do this. I would recommend. 

  • Hi, fellow parents, I'm looking for a recommendation for a child therapist that can help my highly sensitive four year old and give us insight into how to best help her on a day to day basis. I have a PPO that would likely cover most people but we’re also willing to pay out of pocket for the right person. Thanks in advance for recommendations and ideas. 

    My son loved Reyna Cowan PhD. (510) 601-0232. He saw her for anxiety issues when he was about 8 years old. She helped him a lot and he really enjoyed going to therapy.  She's located in Rockridge. 

  • Does anyone have experience with a therapist (MSFT or PhD) for children under the age of 5 with anxiety issues? Ideally this person would take Blue Shield insurance. Thank you in advance. 

    Dora Ritzer is a wonderful therapist (MFT) with a new office in Richmond. You can reach her at 510-779-2499 or 510-907-7061. I don't think she takes Blue Shield, but I'm not sure.…

    Coleen Wooten, LPCC specializes in children and adolescents with an office in Pleasant Hill. Highly recommended. I do not think she takes insurance.

    coleenwootenlpcc [at]

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Play therapist for 4 year old

August 2008

I am looking for a therapist, who is trained in play and/or sand art therapy for my 4 year old. It would be very helpful if the therapist was a part of MHN/HealthNet, but not absolutely necessary. Thank you in advance. Heather

Try Dr. Philip Gross in Albany or Berkeley (on Marin). My child similar in age to yours is doing well with him. I don't know whether he does sand art or not. anonymous

Therapist for 4-year-old's extreme behavior

July 2008

Our son is almost 4 years old... extremely busy and bright and as he gets older, extremely challenging. Lately he's been having such extremes of behavior and is not responsive to the usual modification tactics. We have seen the pediatrician and tried different strategies (positive reinforcement, time out, etc.) to no avail. We're all out of our mind - knowing that what we're doing now isn't working. We need help from someone outside our network. We seek recommendations for MFT, MFCC, other types of therapists, etc. that can help us develop short/long term strategies to effectively navigate the discipline/parenting issues that we expect will continue to present themselves throughout our son's life living with us. We are a bi-racial couple living in Oakland Dimond/Fruitvale area, seeking someone close to home.

I highly recommend Debbie Essex for both individual and family counseling. I have two very, very bright children who are now in 5th and 7th grades. We have a very strong family unit and there's no question that each of us is happy overall. But I do believe that intelligent children present challenges that at times make you feel like you're at your wits end and at other times make you worry that you may not be doing the right thing. I had sought advice from another counselor before seeing Debbie and her theories of birth canal trauma and her recommendation for whole family therapy just didn't sit well with us. Debbie Essex is different. She has a generosity of spirit that works so well for her chosen profession. She listens intently, and can talk to kids in a way that they respond to quite naturally. Whenever I have lingering concerns over parenting issues, Debbie can either put my mind at ease or identify behavior as cause for concern. I have even turned to her for personal advice regarding the depression of someone very close to me, as well as what to do about the physical behavior of a parent on my son's soccer team. I recommended her to one of my closest friends at the birth of her baby for her adopted son's sense of security. I am confident that her experience as a therapist will not just help you, but that you will feel more secure as a parent because you see her. Here's her info: Deborah Essex, MFT 2931 Shattuck Avenue, #101E Berkeley, CA 94705 (510) 548-8980

Therapist for 4-year-old's aggression and anxiety

May 2008

I am looking for an experienced child therapist for my 4 year old child that would help him to control agressive behaivors and anxiety. We have Alameda Aliance for Health (medi-cal) Mother

My five year old and I LOVE Dr. Joan Lovett. She is a developmental pediatrician with lots of experience working with kids who have agression and anxiety issues. She is wonderful with my daughter, and she was very accurate with her diagnosis and parenting techniques. I don't know what types of insurance she accepts, but she's definitely worth the money! She's located near Solano Ave in Berkeley. Her number is 510-524-0488 On the Way to Happy Parenthood

Therapist for 5-year-old's rages

Jan 2008

Our 5yr old is a loving empathetic child. However, he will fly into a rage occasionally...not a ''i'm angry leave me alone'' fit, but a real rage. These fits have been happening more and more in the last 3-months. They seem connected somehow to our business of us is always with them, but when the other gets back--watch out. In these moments, which can be triggered by something as petty as asking him to get dressed, or pouring too much in milk in his cereal, there is no talking, consoling or anything that seems to help until his rage subsides. He remembers exactly what he did and said during these moments, is remorseful, but apparently cannot keep himself from falling into this fit. Other pieces of that we're not sure fit into any answer to our son's issue is that he is always misplacing things, toys, etc..., he's clumsy...running into people and things. I'd like to say he doesn't listen ... that he's distracted, but it really seems like he just chooses to ignore.

I absolutely recommend that you contact the agency I work for, JFCS/East Bay in Berkeley. We have an amazing team of early childhood experts who will help you understand and sort through the developmental issues your son is dealing with right now. In addition to parent-child therapy, they also offer individual play therapy for kids, which could help your son directly deal with some of his behaviors. The therapists are all loving, empathetic, and extremely dedicated to helping young kids. While the agency is inspired by Jewish values, the services are open to people of all backgrounds and ethnicities. Call (510) 704-7475 x299 for Valerie Rosenfield, who does the initial intake. Find out more at All the best, Holly

Therapist for ''spirited'' 4 3/4 year old

Jan 2006

I have a very ''spirited'' 4 3/4 year old boy and am looking for a therapist who can help us determine what's going on with him; whether its just behavioral/developmental or something else. He is a very bright, loving, dynamic, cool kid but he has problems with aggression, anger, short attention span and high level of frustration, very intense and volatile emotions, difficulty with transitions, energy level and mood swings etc etc. His issues are overwhelming us right now and my husband and I are getting really stressed out and probably making things worse at this point. Nothing we do seems to help. We are walking on eggshells, never know when a huge explosive tantrum will hit. We have had a very hard time finding anyone who will even return our phone calls, let alone knowing where to start and what kind of therapist to go to. We would like to find someone who can do some sort of assessment of him and guide us in finding ways to help him interact more smoothly in the world. Can anyone recommend an occupational therapist or someone who specializes in young children (our insurance is Pacificare...)???? Are there any support groups out there?

Our experience with Susan Campordonico, OT, at Alta Bates/Herrick Campus (on Dwight Way in Berkeley) has been positive and helpful for our now 6 yr. old, (510) 204-4599. Also Dr. Brad Berman, our developmental pediatrician in Walnut Creek (925) 279-3480. It takes a very long time to get in to see him, so you might ask your pediatrician to refer you. Don't know about your specific insurance. Good luck. anon.

Please contact Dr. Denkla in Maryland, head of Pediatric Behavioralist program for John Hopkins University hospital. I have been to her lectures, and she is the top on her field. Please look for her in the internet, contact her and ask for a recommendation from her office here in California. She is your best bet to solve your issues. Answers

I have certainly been there! Ours was with our daughter though. You need to pick up the book ''The Bipolor Child'' by Paolos & Paolos. Just to see if some of the symtoms fit, and possible suggestions to at least help you deal with the flare ups/ explosions before you finish losing your mind! We went to Dr. Alderman at Richmond Kaiser - he is absolutely awesome! He was never quick to diagnose, but also gave us tools neccessary to help us deal with difficult explosions that would come out of nowhere. I totally understand the whole ''walking on eggshells'' household. It is very scary when you realize how much control all the sudden your 4-5 yr old child has over the entire household. Since seeing Dr. Alderman, and reading the book, it has helped Tremendously! Our daughter is now the loving child we always knew she had inside her. Even though we still experience a flare up now and then, we now know how to handle it better and our house is so much more peaceful and loving. And th! e stress has cut down unbelievable

We too had the experience of not even getting callbacks when looking for a therapist for our son. We eventually did get one call back and when we starting seeing him, we asked him what prompted hin to call when he was obviously quite busy? He told us that it was because we mentioned our pediatrician's name. So if you have not already done so, ask your pediatrician who they know that are pychiatrists or psychologists. You also mentioned O.T. That is a very good avenue to pursue, which I have only recently leaned about. It may be easier to get insurance coverage at this point, particularly if you can identify any kind of motor challenges your son has - does he excel at Legoes or avoid them. If he avoids them or some other activity that children his age generally are drawn towards, such as coloring, or puzzles, then that is a red flag. Lastly talk to your School District. I was astounded to learn recently that school districts are providing services to children as young as 3. I wish you well. Anon

Therapist for 5-yo son's explosive behavior

March 2005

I'm looking for a child psychiatrist in the East Bay (preferably Berkeley/Oakland) who also does therapy with young children. My 5-yo son has explosive behavior (meltdowns, aggression, screaming, general defiance) and a genetic propensity for bipolar disorder. We are specifically not looking for a psychologist or other non-medical therapist, but for an M.D. who can also prescribe medication.

I've gotten recommendations for Lester Isenstadt, Paul Abrinko and Madeline Lansky, but didn't see anything about them in the archives. Our preference is to avoid medication if possible, and to approach treatment mainly through therapy.

Thanks in advance for any feedback on these M.D.s or any other recommendations. Need to find help

Dr. Paul Abrinko is wonderful. Worth the time and money. anon

If you are looking to avoid medication, then your best bet is to find a good cognitive behavioral psychologist. Psychiatrists are not typically trained to do behavior therapy. Contact the San Francisco Bay Area Center for Cognitive Therapy. There is an excellent psychologist there who works specifically with children. Deborah

Help for 3.5 year old's social issues

Oct 2003

We are looking for a child psychologist or other professional to help our 3.5-year old with some social issues. Ideally the Dr./LCSW would observe our son at school and then have some sessions. Our son is having difficulty making friends, and understanding how to approach individual kids and groups of kids-and does so inappropriately - growling, screaming, etc. We are not interested in a psychiatrist (or medication) as a solution, but a psychologist/professional that treats and (maybe specializes in kids)this young. Thanks so much for any referrals that can be provided. anon

try Jill Shugart, 510-528-0309, offices in N. Berkeley and Walnut Creek. She's a therapist that specializes with children. She also has been a preschool director for years. It's hard to find somebody who knows little ones. anon.

We went to a woman when we were having problems with our son hitting. She is not a psychologist (as far as I know). But, she is an expert on (as the person who recommended her put it) ''normal kids with behavorial issues.'' We found her very helpful. Her name is Meg Zweibeck and she's in Oakland. Her e- mail is dearmeg [at] Best of luck to you! Nancy

I'm responding to the two recent posts seeking therapy/counseling for children (I think the requests were from parents of a 4 year old and an 8 year old). I know of a great therapist in Albany who works with kids and families, and who has specialized in working with younger children (preschool and elementary grades) and with adolescent girls. Monica Frame, LCSW (510-504-8168) works with the family and with the school (if appropriate), and I think that parents feel respected and included in the process. Her advice to parents is very practical and she is really patient/kind with kids. Karen

I would like to recommend Monica Frame, Licensed Clinical Social Worker to anyone who needs an expert in psychotherapy for children, adults and families. She is available for school consultations. Her manner is professional and warm and her advice is excellent and always very helpful. She can be reached at 510-504-8168. A preschool program director

Earlier Recommendations

Help for 4-year-old who has trouble adjusting

June 2002

I am interested in finding help for my 4-year-old son. He is a bright, happy child when he is in familiar and comfortable situations. He plays well with other children one-on-one, but when faced with new situations, especially those involving groups of kids, he is unable to handle it. Typically, he withdraws and eventually has a meltdown involving screaming and crying - this occurs even if he is left alone to merely observe activities. I've tried gradual preparation for these situations, but that has had little effect in helping with his reaction to the situation. As a new school year approaches, I am becoming increasingly concerned about introducing him into a new preschool environment, even though the class has only 12 children and a calm, low-key environment. I am uncertain what kind of therapist could work with us to help him with this. Any recommendations would be helpful.

I would highly recommend Dr Philip Gross and his wife, Miriam Gross, who is a LCSW. They work together - your son would meet with Dr. Gross and during their session you would meet with Miriam. Miriam works with the parents on ways to handle different situations, and is most helpful. They are really wonderful and have been very helpful to us -- our son has a similar situation as you describe. Dr. Gross is in Albany, on Marin Avenue.

One suggestion would be to try taking a workshop at Parents Place on Preparing for Preschool. The class meets for two evenings in July, led by Susan Byrd (a licensed clinical social worker at Parents Place in Marin). The workshop will cover preparing yourself and your child for the social experience of preschool and you can get the advice and support of a therapist for only $15 a session. If you need more help or a one to one consultation, you could follow up with her or one of the other clinicians/therapists at Parents Place but this is a relatively inexpensive way to see whether or not a therapist is the answer. Please feel free to call me if you have any questions at 510 433-2959...I'm the Parent Education Coordinator for Parents Place in Marin. You can also see the workshops/classes online at or call them at 415 491-7959.

Michael Y. Simon, MFT

Therapist for Preschooler with 'communication handicap'

Feb 2003

Can anyone recommend a child therapist to help us foster emotional/social growth in a preschooler with a 'communication handicap'? Barbara Kalmanson is not accepting new patients. Has anyone worked with Peter August or Rebecca Schwartz? We're thinking a 'floortime approach' would be most appropriate but are open to other alternatives. thank you

We know of an excellent ''floortime specialist'' who trained with Stanley Greenspan. She can work with your child in your home and also train family members to foster communication through a relational approach. Please call me for details about Ilene Lee, PhD. M.L.

My therapist, Dr. Margaret Dodson, on Solano Ave., often sees children. I haven't taken my child to her, but she has such a kind, gentle manner and a great sense of humor, that it seems like it would be worth checking her out. Her number is 510/526-0474. Stefanie

Therapist to build 5-year-old's social skills

March 2003

I'm looking for someone who can work with an almost-5-year-old with issues of self-control, focus, tantrums, alone and/or with me, especially to build social skills for attendance at public kindergarten next fall. She is a high-energy and not super verbal child, so a play/art/physically oriented approach would probably work best. Or, if you know of someone not on the above list, please let me know; I'd be willing to spend my own $$ to work with someone really great. Thanks in advance.

Two child therapists that I would highly recommend are: Hope Dean, LCSW on Carelton St. in Berkeley at 510-649-1144 Linda Cozzarelli, LCSW on College in Oakland at 510-428-9050 They are both seasoned therapists who specialize in working with children and (it's almost a given!) do play therapy. Good luck! dscott

Play therapy for 5-year-old

Feb 2000

Can anybody recommend a therapist/child psychologist who works with preschoolers (my son is just turning 5)? He has tantrums, has trouble with transitions and controlling his temper and it's causing some problems at school that we'd like to nip in the bud. Dana

I love doctor Judith Isackson. She is on Solano Ave. I am not sure if she is on the Albany or Berkeley side. She has seen many of the kids I work with (I am a pre-school teacher) and she has been wonderful to work with. Thomas

I highly recommend Dr. Fortunee Kayra-Stuart located both in Berkeley on 9th Street (near the West Side Cafe) and in Walnut Creek. My child has been seeing Dr. Stuart for the last 4 months for similar issues that you mentioned and we have found her help to be incredible. We have Health Net so we had to go thru the magic UC Mangaged Care phone number, but it's worth the $20 co-pay. Dr Stuart's # is 510-549-0181.