Taking your child to a therapist for the first time can be difficult for you and them. Your child may feel anxious about talking to a new person or needing the extra support of child therapy. They may even assume they are in trouble.
It’s important to tell them that therapy can help them feel better and that everyone needs support sometimes. As a parent, it can be difficult to know what to expect when seeking professional help for your child. This mini-guide offers tips and information that will make the experience less stressful for everyone.
What Is Therapy for Children?
Child therapy uses similar approaches to therapy for adults. Trained, qualified clinicians provide a variety of techniques based on the child’s needs and strengths. Therapy sessions may include any of the following techniques, or a combination of one or more: cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, play therapy, and more. Therapists help children learn how to cope with life’s challenges, including:
- Family problems
- Behavioral issues
- Health issues
- Sadness, grief, loss of a loved one
- Poor self-esteem
- Mental health concerns, such as depression, ADHD, anxiety, and disordered eating
- Trauma-related disorders
Just like adults, kids and teens face challenges they don’t always know how to cope with. Sometimes those problems are so complex that parents don’t know how to help either. That’s where a professional therapist comes in.
Signs Your Child May Need Therapy
The same stigmas that prevent adults from getting treatment for mental health concerns affect kids, too. Children may not know how to communicate their needs or may feel embarrassed to talk about the feelings they’re experiencing. Your child might need therapy if:
- They persistently complain about pain or sickness but don’t have any physical illness
- Their grades have suddenly plummeted, or they consistently struggle with school despite honest efforts
- They have lost interest in school or other activities they once enjoyed
- They are getting into fights or other trouble at school
- They are having nightmares frequently
- They are worried or anxious much of the time
- They are highly preoccupied with their appearance
- They are repeating routines excessively, such as washing hands or checking and rechecking homework
Any indication that your child is harming themselves, other people, or animals is a sign that immediate action is needed. Therapy is necessary to get to the root of the problem before someone, including your child, is seriously hurt.
What to Expect from Therapy
During the initial consultation, the therapist will ask you a few questions and give you an opportunity to ask questions as well. Jot down your questions and concerns on paper if you feel nervous or think you might forget.
Some good questions to ask include:
- How often should sessions be?
- Will sessions include parents and other family members?
- What are the goals of therapy?
- How do I explain what therapy is to my child?
- What will happen during sessions, and do you share information with parents?
- What types of therapy techniques will you use?
- How will we know if therapy is helping?
It’s common for a therapist to try several different approaches before they find the combination of techniques that is most helpful. It can take several sessions for your child to feel comfortable and trusting enough to open up with a therapist.
When you and your child have a clear understanding of the therapeutic process and therapy goals, the experience can be a positive one for the whole family.
What Happens During a Therapy Session?
During the first session, the therapist will simply talk with the child and ask questions. The more they can learn about the child and their challenges, the better prepared they will be to formulate a plan for treatment. Depending on the child’s age, they might:
Allowing kids to talk is a way to let them express their feelings. Being heard provides a form of validation that younger people don’t always get.
Practice New Skills
Depending on the child’s age, the therapist might engage them in various kinds of play or activities that require them to be patient, follow directions, share, and practice other important skills.
All types of play can be incorporated into therapy sessions. Playing games, making art, and role-playing add elements of fun that help children relax. The therapist can learn important information about how a child copes with stress and interacts with others by observing them at play.
Adolescents and teens are old enough to discuss the problems that are affecting them and practice different approaches to problem-solving with their therapist. The child can explore possible solutions and play out scenarios in a safe environment.
There is a stereotype that therapy continues for years, but that’s not the case for many people. Most of the time, a therapist will expect to meet with a child once a week for several months. If therapy goals aren’t being met in a reasonable amount of time, other or additional approaches may be recommended.
Getting the Most from Therapy
There are things you and other family members can do to help a child get the most out of therapy. Start by finding a therapist with whom you and your child feel comfortable. A therapist who doesn’t want to answer questions or seems distant may not be a good match for a child.
Make sure to take your child to all scheduled appointments. Therapy is a process that requires a level of commitment. It can’t help if you don’t attend sessions.
Don’t be afraid to ask the therapist for advice on the best ways to support your child, but don’t try to be a therapist at home. Spend quality time with your child every day. Take an interest in their hobbies. Play with them, read, or just spend time hanging out. Let them know you enjoy being with them despite any challenges.
Lastly, seek treatment yourself if needed. If you’re struggling with the pressures of parenthood or still trying to cope with past trauma, consider seeing a therapist yourself. Being the healthiest, happiest person you can be will help you be the parent your child deserves. If you are wondering if taking your child to a therapist is the right thing to do, contact us today. At Newport Beach Family Development Center we are helping children, families, couples, and individuals find joy in their journey.