Children thrive off of routine. When a child knows what their day consists of and what to expect, the likelihood for a successful day increases. This same concept applies to preparing your child for therapy. It is important to talk with your child about what therapy entails so that they know what to expect. Therapy is a collaborative effort between the client, parent/guardian and therapist. Parents play an integral role in their children’s success and education. It is important to review the components of therapy with your child before they come to their first session. Reviewing these concepts before each future session can also be helpful to developing routine, consistency and helping your child to realize that going therapy is something to be proud of. Hearing information from an adult that they trust will assist in reducing the anxiety your child may have before their visit. Of course your therapist will also review informed consent during the initial session, but sometimes the amount of information can be overwhelming. It is key for these concepts to be reviewed outside of session as well.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced when preparing your child for therapy? Let’s dive into a few tips that may help.
1. Explain the therapists role.
Letting your child know who therapists are and what they do is important. The more honest you are with your child, the more clear of an understanding they will have. It is crucial for them to know who they are going to talk to every week and why. It is also important for them to know that their therapist is there to help them solve problems they may be experiencing, help them learn new skills and will keep all session information confidential. Therapists have a unique position of guiding clients (even the little ones) in making the best decisions for their lives while not “telling them what to do”.
2. Tell them the frequency and timeframe for sessions.
Routine. Routine. Routine. Children thrive around routine. When children know what their daily schedule is comprised of, they feel more confident and secure. Often times, knowing the time and length of sessions is a way for children to begin exerting autonomy. You may be shocked to learn how eager your child is to tell you its time for their therapy session. Therapy shouldn’t be a surprise. Let your child know when therapy is on their schedule.
3. Share with them what therapy will involve.
Let your child know what will go on in sessions. During sessions your child and their therapist will talk, do activities, practice new skills and work on solving problems. While therapy can be fun and involve play, therapy is not synonymous with playtime. It is helpful for your child to know this in the beginning.
(If your child is resistant to therapy, take that opportunity to talk through those feelings with them. How they feel is important.)
4. Affirm them & their experience.
Who doesn’t a little encouragement? Children (and adults) love to know when they are doing well and that others see their efforts. Therapy can be HARD and also rewarding along the way. If you see or hear your child practicing the tools they’ve learned in therapy, praise them. Let them know that their improvements are valuable and that their practice is noticed. Even on the hard days, use kind words and find ways to propel them forward and boost their confidence.
5. Explain that going to therapy doesn’t mean they are “bad” or “the problem”.
The tools children are expected to have to be successful must be taught. If your child is struggling to cope with stressors or exhibiting maladaptive behaviors, that doesn’t mean they have failed. It just means they have more learning to do. Reminding your child of this and letting them know that therapy is meant to help and not harm or condemn is extremely important. Going to therapy shows strength and helps you feel more prepared to handle the in’s and out’s of life. Make sure your child is aware of this by having thoughtful and honest conversations, even when it may be tough.
Below is a potential way to share with your child that they are going to begin therapy.
“We're going to see (name of therapist). Her job is to help kids (with their feelings) (feel better about school) (whose mom/dad has died) (who have been sexually abused) (whose mom and dad aren't living together anymore) etc. I’ve met her and she’s really nice. You can talk to her about anything. You’ll be doing some talking and some playing with her.”
Taken from Liana Lowenstein, MSW, RSW, CPT-S
Brinigng Your Child to Therapy: Tips for Parents
Alexis Long-Daniels, M.A., ALC, NCC