Preparing for child therapy is an anxiety provoking experience for the child and their parents. Many parents wonder how best to prepare for the appointment and how to tell their child about therapy.
Here are 7 tips on how to set you and your child up for success
1. Find a good fit.
Find a child therapist who has a family focus and will give both parenting support and support for your child. Interview the therapist and be sure they feel like a good fit for your family.
2. Give advance notice of appointment.
Prepping your child for a therapist appointment is important. Mark it on your family calendar and let them know the details of the appointment. Surprising them increases anxiety and can cause a negative correlation with therapy.
3. Explain what a child therapist is in a way they understand.
Does your child play any sports or have any coaches? Tell your child that therapists are “feelings coaches”. You can say, “Just like your soccer coach, they help you get better at things you already know how to do, and teach you ways to get better at things that are hard for you and our family. The feelings coach will help us talk about our feelings and have more fun as a family.” (Coaches are familiar to kids and not a scary concept.)
4. Normalize therapy.
Tell your child if you or any of your friends or family members have had experience with “feelings coaches” and how they have helped. Example: “Grandma sees a feeling coach and it helps a lot with her worries.” “Daddy and I see a feelings coach to help us talk kindly to each other and have fun together.” “Mommy used to see a feelings coach when she was little to help with how to handle big feelings.”
5. Give as much information as you can.
Show a picture of the therapist and of their office space. If a picture is not accessible, tell them as much as you know about the therapist- what they look like, who they remind you of and why you picked this therapist just for your child.
6. Prepare yourself for the appointment.
It is normal for your child to get more nervous and potentially act out on your way to the appointment. Stay as calm as you can and validate that you understand they are nervous. Distract with music or play “I spy” in the car on the way there.
7. Reward Bravery.
Plan a reward for after the session for being brave and trying something new.
Setting yourself and your child up for success can be overwhelming and feel like a lot of work. The hard work on the front end will pay off! Therapy will help your family to feel they have tools in their toolbox to handle big feelings and difficult situations.