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Unfortunately, in today’s society there is a negative stigma attached to therapy. I have heard many people say that therapy is just for weak or broken people who can’t handle life on their own. Sadly, even children and teenagers have heard that therapy is bad and for weak people. This can lead them to resent and fight against attending therapy. Instead of seeking help when needed, this belief causes many parents to delay therapy until their need is dire or other people insist they get help. I have worked with parents who tell me they were told by a doctor, teacher, friend, or family member that it is their fault their child needs therapy or that they are bad parents. Unfortunately, many parents have never been trained to handle a child’s distress or difficulty. Let us talk about how to approach therapy with your child.
One crucial concept for parents to keep in mind is the importance of embracing and helping your child who might have fear and anxiety about coming to therapy. These worries are real for your child even if they seem silly or pointless to you. An example of the importance of your child’s perspective is illustrated by a child who might scream or become devastated over losing a balloon. To an adult this might not seem like a big deal; however, to a child it is like watching their whole world disappear. If this is your child’s fear, it is good to discuss specifically what your child’s fears are in order to address them.
Recently, I met with a terrified child in my office. He was worried everyone at school would find out about him being in therapy and think that he was bad or weak. I addressed his fear by talking to him about how normal it is to have weaknesses and to sometimes need therapy – everyone does at some point. He was able to understand that this didn’t make him a bad person. I also reminded him that the only way others would find out is if he himself told them – he had control.
Another crucial parenting concept regarding talking with your child about therapy is to be respectful and validating instead of belittling or embarrassing. Therapy should not be talked about as “a way to get over this problem you’re having” but as “a way to learn some skills to help you be happier.” Children can tell when their parents think there is something wrong with them. This influences their mood and actions in therapy.
Lastly, it is important for parents to let their child know they are loved and supported. Some parents bring their children to therapy when they are at the end of their rope and have no idea what else they can do. When children recognize this they might feel worse about themselves because they do not feel special and loved. Children in this situation might feel that not only are they stuck, but also that mom and dad do not love them anymore.
In conclusion, remember that when talking to children about therapy parents can:
If these guidelines are followed, children can have a better experience starting therapy.
Alexis is a therapist at the Spanish Fork Center for Couples and Families. She is a licensed associate marriage and family therapist and specializes in working with children and adolescents in therapy.