These days, a lot of children and teens are asking for therapy. This is usually easy for parents. You find a good therapist and get started. Other times parents might be concerned about their child’s mental health, behavior, or substance use and know that they need more help… but the child does not want to go. They might be angry, nervous, or embarrassed at having to see a therapist. Some children or teens may have had a negative experience with therapy or may not know what to expect. However, with a little bit of patience and understanding, you can help your child feel comfortable with therapy. Here are some of my favorite tips:
1. Explain the benefits of therapy: It’s important to explain to your child how therapy can help them. Make sure to use age-appropriate language and focus on the positive aspects of therapy. Some positives include learning new coping skills, improving relationships, and feeling more in control of emotions.
For example, instead of saying, “You need therapy because something is wrong,” you could say, “Talking to a therapist can help you feel better.” Or, “A therapist can help you learn new strategies to use when you’re feeling overwhelmed.” Using positive language can help your child feel more hopeful and motivated about attending therapy.
And don’t forget to be honest by sharing your concerns and why it might help your child or teen to talk with a professional.
2. Normalize therapy: An important thing you can do as a parent is to normalize therapy. This means letting your child know that attending therapy is a common and healthy way to work through problems. And that many people benefit from therapy.
A recent survey from 2019 found that about 1 in 5 children had received mental health treatment in the past 12 months. Chances are that your child or teen already knows friends who have been in therapy.
In addition, think about sharing stories of people you know who have gone to therapy. Also, if you have gone to therapy, tell about what it was like and how you benefited.
Lastly, some children are helped by knowing about celebrity’s mental health experiences. For instance, Charli D’Amelio shared her positive experience with therapy, as have others like Justin Bieber and Olivia Rodrigo.
3. Involve your child or teen in the process: Allow your child or teen to have input in the selection of their therapist. Let them know you want them to be comfortable and find a therapist they can connect with. You can ask if they want their therapist to be a certain gender, age, racial or ethnic background, or have specific training. Your child might prefer in-person therapy or a virtual option. Or, they might prefer a certain day or time for appointments.
4. Check out therapist websites: If you’ve found a therapist you think will be a good fit for your child, share their website with your child. I encourage parents and caregivers to show their child my website so they can see pictures of me and my office. Also, I have videos so that the child can get a sense of how I talk and act. Having this information can help a child know what to expect.
5. Address concerns: If your child has concerns or fears about therapy, take the time to address them. Acknowledge their feelings and let them know that it’s normal to feel anxious about starting therapy. Listen to what your child is saying. There may be opportunities for you to share information or problem-solve together.
6. Ask them what they need: There’s a good chance that your teen knows what would help them get to the first appointment, so just ask! Asking directly can lead them to feel empowered and supported.
In addition, you could offer to go with them to their first appointment if they feel more comfortable with you there. Or that you’ll stay in the waiting room.
7. Think about a reward: Sometimes a reward can be a helpful tool! Looking forward to something can be motivating. It can be as simple as suggesting your child have their favorite meal after the appointment. Maybe they can get a new fidget toy to help (Michael’s, Target, toy stores, and even dollar stores have great options) or pick the movie the family watches together that evening.
8. Seek therapy without your child: Having someone for you to talk with about your child or teen can be tremendously helpful. This support or training can benefit you AND your child. A therapist can provide you with ideas about how to parent or support them. If needed, they may be even able to offer specific strategies for helping your child attend therapy on their own.
Furthermore, your child or teen may see you attending (and benefiting!) from therapy, which might also help them feel comfortable.
Remember, therapy can be an incredibly beneficial experience for your child or teen. By taking the time to help them feel empowered, comfortable, and prepared, you’re helping them improve their mental health and well-being. If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to a therapist or another trusted health professional.
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