7 Do’s and Don’ts for Parents When Keiki See a Therapist
Britt Young of Xplor Counseling shares her tips for what you should and shouldn’t do when your kid starts therapy.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Millions of Americans—including kids—live with a mental illness.
When your child starts therapy, it can be a stressful and, frankly, confusing time for parents. How much involvement is too much? What kind of questions can you ask your child? Or should you stay out of the process? We asked Britt Young, counselor at Xplor Counseling, for her Top 7 tips for concerned moms and dads.
SEE ALSO: How to Find a Therapist for Your Child
1. DO…chat with the therapist first.
Typically for kids up to age 10, the therapist may want to talk with you before individual sessions with your child start. This can give the therapist a better understanding of family dynamics and why the child is seeking therapy . Whether it’s a pending divorce, bullying at school or behavioral challenges, the therapist will ask about your own mental health, too. Your therapist may even ask for monthly check-ins with parents to see how things are progressing at home.
2. DON’T… ask your child what he or she did or said in therapy.
We get it —it is so tempting to find out what your child is doing or saying in session. However, the relationship between a child and therapist must be founded on trust. “We want the child to feel as if he/she can say anything to the therapist, even if it’s about something going on at home involving the family,” Young says. Of course, the therapist is obligated to report child abuse, neglect or harm to self or others, so rest assured, if something needs to be shared, you’ll be included.
3. DO…reinforce tools and behaviors set in motion by the therapist.
Do your best to reinforce those behavioral recommendations at home. For example, if your child’s therapist is working on naming emotions with your child, it would be helpful to do the same at home. “Children only get an hour with their therapist per week, so continuing the skill-building at home will make the therapeutic process go much faster,” Young says. “It’s difficult for therapists to make steady gains when there are opposing messages at home. So, if you have time to ask the therapist about what you might do to help, that would go a long way.”
4. DON’T…minimize (or exaggerate!) your child’s problem.
The guilt is real—we parents tend to judge ourselves if our children are running into problems. Remember, the therapy room is a nonjudgmental space. Do your best to tell as much of the family’s story as you can and be as detailed as possible. You won’t shock the therapist. On the other hand, try to stay as close to the truth as possible without exaggerating issues.
5. DO…know your parental rights.
There’s a possibility that your child’s therapist may suggest an assessment, medication and/or a diagnosis for your child. These may be difficult to hear and digest, but remember they are just professional opinions and suggestions. You always have the right to question anything your therapist might offer, especially if it seems off-base, and to ask about what motivated the suggestion.
6. DON’T…neglect your own mental health needs.
A child will almost always react to stress or tension in the home and parents are typically under a tremendous amount of stress themselves. If you think you need individual or couples support, go ahead and ask your child’s therapist or your PCP (primary care physician) for a referral. By taking care of your own mental health, you’re setting a good example for your child, too.
7. DO…give it time.
The process of finding the right therapist for your child can take time. It takes children four to six sessions, or about six months (yes, that long!) to build rapport with a therapist enough to trust him/her with their deepest secrets. Be sure to give the child and therapist some time and space to get to know each other. However, if there isn’t a bond after some time , consider moving on and seeking another therapist.