As a parent, it can be difficult to decide to bring your child to therapy. Parenting is one of the areas in life where fear and shame are quick to show up. The stigma that is unfortunately still associated with therapy can make it really challenging, and really humbling, to take that first step and schedule a therapy session for your child. Parents are all too often plagued with the thoughts that they’ve messed up, with all the ideas of things the “should have” or “shouldn’t have” done for their child, that they haven’t cared for them well enough.
But, if you are bringing your child to therapy, that in and of itself is evidence to the contrary: that you do care for your child, and in fact care for them so deeply that you are willing to get them whatever support or help they might need. Parenting is hard. You know that saying, it takes a village? It’s cliché for a reason- there is a lot of truth to it. Kids need support from all different angles, they need a village. And therapists, if you need and let them, can be members of that village who are specifically trained to be supportive and helpful in ways many people may not be able to.
So, if you’ve decided to bring your child to a therapist, or if you are thinking about it, I want you to know that to us here at Optimum Joy, that is a sign of deep love, care, and bravery.
How can I help?
It can still be scary, though, and there’s often a lot of hesitation and anxiety around your role in the therapeutic process. Now the specifics of your involvement will, of course, be up to your child’s therapist (and probably your child!), but there are some ways that I think parents can be helpful and supportive throughout the process regardless of the boundaries set by the child’s therapist. Here are my top three suggestions for parents who want to be helpful and do what they can while respecting their child’s space and boundaries.
Be positive and supportive about the child’s involvement in therapy
If you feel wary of therapy or ashamed that your child is in it, it might be a good idea to process that with your own therapist. It’s normal that you as a parent are going to have your own anxieties and feelings about it, but kids are smart; if you’re embarrassed about them going, or think therapy is a sham, they can likely pick up on that. If you can, try to be positive, hopeful, and normalizing (in your words, attitude, and behavior) about therapy. Let your child know that it’s nothing to be ashamed of and can be such a helpful (and sometimes even fun) investment. I always love to hear when parents share a little about their own experience with therapy (if, of course, the parent has been to therapy) because it normalizes the process, validates that sometimes we need help, and hopefully instills hope for a good experience.
Ask about their sessions, but don’t push
Even if your child doesn’t want to talk about it and answers “fine” to all of your “how was it?!” questions, it is still important and meaningful for them to be asked. Whether they acknowledge it in the moment or not, it means something to know that your mom, dad, aunt, uncle, or grandparents care enough about you to want to know how you are. If they don’t want to talk or expound, let them know that that’s okay, and that you’re there if they ever do want to talk. Leave the door open, but don’t barge right in.
Ask how they feel about the therapy
Ask if they like the therapist and if they feel safe with them. Ask if they feel like it is helping, or if there is anything they don’t like about it. Just like with adults, it is important that kids find a therapist who is a good fit. If they don’t like the person or don’t feel comfortable opening up, it’s okay to try a different one. It might take your child a few sessions to warm up to the therapist, but I encourage parents to keep asking their child how it’s going. This not only gives you an idea of your child’s experience, but also lets them know that you value it, and value their opinion.
If you’re thinking about therapy for your child, know that you don’t have to process or even make the decision alone. Whether you want to briefly chat with one of our child therapists or want to meet with a therapist yourself to discuss, give us a call. We would love to be a part of the process with you, and to support you and your child in whatever ways we can.