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How to Talk to Your Kids about Therapy

You’ve done your research, talked to friends, asked the school, looked at websites, talked about schedules and payment and now you’re left with the last step; telling your kid that they’ll be going to therapy.

I get asked how “do I present therapy to my kid?” or “how do I let them know they will going?” a lot. The idea of child therapy is much more complicated and anxiety-producing for you (the parent) than for the kids, I find. Most of the children we see are relieved and happy to be with us, and don’t have any trouble understanding our role or the nature of our work together.

You might say, “Honey, I know you’ve been feeling jumpy, or biting your nails, or feeling like you can't be alone." Or: “Daddy and I have noticed that you’ve been having a lot of nightmares lately.” You can empathize with him and say “Nightmares can be really scary. No one likes to be scared.” Once you’ve identified the problem and offered compassion, tell your child you’ve spoken to someone that can help.

You might say something like: “Sometimes when children like you feel scared a lot of the time, it helps to go to someone whose job it is to help kids understand their feelings and worries by playing and talking about them. I met a lady named Ms. Barbie, and she’s really nice. She likes children, and she has helped a lot of kids like you. We think if you met with her it might help you to understand better why you’ve been having those nightmares. She might be able to help us, too, understand how to help not be so scared. If by chance you hit a resistant snag with her you can tell her a therapist is like a feelings expert or an expert at growing up. I use expert instead of doctor due to the feelings that may be associated with seeing a doctor in the past. Hello, shots.

Kids know what it’s like to experience distress. Tell her a therapist will help them talk about times when they feel sad, mad, bad, proud, or strong. My favorite is to present therapy as a new adventure. Any activity is more successful if kids are on board and enthusiastic. Tell Junior how excited you are for their new adventure, and how lucky they are that they get to go talk/play/discuss with a special person every week.

Now, kids who come to see me don’t always want to talk to me. That’s totally fine. Being guarded with a new person — particularly a new person who’s been enlisted to help with “stuff” — is appropriate. Counseling is meant to help everybody, which means helping the child be her best self and helping the parent be his best parenting self, too.

Sharing the responsibility and walking alongside your child, can help him or her feel less embarrassed or ashamed at having a “problem.” When you role model that it is a brave act to ask for help you are setting a good example and demonstrating resourcefulness.

For kids who think it will be like school, let them know that a therapy hour is not an hour of talking at the child. It's an hour of interacting with the child in a way that helps the child understand himself or herself and to better communicate with their family.

In therapy, kids learn by doing. With younger kids, this means working with the whole family, drawing, playing, and talking. For older kids and teens, therapists share activities and ideas that focus on learning the skills they need. They talk through feelings and solve problems I believe you are a parent who cares for your child and I trust you will come up with the right verbiage for your kiddo.

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