As a child psychologist, one of the most common questions I get asked by parents is “how do I tell my child I’m taking them to a therapist?” This is a very valid question and the concern usually arises because parents do not want their child to think something is wrong with them. The conversation you need to have with your child will very much depend on their age but giving them some information before the first session is useful. The following are some tips that can help.
- Introducing the professional – Avoid telling your child you are taking them to a doctor as they usually associate this with sickness especially when they are still young and might feel afraid. The professional might have a website or a profile which you can find online. You can show them the picture of that person so that they start building a sense of familiarity. I find it helpful to meet the parents alone prior to meeting the child to get some information which sometimes would be better for the child not to hear. In this case, you can say that you have already met the professional and think that they will like him/her too.
- Explaining the process – During the first session the professional will take some time to explain what happens during the sessions so do not worry so much about the details. However, you can mention that they will be meeting this person a few times. With younger children, therapy will usually involve some activities such as play and drawing. For older children and adolescents, therapy will usually involve more talking.
- Normalising therapy – The most important point to mention when you are telling your child that you are taking them to a therapist is that nothing is wrong with them, that they are not broken or need to be fixed. Sometimes, both children and adults need a professional to help them process something difficult that they are experiencing. It is okay to seek help because after you do so, it helps to feel better.
- Identifying the why – Older children might ask to talk to someone themselves. In this case, the reason why they are going to see a therapist is clear. Younger children might not understand what is going on. It is useful to say that you have been noticing they seem worried, sad or angry depending on what you have been observing. Tell them that a person who works with kids can help them with their feelings. Adolescents might not always be willing to go to a therapist. Mention that you have some worries and would like to offer them the space to talk to someone about challenges that they are encountering. You can tell them to try it out for a few sessions and then discuss if they would like to proceed with further sessions.
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Dr Marilyn Muscat is registered as an Educational Psychologist with the Health and Care Professions Council in the United Kingdom where she trained. She works with children, adolescents and their families to understand more about educational, social and emotional well-being concerns that they have and to help them improve upon their difficulties. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 79291817.