Going to counseling can be a scary idea for anyone. Call it therapy and that makes it even scarier. Your child might feel worried, scared, anxious, angry, and more about going to counseling. Depending on your reasons for seeking counseling, your child might not have been involved in the decision to go, magnifying these emotions as your child feels out of control of the situation. What you do and how you talk to your child about counseling before walking in to the office for the first time can make a big difference! Here are some things to keep in mind:
5 Tips To Talk To Your Child About Counseling
1. Label the Problem – Not Your Child. Explain to your child that the counselor’s job is to talk with kids and help them with their fears and worries. Let me know that lots of kids go through hard stuff and talk with a counselor. Counseling should never be presented as a consequence because the child has been “bad”. Let your child know that the counselor’s job is to help them work through hard stuff so that your child feels better.
2. Talk About the Office. Many children come in to my office and are surprised that it looks nothing like a doctor’s office. Let them know that there will probably be comfortable chairs to sit in, art supplies to color with, and probably even toys to play with. Talk with your counselor about what their office is like and share this with your child.
3. Encourage them to bring something to share about themselves. Explain to your child that before the counselor can help her work through hard stuff, she needs to get to know her better. Encourage your child to pick out something special to bring in and share with the counselor. Stuffed animals, favorite toys, a picture of the family, or a drawing, would all be welcome in my counseling office.
4. Set Up Expectations. Talk with your counselor before your session about who will be in the room for the counseling session and share this with your child. Each counselor will do things a bit differently but generally you might spend some time in the room all together as a family (or parent and child together) as well as have time for the child to speak with the counselor individually. Depending on the child’s age, the counselor might also wish to speak with the caregiver individually.
5. Be Open to Questions. Ask your child if she has any questions before going to counseling. If you’re not sure of the answer, call your counselor a d ask or help your child to look up the answer. If that’s not possible have her write her question down and bring it with her to the first session. Helping your child to feel heard and valuing her questions will help her to feel like she is part of the decision to attend counseling.
Children come to counseling for many reasons including anger, depression, grief, and behavioral concerns. Sometimes the reason is less obvious and the caregiver just knows that the child has not been his or herself lately. By talking with your child about counseling and making the counseling office a safe place, these concerns can be the primary focus and attending counseling will add minimal additional fear and anxiety. A counselor should be able to tell you more specifically about what to expect in a first session in his or her office. Talk with your counselor about what else you can do to help your child when first attending counseling. Once you begin attending counseling, your child might surprise you by looking forward to it each week!
Amanda Regalia, M.A. is a marriage and family counselor and clinician for The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. Amanda specializes in working with families and children ages 5 and up. She is passionate about helping people to create practical solutions that support them in achieving their goals and improving their relationships and life.