Children of all ages face difficulties at different stages in their life. Most of the time these difficulties can be managed at home. However, there are times when these difficulties can be too big or too complex to manage at home. Some difficulties that children may face include, stressful life events, friendship or interpersonal issues, tense family environment, or developmental challenges. These issues may result in poor emotional or behavioural regulation, poor coping skills, or trauma. In these times, you as parents or teachers may struggle to help your child and may look for other ways to help them through these difficult times. Bringing up the topic of therapy with your child can be awkward or scary, however, it might be helpful to know that the conversation tends to be more anxiety-provoking for parents than it is for the child themselves. You may worry about their reaction, their thoughts of you and your decision, and their thoughts of themselves for having to be in this situation. This article is aimed at providing pointers for you to note when having the “therapy talk” with your child.
1st floor Children Waiting Area at The Other Clinic Asia
Generally, it is important to adopt a stance that therapy is for growing and learning rather than a punishment. It’s important to ensure that there are no negative stereotypes regarding therapy when having this conversation so that your child does not feel outcasted or shamed for having to go for therapy. It can also be helpful, to be honest about your reasons why you think your child should attend therapy. This allows for an open conversation about the matter with your child so they may express any concerns or worries they may have. Thus, it is generally not advisable for you to have this conversation on the way to the therapist’s office. Furthermore, there are different approaches you can take depending on your child’s age group when deciding to have this talk.
In this age group, most of the work would be parenting work as issues may revolve around bedtime.
There may be times when the therapist might want to have a session with your child. You may explain to your child that the therapist is someone who would like to play fun games with them. If they feel comfortable, they may also talk about some times when they felt really sad or mad or even when they felt really happy. You could also normalise this by explaining to your child that you are also seeing the therapist learn fun ideas to help with the problem. If you have already spoken to the therapist beforehand you could also share some fun details about the therapist with your child to make them more relatable. Despite all of this, your child may still face some reservations about therapy, so it would be useful to reassure them that you will be around the entire time waiting, either outside or in the room with them. If they feel really uncomfortable, they may come to get you at any time.
Tweens/Adolescents (10 to 18 year olds)
At this age, they are aware that there are problems, and that external help may be needed to solve these problems. Some may ask for support themselves, some may welcome the support once offered, and others may not want this support as they may not be ready for it and may feel betrayed. It is important to note that unless, your child is severely depressed, heavily self-harming, or expressing suicidal thoughts, therapy should not be forced on them as it will be seen as a negative intervention that will hinder the therapeutic work that needs to be done. Your child in this age group should be aware of what therapy is. However, there may be some negative stereotypes or thoughts surrounding therapy. Hence your conversation with them about attending therapy would revolve around debunking some of these stereotypes and alleviating their anxiety or fears around it. If your child is open to the process, you may even want to include them in the selection process of the therapist if that is possible. This helps your child have more ownership over the matter and thus be more invested in solving the problem.
Here are some tips on how you can have this conversation with your child:
- Ensure you have this discussion in a calm setting. You should not bring up this idea during or after an argument as your child will see it as a punishment.
- Identify what the problem area is and how you’ve noticed it’s affecting your child emotionally and behaviourally. Express your desire for your child to be happier and less bothered by these issues.
- Normalise: If there are members or if your child has peers that have been or who go for therapy, bringing their stories up can normalise this process for your child.
- Manage expectations: Explain to your child what therapy will be like- it is a safe and private space for them to share their thoughts and feelings about school, friends, parents, or siblings. Whatever that is shared will not be shared with parents. The therapist is not there to tell your child what to do but to understand what your child would like and help them achieve these goals. It’s at this point that if it’s possible to choose which therapist your child could see you could start this activity with them.
- Allow for them to express their thoughts and feelings about going for therapy. This may not happen immediately as your child might need some time to process the information that you have shared with them. Hence you could suggest carrying on the discussion at another date or time. Having this in mind, it would be helpful to tell your child about your decision to send them for therapy 5-7 days before the appointment.
Fig 1. An absolutely adorable illustration by Laurie (aged 10) depicting what therapy is
Fig 2. Another illustration by Laurie about teacher’s mental well-being