For many parents, it’s difficult to imagine how to tell their child that she is about to begin seeing a child psychologist. While every family is different, here are a few guidelines to keep in mind when planning this conversation:
• Be honest
It’s crucial that kids begin therapy with a foundation of trust. They need to feel they will be a respected part of the process and understand that you and their therapist can be trusted. Without an honest beginning, it will be harder for many kids to open up. So a good place to start is to explain your concerns to your child and that he is going to start meeting with someone to help them solve these problems. It is virtually never a good idea to trick your child into coming to the initial visit – not only does it violate his trust, it significantly increases the chances that the first session will be contentious and full of hurt feelings.
• Explain what a therapist does
Describe what a psychologist’s job is – how you explain it depends on the age of your child. With younger kids, you might describe meeting with a “talk doctor” and reassure them that unlike other doctors, there will be no shots or medicine. Rather, they will talk and play; you will probably have already met with the therapist and can describe the office and toys there. Find out if you will be in the first session with your child – with younger children it’s often necessary for a parent to be in the room. With older children, you might describe a therapist’s job as similar to a guidance counselor at school, explaining the differences. However you do it, reassure your child that her therapist’s job is to help you and your family solve their problems to make things go more smoothly and help everyone feel better.
• With older children especially, explain confidentiality
Older kids, especially teens, are likely to be concerned with their privacy. Explain that everything is confidential and that his psychologist can’t discuss anything with his doctor, teachers, or friends. Ask your child’s therapist to explain to you ahead of time her policy on what information she will share with you about your child’s sessions or suggest that your child address this directly in the first session.
• Reassure your child that it’s okay to talk