How to talk with your child about counseling
How to talk to you child about counseling
You’ve tried every tool in your personal tool box to try to create change for your family. But yet, you remain stuck. You worry and feel sad because this is not what you thought this chapter of life would look like. You are confident it doesn’t have to be this way, you’re just not sure what else to do. And so, counseling seems like a good resource to introduce to your family to help create the connection and calm you hope for your household.
While you’re confident counseling can benefit your family, you may not be certain how to talk to your family members about it, particularly children. Here are some ideas that may help you organize your thoughts.
Use their language.
Try to use as much of their own vocabulary and the way they speak in helping them understand what counseling is and why you’re doing this as a family. This may invite you to be a keen observer of your child(ren) in preparation for this conversation. Don’t use words they don’t understand or that you normally wouldn’t use yourself.
You go to the dentist for your teeth, you go to your pediatrician for your body. Counseling is the health professional for your feelings. (Though please understand, Jaime Malone is a Licensed Professional Counselor, not a medical doctor. However, we are looking for language and concepts your child can understand and relate to other experiences they have already had).
Talk about the right person for the right help
If your pipes burst in your house. What would you do? Would you try to fix it yourself, or would you call a plumber? If your child has participated in sports or artistic pursuits, think about how you added a coach or a teacher to their lives. You might still kick a soccer ball around the park with them or sit and play piano together, but often we add trusted adults to our children’s lives who are invested in the things that are important to them.
Select a time to have the conversation where you both have some calm and quiet time, not before leaving for school and work and not just before bedtime. If they have questions, you want them to be able to circle back with you, not have those questions disrupt their school day or interfere with falling asleep. Remember, counseling is not punishment, so please do not bring it up in response to a conflict or challenging moment where a child might interpret counseling as a consequence of their behavior. A younger child, or one who worries a lot, might best be told one or two days before. An older child might benefit from a little more time to think and be able to ask questions. But too much time can increase uncertainty. The car ride to counseling is not the time to have the conversation.
Notice your own emotions when having this conversation
Are you feeling nervous? If your beginning counseling for your family, it’s likely you have hope as well as some other emotions (fear, frustration, disappointment, even anger). You are an emotional reference point. If you have a mix of certainty and positive curiosity approaching counseling, your child will likely take a cue from your own emotions and have similar feelings.
Use a lot of “we” language (not “you”)
A frequent concern we want to avoid is that a child feels any blame or like something is wrong with him/her. One of the best ways we can prevent this is by talking about “we are going to counseling.” In a clear and gentle way, you can tell your child that you have noticed when your child or your family struggles with something. Whatever the specifics are for your family, by acknowledging this, you provide valuable validation for your child (not blame or criticism), as well as hope it can change. This can be an appropriate place to acknowledge your own experience (in developmentally appropriate ways. Let me know if you need help with this part). But it can be helpful to say “I feel stuck and want to learn new ideas as to what I can do differently in these situations so we all are _____” (fill in the blank: happier, more calm, more connected, etc). This helps everyone begin to formulate and envision the goals and end product of therapy.
Remember it’s an ongoing conversation; you don’t have to get it all right. And, you don’t have to have all the answers. A great preparation for a first session can be to sit together and write down questions any family member has, as well as things you might want to share and talk about. This also provides great modeling for a child in terms of what types of things we talk about in counseling, as well as encouraging them to openly share.
It’s normal for you and your family to have questions. Reading the FAQs might help answer some of your questions, or an initial consultation phone call may best answer your unique needs.