How to Talk to Your Kids about Therapy
When parents decide to bring their children into therapy, they often don't know how to explain to their kids why they are going. They don't want their kids to feel like something is wrong with them, that they somehow "need" a therapist because they are "bad". But no one likes a surprise when it comes to therapy, and kids feel more safe when they know what to expect.
So here's some guidance on how to talk to your kids about going to see a therapist...
Talk to Your Child When You are Calm!
Avoid telling your child during or following the heat of an argument. It will not be helpful if your child believes that going to therapy is a punishment for bad behavior. This can cause your child to be resistant to participating in therapy, and while the behavior monitoring from an outside source can initially be helpful, therapy is much more effective when your child sees the therapist as a source of support.
Explain the Issue(s):
Be as real with your child as possible. By the time you're looking for a therapist, both you and your child are probably well aware that there is something causing stress in the family. Putting it into words for your child can be therapeutic in itself. "I know that you've been feeling really worried lately, and that doesn't feel good for anyone. I made an appointment for you to meet someone who can help. She sees lots of people who have big worries, and I think she can help us too". "I know you've been spending alot of time in time outs, and I don't want that for you. More importantly, I know you don't want that for yourself. We're going to try another way to help you...I know someone who has helped lots of kids, and I think she can help us too. We are going to meet her this Friday".
Explain and Normalize Therapy
Introduce the idea of a therapist. Stay away from words like "Doctor", as kids tend to immediately associate Doctors with shots. Depending on their age, you can teach them the concept of "self care", letting kids know that taking care of themselves is an important part of growing up. You might define a therapist as someone who is a specialist in self care, or as an expert in feelings. However you choose to describe the therapist, you should take care to mention that the therapist is a person that has helped lots of people who struggle with whatever their issue may be. This normalizes the child's experience and therapy. The message is: lots of people struggle just like me and lots of people see a therapist for self care.
When to Talk to Your Child
Maybe you have your own anxiety about taking your child to a therapist and fantasize about telling them in the car on the way to the appointment. Chances are, this will make your child more anxious because they feel unprepared. Instead, talk to them about it 1-2 days before the appointment.
How to Best Prepare Your Child For the Appointment
When you talk to your child about their upcoming appointment, show them their therapist's website, let them see pictures of the therapist and their space. Let them know that you will be there during the first session, and that there may be time for the therapist to meet with the child 1:1, but only if the child feels comfortable. Talk to your child about confidentiality and privacy--therapy is a safe, private place where the child can talk about whatever is on their mind. Tell them that their therapist may ask them questions, might invite them to play or to draw, but whatever they do in the therapy space it is always to help them and your whole family. Allow your child to ask questions, and answer them if you can.
Most parents will find that if they generally follow the above guidelines, the transition into therapy will be relatively smooth. The most important thing to remember is that if you are calm and confident about the decision, your child will tend to follow your lead. Creating Space Counseling and Wellness offers free phone consultations and encourages you to ask whatever questions that you have so that you can rest assured you are making a great choice for your child and family.
Call today to schedule an appointment! 856-281-1664