Making the decision to seek outside help from a professional, like a counselor, is most often made by a child’s parents. And high five for making that decision, because it is not easy! When a parent calls to make an initial appointment for their kiddo, they usually ask; How should I explain this appointment to my child? My answer involves the phrases; be honest, tell them what they can expect, make it a family event, listen, and normalize.
Talk to your child about going to counseling and perhaps a few reasons that lead you to the decision to bring them. Being transparent about seeking professional support conveys several things to your kiddo;
1) It’s ok to ask for help when needed, and adults do it too!
2) You’ve noticed them struggling, and want to support them
3) You’re wanting to be involved
This transparency is extremely imperative for parents of teenagers. Being open and honest from the beginning sets a positive foundation to begin the counseling process. Listen and normalize their reaction, concerns, annoyance. Their feelings about going are valid and allowing them to voice them is important. My go to reaction for parents is: “You make a great point, I hear that you are feeling , we can all talk about that during our appointment, I hope the counselor can help us”. A statement like this voices concern, understanding and willingness to be a participant during counseling sessions.
For younger kiddo’s, it is very important to explain, in an age appropriate way, what is to be expected during a counseling session. I often use an interactive approach to explaining who a counselor is, and what they will be able to expect during a session:
Me: If you don’t understand an assignment in class, who could you ask for help?
Child: My teacher
Me: Exactly! What if you’re feeling sick? Who helps then?
Child: My mom, or the nurse.
Me: It sounds like there are quite a few people that are there to help. What about if someone hurts your feelings? Or you’re very worried about something? Or very sad about something?
Inevitably the child will mostly likely respond to the last few questions that her parent, teacher or perhaps a sibling would help. This is a great Segway into a discussion about counselors there are people whose job it is to help, and those people are counselors.
Insuring that your child has the most positive experience possible when seeing a counselor begins with the conversation you have with them about their first appointment!