When you decide it’s the right time and reason to bring your child to therapy, there are a variety of scenarios that can potentially take place. It’s important to make sure this is as positive of an experience for your child as can be, as opposed to being a negative encounter. There is a variety of dos and don’ts that can make a significant difference in your child’s transition into therapy.
The idea of therapy is sometimes scary or threatening to a child, therefore it’s best, to be honest with them and prepare them for it ahead of time in a helpful manner.
Threatening a child with the consequence of having to attend therapy is not helpful, as it can create negative ideas about therapy in a person’s mind before they have a chance to experience it, whether it can be beneficial to them or not.
There are a variety of benefits to be gained from attending therapy and explaining these to your child before they attend can help them become more open-minded to the process.
If you believe that it’s the right time for your child to see a therapist, there are a variety of precautions in your approach toward getting your child into therapy to consider. By following the lists of do’s and don’ts below, you can help ease your child into the therapy process without making them feel like they are in trouble or like there is something wrong with them.
1. Do inform your child that they will be attending therapy
If you’ve decided that your child should go to therapy, the sooner you tell your child, the better. You do not want to spring this on them or mislead them into thinking they are going to an appointment that isn’t therapy. That will only perpetuate mistrust in your relationship. It is best to tell them that they will be talking to a therapist every once per week, etc., and discuss the nature surrounding the appointments. You do not want to blame your child or make them feel like there is something wrong with them that is causing their need for therapy, rather, it is just a tool to help them transition at the moment.
2. Prepare your child on what to expect
It’s important to keep your child in the loop and not leave them guessing about what the therapy experience will entail. Tell them why you think they could benefit from therapy and let them know a bit about what their sessions will look like. If you’re unsure yourself, you can speak with your child’s therapist and ask them to help you with a verbal description of what the therapy sessions will consist of, to ease their minds.
3. Ensure that this is only a tool for improvement, not a punishment
It’s important not to threaten your child with the punishment of going to therapy, as this can create a negative picture of therapy in the mind of the child, even if the motivation for attending is purely to help, rather than punish. If a child is constantly threatened with having to attend therapy every time he or she acts out or disappoints a parent, it will always have a negative connotation tied to it whenever the topic is brought up and any time a child is suggested to attend sessions.
4. Consider the feelings and fears of your child
When your child finds out that they are going to be seeing a therapist, there are a variety of fears and feelings that may rise to the surface. Perhaps they do not think that there’s anything ‘wrong with them' or ‘the problem’ that is causing a need for them to see a therapist. This can cause feelings of resentment, defensiveness, fear, and anger. It's important to ensure your child that everyone can benefit from a good therapist and that you only want the best for them developmentally and emotionally, which is why you suggested that they speak to someone now.
5. Destigmatize therapy in your home
The way that the notion of therapy is spoken about and approached in your home can have a significant impact on how your child perceives the notion of attending therapy sessions. Be sure to refrain from talking about therapy or anyone who attends it in a negative light, as this can feed into stigmas that can influence your child’s resistance toward therapy. Try to normalize the experience and make it as positive as possible.
6. Refrain from going into counselor or school principal mode
Speaking from the voice of a school counselor or principal can depersonalize the experience for you and your child and push them away. Rather, be open and honest with them about the experience, why you think they can benefit from it, and how you are supporting them. The last thing you want is for them to feel alone on this journey.
7. Be open-minded with your child
Everyone reacts differently to therapy, so if your child is standoffish toward therapy at first or doesn’t want to talk, do not scold them for it. Rather, observe the behavior and give them open space to talk about it, but do not force it upon them or make them feel bombarded. Create a safe space for them to open up about their thoughts, feelings, and emotions. The last thing you want to do is pressure your child into feeling obligated to attend therapy if they do not feel comfortable with it. Sometimes it just takes time for your child to warm up to the therapist, and their relationship is ultimately what will be the most healing factor, so give them some time to build up a rapport. Keep in mind that there are a variety of forms of child therapy other than talk therapy available should your child not feel comfortable talking as well.
8. Go over the benefits of attending therapy with your child
Far too often, when we hear the word therapy, we attach the negative stigmas and connotations that we have attached to the idea of therapy as a society. This is not helpful to a child who could benefit from talking to a trained therapist about his or her feelings and emotions. Try to speak of therapy in the home in a positive light and refrain from speaking or joking about any stigmas related to emotional or relational issues or the attendance of therapy in your home, especially in front of your children, as it can paint a negative image for them before they even give it a try.
Some benefits of therapy include:
- Creating meaningful change.
- Gaining a better understanding of oneself.
- Better health is obtained after releasing any repressed feelings and emotions.
- Heightened emotional intelligence, emotional expression, empathy, and the ability to recognize the emotions of others.
- Greater insight into oneself and personal relationships.
- Higher resilience against emotional pain, anger, frustration, etc.
- Stress reduction.
- Brain rewiring for one’s benefit.
- Amplifying the fun therapy can be such as play therapy, etc.
Once your child is certain that they didn’t do anything wrong and that therapy is only there as a reference or tool to help them better succeed, they’re more likely to be open to the idea of it. Should your child be against any attempts to make them receptive to therapy, but need intervention, it can be beneficial for one or both parents to attend therapy sessions to gain powerful and healing therapeutic insights from a trained professional that you can use at home with your child.
The idea of therapy can sometimes be intimidating to children. Therefore, it’s important to communicate with them openly and honestly ahead of time to prepare them for their sessions, assure them that they didn’t do anything wrong and that the sessions are designed to help them with the benefits listed above as opposed to punishing them in any way. Therapy can be highly beneficial for a child if they can open up to it.
- APA PsycNet. Parents' and clinicians' attitudes toward the risks and benefits of child psychotherapy: A study of informed-consent content.
- Smith ScholarWorks. The benefits of child-centered play therapy and filial therapy for pre-school-aged children with reactive attachment disorder and their families.
- University Of Minnesota. How Do Thoughts and Emotions Affect Health?
- Harvard Health Publishing. Is crying good for you?