Preparing your child for a therapist visit
Being a parent isn’t easy, but neither is being a young person experiencing the world, growing, maturing and realizing that sometimes things really suck. All of us, no exception face some unique challenges being young and growing up. While many of those in most cases go away with the help of our family and friends, some of them might need more work and more assistance than what we can give. As a parent, you might find yourself in a situation where your child needs to see a therapist. It might not be the easiest thing to do, but it is important to realize that you’re taking the right step to get your child the help that they need and you’re simply really, just helping them eliminate a problem that they’re experiencing in order to have a better life.
Depending on how old your child is, you might need a more specific approach into introducing your child to this situation. Taking your child to a therapist’s office without preparing them first can backfire very negatively, so it’s important that you take your time to talk to your child about it.
Here’s a few tips to help you with that:
Make it easier for your child from the very beginning
When you’re looking for a therapist to schedule with, make sure that you find a person you feel like your child would be comfortable with. Someone that understands and has experience in working with similar problems, and someone that you can trust.
Do your research and then schedule. This is going to be a good head start for the whole process, just knowing that your child is in the best hands you can possibly provide for them.
Why talking to your child about going to therapy?
Even if you’re an adult going to therapy for the first time it is overwhelming. You’re going to be giving yourself the pep talk big time. Imagine how a child would feel like in this situation. Talking to your child about going to therapy will make them more comfortable with the whole concept, more confident and more prepared once you take them to the therapist’s office.
How do I talk to my child about this? Will they understand?
Most children will understand if you use a language that applies to their age.
Children that are below 6 years of age might not be able to grasp the whole concept, so with them, just make sure you explain in the simplest way possible, and help them grow more comfortable with the situation. The activities with a therapist for this age are based on playing games and a lot of interaction, so prepare them by saying things like: “We are going to go and play with a new friend this week, you two will get to know each other and share some toys.”
To make your child more comfortable, let them bring their favorite toys and use them during the session with the therapist. Having a familiar object will make the situation less strange for them.
If you have a child that’s around the age of six then you probably know all about the constant asking questions and the inexhaustable curiosity of their brilliant little minds. This is good - but you need to prepare to have a satisfying answer to all of their questions in this situation. At this point children understand what it’s like being in a new situation, and they are aware of the discomfort that they might face. They’re more self conscious and will most likely have a lot more to talk to you about. Try to avoid the term “doctor” or “therapist” in this case, or at least explain what you mean by it so that they won’t get the impression that they are sick, that they’ll get shots etc. Refer to the therapist as a professional that can help them overcome the problem that they’ve been complaining about. Explain to them that this is a person that helped a lot of children just like them.
This is the age when children are still learning by models and examples, so if you yourself have visited therapy or they are aware of someone in the family that has (especially someone closer to their age), it is a great way to introduce them to it by saying how maybe their cousin went there and they felt a lot better afterwards etc.
Now, when it comes to pre teens and teens, this is where it can get complicated. Yes, they have all the attitude in the world, which by the way, spins around them. This is very typical and you did it too, admit it. Don’t facepalm.
Sit down with your child and be open about it. Tell them that they can feel safe about this visit and about the whole process of getting therapy. Explain to them that this is normal and that it is only something that will help them overcome the problem that’s been bothering them. It is extremely important to be careful with the approach because most teenagers are not only sensitive and with a short fuse, but also very impressionable. Give them the right idea about what therapy is.
Another thing that you need to give them is privacy. Yes. That big sign on their bedroom door saying DO NOT DISTURB. That is serious business to them, so treat it like one. We all want to know everything about our children simply because we mean them well, but giving your child the privacy to talk about some things with their therapist only will make them feel more comfortable, and the whole therapy process more effective.
This also shows that you have trust in your child, and gives them a sense of confidence. Give them the space to work through the problem, and let them build a relationship with their therapist. Never rush them, never force them and never make them go out of their pace.
No matter how old the child is…
Be understanding, be patient and be open to hear them out and support them. Don’t forget that it is them who are having a hard time and experiencing a problem, not you (although of course, everything that weighs on our children’s shoulders weighs on our shoulders as well). Be there for them when they need you and encourage them through the sessions, celebrate the progress and help them recover from any setbacks that they might experience along the way.
There is no health without mental health, and it’s your responsibility as a parent to make sure your child is in a good state of mind while growing up.