A common question I get from parents is, “How do I tell my child I am taking them to a therapist?” or “How do I prepare my child for therapy?”
It is completely normal for parents, as well as their children, to feel a little anxious at the beginning of the therapeutic process. It is a new environment with which your child is unfamiliar and they are meeting someone new for the first time.
Depending on the child’s age there may also be some assumptions about what a therapist is and/or what they do. Whatever the case may be it is absolutely understandable and natural for children to have curiosities and/or anxieties about experiencing something new.
You can help satiate these curiosities and perhaps alleviate some of your child’s anxieties by following a few simple steps!
- Find a time when your child is calm to have the discussion–it is likely your child will have questions, so it is important to be fully present with them.
- Ask your child what they think therapy is. It can be helpful to see, depending on their age, what their ideas are or what presumptions they may have. You can then use this as an opportunity to explain to them what therapy is and what it is you’re hoping therapy can help them with.
- Be supportive and tell your child why you think counseling may be helpful. What have you observed? What is concerning you? Express to your child therapy is something that is designed to help you exist together as a family and to help them live both happily and healthily.
- Explain what therapy is–once you have shared your concerns with your child let them know you have found someone who you think can help. You may say, “Sometimes, when children are feeling _____ a lot, it can help to spend time with someone whose job it is to help others understand their feelings and figure out healthy ways to cope with them. Therapy is a safe place for you to go to talk to someone about your feelings, your thoughts, and whatever else you may be wanting to talk about.
- Normalize therapy–everyone faces challenges! If you’ve experienced something similar to what your child is experiencing, this might be a good time to share if you feel comfortable doing so.
- Invite your child to write down any questions or concerns (or you can write them down for them) to ask their therapist when they meet them.
It is important to allow your child time to process this discussion, and they may even have follow-up questions for you or want to talk with you more about seeing a therapist after you have had this initial discussion with them. This, again, is completely normal. It is good practice to address your child’s concerns to the best of your ability and to let them know you are seeking support for them because you care about them and their well-being.
Some helpful tips to consider while explaining the therapeutic process to your child include:
Don’t: Tell them in the car on the way to their first appointment
Do: Give them time to process and ask questions about therapy
Don’t: Depict therapy as a means of punishment: “If you do that again, you’re going to have to see_____.”
Do: Encourage children to share their experiences with their therapist: “It looks like you may be having a challenging time with ______. Perhaps this is something you could share with _______ when you see him/her.”
Don’t: Be discouraged if your child reacts negatively
Do: Stay positive and invite them to give therapy a chance
It can be helpful, for both children and parents, to speak with their therapist about concerns they have prior to beginning therapy. If you, or your child, have any concerns that need to be addressed please feel free to share those thoughts with your therapist. It is our job to support you and your family and ensure you start the therapeutic process confidently.