How To Talk To Your Child About Therapy Before Their First Session

How To Talk To Your Child About Therapy Before Their First Session

"Therapists will explore healthy lifestyle changes and coping methods your child can use to deal with their challenges"

Talking to your child about the prospect of therapy doesn’t have to be daunting. After all, therapy for children is becoming increasingly common. Recent data from the CDC shows that 13.6% of U.S. children between the ages of 5 and 17 had received mental health treatment in the past 12 months.1 And cases of anxiety and depression among young people have significantly increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic.2 If you’re considering therapy for your child, find out what makes a good candidate, and learn how to approach the topic in a positive way with your child. 

How to Know if Your Child is a Good Candidate

Parents or caregivers know their child best. If you’ve noticed changes in your child’s personality, such as regressions, defiance, or incessant worrying, it may be useful to seek outside support. It may also be helpful to team up with your child’s teacher to figure out if they have been disruptive at school or if they’ve been isolating from their peers. 

Common reasons parents seek therapy for their children include: 

  • Family issues
  • Problems at school
  • Bullying
  • Health problems
  • Self-esteem issues
  • Grief
  • Anxiety
  • ADHD
  • OCD
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Self-injury

Some other signs that your child can benefit from therapy include:

  • Changes in sleeping and eating habits
  • Frequent temper tantrums
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Social withdrawal
  • Clinginess
  • Increased irritability  
  • Poor personal hygiene 
  • Destructive behaviors

According to pediatric psychologist Kristen Eastman, PsyD, some moodiness and anxiety is normal as children grow up and learn to navigate their surroundings.3 But she encourages parents to trust their gut. This is especially true if your child is engaging in negative behavior more frequently or is expressing hopelessness. She says, “If something just doesn’t feel right, trust that instinct. It’s better to go and get something checked out if you’re not sure." 

If you’re ready to enroll your child in therapy, it’s important that you discuss it with them beforehand to ease any concerns that may come up on their end. The following tips will help you approach the topic before their first session.

Explain What Therapy Entails in Age-Appropriate Terms

One way to normalize therapy is to simply refer to the therapist or counselor as a “doctor.” Every child has been to the doctor at one point or another. You can explain that just like a pediatrician helps them with their body, and a dentist helps them with their teeth, the therapist is a doctor that will help them with their feelings. If your child has a specific issue you’d like to work on, such as persistent worrying or sleep issues, you can explain that the doctor will help them worry less or sleep better. It’s also important that you bring up the topic during a time when your child feels calm and not during a stressful moment or they will quickly associate therapy with that stress. You also don’t want to present therapy as a punishment, so resist bringing the topic up after an outburst or argument. 

Paint a Picture of Fun & Play  

Therapists who see younger children often incorporate dolls or art into their sessions. This is partly because children talk while they play. Young kids may also feel more inclined to discuss difficult topics through make-believe scenarios as if the doll is the one with all the worries, not them. If your child is seeing a therapist with these tools in their office, be sure to tell them beforehand so they envision the office as a place of fun and play. This will help them let their guard down and feel like they can simply be themselves in a pressure-free environment. 

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Be Enthusiastic 

Before talking to your child, it’s important that you come to terms with the idea of therapy yourself. As a parent, it’s normal to feel apprehensive on behalf of your child, especially if you grew up in a home where mental health was not openly discussed. But your child will be looking to you for guidance on how to approach this new experience. If you normalize the topic and speak enthusiastically about therapy, your child is less likely to feel worried or resistant.

Present Therapy as an Adventure

While younger kids might like seeing therapy as fun and play, older kids may prefer to see it as an adventure. Just like they might learn how to be a good teammate in a sports league or they might learn how to break a wood board in martial arts, therapy can also teach them new skills like meditation, breathing exercises, or other mindfulness techniques

Even better, there is a type of psychotherapy actually called “adventure therapy,” which uses active and experiential activities to work through mental challenges and inspire behavioral changes.  

Listen to Your Child & Ease Their Concerns

Some parents wait until they’re on their way to the therapist’s office to tell their child they’re going to therapy. This is highly discouraged. Your children will likely have a number of questions and will need time and space to process your answers and get prepared. Make sure your child knows that they can come to you whenever they have questions and, if possible, accompany your child to the therapist’s office for extra support. 

A Final Takeaway

Parents sometimes assume that mental health treatment will entail medication or hospitalization for their child. This isn’t always the case. Many times, therapists will explore healthy lifestyle changes first and coping methods your child can use to deal with their challenges. 

If you do wish to pursue medication, we encourage you to try gentle options first before resorting to prescription drugs. Brillia is a homeopathic medication specifically targeted to reduce anxiety, stress, and irritability without harsh, synthetic chemicals or harmful side effects. Brillia’s active ingredient consists of antibodies to the S100B protein, an important regulator of various different intracellular and extracellular brain processes. By combining neuroscience with behavioral science, Brillia’s unique approach promotes healthy lifestyle factors like proper nutrition, adequate sleep, controlled screen time, and mindfulness to help your child feel more balanced every day, whether they take medication or not.  

Learn more about Brillia for Children and find more resources on supporting your child’s mental health at the Brilli(ance) Resource Center.

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References: 1, 2, 3
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