Parents love their children and would do anything for them. There are times when a parent will have to deal with the fact that their child needs professional help so that the root of the problem is known and dealt with accordingly. In most cases the professional is a therapist. Kids may not understand the need for this solution but there are ways of breaking the news to them.
It’s counterintuitive, but in my experience children in emotional pain often have less trouble accepting or understanding the need for therapy than their parents do, and have less concern for any potential stigmatizing effects. Still, there are better and worse ways to break the news to your child that you think they need help. Here are some tips for a smoother experience:
Introducing the Idea of Therapy
1) Wait for a calm moment
Don’t raise the issue of therapy when either of you is angry or upset, especially immediately following an argument or crisis (such as suspension from school). If she’s riled up, your daughter won’t be able take in what you’re saying. And if you’re angry, she’ll view therapy as a punishment.
2) Identify the problem
Tell your child what you see that has you worried. Try, “Honey, I know you’ve been getting into a lot of fights at school,” or “Seems like you’ve been having a lot of nightmares lately.”
- Offer compassion
Tell your child you know he’s unhappy and you want to help. For example, say “It must be upsetting when the other kids are angry at you,” or “Nightmares can be really scary. No one likes to be scared.”
Therapy is not something that you jump into. It is not a short cut and therefore a parent should resort to it after observing certain behavior in their child.
This isn’t professional advice. These may not be the markers a counselor, psychologist or therapist would suggest. But parents who have watched their child wrestle with anxiety, depression and other challenges name these as the signs that it’s time to seek help:
When your child is endangering himself or threatening to harm himself.
I knew it was time for outside help when our daughter was four and, during one of her daily rages, declared she would “make myself dead” (from behind a locked bathroom door). —Martha
When your other children are unhappy, frightened or upset by a sibling’s behavior, or a parent’s response to that behavior.
Our daughter was still throwing very long, angry tantrums at 5 and 6. She was well behaved in school, but so unpredictable at home it was really starting to affect our family life. She sometimes got so angry she would physically attack us. My husband and I would argue about the right way to discipline her. My younger son once said “how come (big sister) controls the family.” … We felt as if our whole life was being ruled by her behavior & it was dragging us down. We finally started seeing a family therapist once a week. … My husband and I say it’s some of the best money we ever spent.—MomofTwo
Parents should choose a good therapist for their child or else their efforts will be in vain. There are certain things to check when choosing a children’s therapist.
Many professionals claim to offer psychotherapy, but it is up to you to pick a therapist who is best for your child. It is critical that you read the information below and “interview” your potential therapist accordingly.
Make sure your child’s therapist is trained in the most current, scientifically-based approaches to psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy. In addition to psychologists from traditional training programs (PhD), psychologists from other programs (PsyD—see a description of differences below), and various other mental health providers, such as school psychologists (Ed.D or M.Ed.), social workers (MSW, LCSW), psychiatrists (MD or DO), licensed professional counselors (LPCC/LPC) or marital-family therapists (MFT) may also be good options depending on their experience with scientifically-based approaches. Do your homework on what type of therapy a provider will offer before establishing an evaluation appointment. Read below for more information.