How To Talk To Kids About Going To Therapy

What do you do when your mental health starts to drop? You go to therapy and get the help you need. What if the person who needs therapy is your child?

As mental health starts to become a more discussed topic, you are bound to think more about it. The world is full of change, and right now, there is nothing more important than mental health. With isolation and social distancing, people are more apart than ever.

It can be a difficult topic to bring up in conversation, or even at all. That doesn’t make you a bad parent; it just means you are human. If your child needs therapy, you have to talk to them about it, but how do you do that?

Talking with your child about therapy is an important step to take before even getting them through the door.

Does Your Child Need Therapy?

The first step in figuring out if your child needs therapy is to look at the child’s behavior. Therapy isn’t just for children with special needs or for those who are acting out. If your child isn’t doing well in school, seems a little down, or appears to be struggling with something, it may be beneficial to talk about therapy.

As a parent, you aren’t going to have all the answers. Your child is still trying to figure themselves out as they are growing. In fact, your child may fall into the 1 in 6 children who have a mental health disorder, according to the CDC.

Like for many children out there, parents may be in court to work out custody or visitation arrangements after a split. Regardless of the outcome, the children involved may be traumatized by the process, especially if it involves the addition of new family members such as stepbrothers or sisters.

Change is bound to happen in a child’s life and if they are struggling with that change, it is your job to help them figure things out. Teaching your child to cope with change now will make it easier to cope as an adult.

Getting Help Should Not Align With Punishment

Therapy can often be seen as a reaction to different or unwanted behavior. For a child, this can look like a form of punishment. Going to see someone because you did something bad can make the process of change harder in the long run.

Be careful when thinking about therapy for your child. Are they acting out because of an issue going on, or are they just testing boundaries? You have to be able to tell the difference between a child who needs help and one that is just acting their age.

Once you know if something is happening, you can introduce the idea of therapy to your child. The important step here is to make sure your child understands that therapy isn’t a punishment but a tool to help them in the long run.

Different Therapy Types

Every child is going to need something different. That is when you look into different therapy types for your child. Depending on the age of your child will determine what is a good fit.

Here are some of the more popular forms of therapy for children:

• Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
• Play Therapy
• Family Therapy
• Parent-Child Therapy
• Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Your therapist is going to know what is best for your child. Most of the time, it is going to end up starting as play therapy. This is the type used for children from preschool to elementary, as play is how children learn and open up to asking more questions.

Another common type is drama therapy. It pairs well with play therapy because it allows children to resolve issues by playing things out in different ways to see the best way forward.

Age-Specific Therapy

Ages 3-7

When you decide it’s time to see a therapist, you will want to discuss this with your child. Use language your child can understand. Telling them that they are going to a psychotherapist is just going to confuse them in the long run.

Try suggesting that a therapist is like a feelings doctor. Your little one should know that a doctor helps people who are sick or hurt. Explaining that a feelings doctor helps emotions and helps understand what they need make it easier to understand.

Most likely your child is going to take part in play therapy. This type of therapy is going to open up the session with a new adventure that your child is in complete control of. Play is a key part of the growth of your child, and it is how they work through anything that comes their way.

Ages 8-12

With a child that is older and has a concept of therapy, the idea of a feelings doctor may not work as well. Explain to them that a therapist is there to help them work through their feelings and lessen their frustration. Also, explain to your child that a therapist will not force them to do anything against their will.

Another way to talk to children about therapy is to take examples from popular movies. There is a movie called Inside Out that deals with emotions and therapists have started to use this movie to better explain emotions to children. It takes a concept that might be hard to put to words and gives children a way to see and sort their feelings out.

Ages 13+

Teenagers generally know what therapy is and why it might be necessary. Most of the time they honestly don’t want to be there either. What you as a parent can do is break the stigma that a therapist is going to tell them what to feel and what to do.

If your teenager needs therapy, bring it up to them calmly and not after a heated moment. Do not force your child to see a therapist. This will only cause your child to be closed to the idea of therapy.

Your teenager is most likely going to encounter Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT, which is the most popular form of therapy for teens. The aim of CBT is to help patients figure out how to change thought processes from negative to positive.

Normalize Therapy for All Ages

Maybe you or someone you know, has had experience with therapy. Let your child know that they are not going to therapy in order to be “fixed”. There is nothing wrong or broken with your child; they just need some help to work through their feelings.

Make it clear that seeing a therapist is a normal event, and many people do it. Teach children that it isn’t something that needs to be hidden or kept secret from people. Making sure that children know it is a perfectly normal thing that can help set them at ease.

Help your child understand that parents and other adults also see therapists. It makes the event less scary to know that even grown-ups see a therapist. It makes the process less anxiety-inducing once it seems like something everyone can do.

When setting up a therapy appointment, make sure the therapist is a good match for your child. Maybe you have a genuinely creative child; find a therapist that makes therapy an adventure. A good match between therapist and child may make all the difference at the end of the day.

Keep Calm

If you are agitated or frantic, you should not be telling your child that they are going to see a therapist. Ensure that you are in a calm state of mind before you talk to your child about therapy. This is going to make the idea of going to therapy easier for your child to handle.

Once you tell your child they will be going to therapy, let them know that whatever they are going through isn’t their fault. Explain that sometimes people need help with understanding how they are feeling and what they are thinking. Be empathetic toward a child’s feelings, too, as it will set the tone for how the conversation will go.

Let your child know that you get worried about them and that you love them. Emphasize that you only want the best for your child and that therapy is a useful tool for them to have. Let your child know that going to therapy doesn’t mean they are broken or in need of repair.

If your child has questions about it, use the opportunity to explain what therapy is and how it can be helpful.

How to Help a Child Go Into Therapy

Getting a child to go to therapy can be a challenge faced by many parents. Children with anxiety may feel too anxious to go to a therapist. In this case, you might reassure your child that therapy will be a safe place to work through the issues that worry or concern them.

For children ages 3-7, explain that therapy is fun. For children under 4, you are more likely going to be in the room with them. Let them know that it will be a new playtime with someone new who is a friend.

For children that are 8 and older, it can be a little more difficult to persuade them to go to therapy. By this age, they can typically pick up your concern for them. Talk to them about how you’ve felt worried about them and that you want to work together to help them.

Teenagers tend to know what therapy is and why it is necessary. It is important not to force teens into therapy as this will be counterproductive. Speak to them from a place of empathy and let them know that you genuinely want to help your teen with any problems they might be facing.

What to Do if Your Child Refuses to Go

Your child may not want to go to therapy. If this happens, make sure they understand it isn’t a punishment. Then try talking to them about why they don’t want to go to therapy and see if you and your child can come to an understanding.

You might want to suggest a trial period. Leaving it up to them to see if it works may help those who are feeling reluctant to go. It makes it seem like you are just trying something new and if it doesn’t work, then you can try something new.

If you cannot get your child into the room with the therapist, consider going into the session without them. This tack is mostly for children who are younger and are shy around strangers or are afraid of being alone with a therapist.

Once you manage to get your child into the room with the therapist, he or she can give you ideas on how to implement different therapies into daily life. This way, if your child continues to balk, at least you will be armed with techniques that can help your child cope with difficulties.

Therapy and Your Child

Therapy can be a daunting thing to tackle when you aren’t sure how to bring up the subject with your child. However, if your child is in need, you know what is best. While it might not be an easy topic to tackle, this is a necessary conversation to have.

Just remember to keep calm and make sure your child knows that therapy isn’t a punishment for bad behavior. Once you make this clear, speaking to your child about therapy is a matter of answering their questions to help them better understand what therapy is all about. Then you will be set to begin the journey of therapy together with your child.