You would do anything for your child. It hurts when you see him or her struggling. Maybe there has been a family trauma. Maybe a parental divorce and you want to make sure your children are doing OK. Maybe your child is anxious about school, has bullies they are dealing with, friendship issues or grappling with feelings of self-worth. Maybe they are struggling with issues such as drugs, sex or cutting. There are tons of reasons your child might benefit from counseling. First, give yourself some praise if you are thinking about helping your child with therapy. It might feel as if you failed somehow but you haven’t! Life is difficult for adults and it is sometimes even more so for children and teens.
I believe counseling can be valuable for everyone. I would caution you to consider, that therapy for a child or teen, may look different than for an adult. As an adult, we know why we are going to therapy. We may be looking for someone to clarify and ground us or looking for answers to numerous different questions. At some level, we buy into going to therapy for ourselves, but your child may not have the same buy-in for their therapy, Even though I believe the relationship is always paramount, an adult may find what they are looking for in a few sessions, but this more difficult outcome when working with children. The dynamics are different in child therapy.
Beneficial considerations when wondering about therapy for your child/tween/teen.
- There is no drop them off at the door with the parent telling the therapist to fix their kid! We all wish it worked like that but it just doesn’t. There will be some expectation of involvement from the parent. The amount of involvement will be decided between the therapist, your child and yourself. You may be involved with family therapy or you may just do an occasional check in with the therapist. Find a good balance. It is just as unhelpful for a parent to sit in and try to manage each session as it is for a parent to never be seen or heard from again.
- Being involved also means you are asked to do some changing too. None of us live completely independently. We live in a family, a household and a community. Even if a person lives all alone, they are affected by the systems within which they interact. Your child is affected by the significant people in their lives. You may be asked questions and have to engage in being just a bit vulnerable like you are asking your child to be in the therapy process.
- Building a therapy relationship takes time. How much of your children’s lives have you spent telling your kids they should not share family business with everyone. Then you take them to a therapist (who is probably a very kind, competent individual) and say “It is OK – tell them all your secrets.” This can be quite a switch for children. They have their own fears about if what they are going through is normal and they also will worry about getting mom or dad in trouble by something they say. There are always exceptions to the rules but for most, it takes time to build the relationship.
- Stop before you complain that the therapist is just playing games. In therapy, a game is never just a game. Games and activities serve many purposes, from relationship building to assessment of skills, to teaching how to handle difficult feelings. If you just don’t get why the therapist keeps playing Uno with your kid – talk to the therapist about it.
- Work out a consistent schedule with the therapist. Your life is busy and your children are active but stopping by once a month or so for your child to see the therapist is probably not helpful. Down the line, once there is a solid relationship the child may only need check-ins but especially at the beginning of therapy, it can be detrimental. When there are long gaps before the relationship is there, each meeting becomes like the first session – getting to know each other all over again. It also shows that the parents don’t value the therapy so why should the youth value it either. If your family is at a place where you just can’t commit to a child’s therapy then I would encourage you to wait until you are able.
- Pick a therapist that both you and your child like. Every therapist is different. We all have different beliefs and values. We all believe different interventions work. Find someone both the child and the parents are drawn to and someone with whom all want to work. It is also not a permanent decision. If one therapist doesn’t work out – it is OK to try someone else. I would caution, though, if you find yourself going through many multiple therapists that the issues may be something other than the therapists.
You know your children better than anyone else. You are their main role model and teacher. You also want the best life for them. Therapy can help them with their worries and self-esteem and help them process the rough stuff. There is no shame in having your child meet with a therapist. A therapist can help your child have a safe adult to speak with and learn the tools to be a success in the world. There is no magic wand but there is help out there if you are ready to embrace it.