The ABC’s of taking your child to therapy

I recently received  a comment from someone who gave me  lovely feedback about  this blog, and made a request about a future post.  I’ve been thinking about her request and trying to see how to best answer her question:

“I’d love to read a blog post about how parents of kids in therapy attend to their own emotional needs as individuals and as a couple.  I’ve noticed how stressed we both get when our child is having a tough time and I’m sure we’re not the only ones.”

The first thing to address is how stressful it is leading up to getting your child into therapy no matter how old he is.  You realize that your child is struggling and  wonder “is this every-day kid stuff or is it something more concerning?” Once you make the decision that you think your child would benefit from therapy you have to find that “right” therapist which can also feel overwhelming;  do you go through insurance, who do you ask about referrals (pediatricians are a good resource) and how do you find the right fit for your child?

The appointment is finally made and you are feeling positive about your choice in therapist.   You then have to convince  explain to your child  that he is going  to talk to someone who is going to help him feel better.  It gets more difficult once  your child who is not only  in denial that there is a problem, is also quite convinced that she will not be having any involvement in the solution to this so-called “problem”.   My advice is that you are understanding, supportive and firm.  You let your child know that you understand that this can be scary, uncomfortable and/or weird (teenagers are all about the “weird”), but this is what you have decided as an adult is best for your child.  I would also normalize the situation by informing your child that all kids struggle with issues and many kids go to therapy and find it to be very helpful.

All therapists operate under the bounds of confidentiality.  It will depend on the individual therapist and the age of the child as to how confidentiality will be handled for you and your family.  My motto is that “what is said in the therapy room stays in the therapy room”.  In our first session I tell all  parents and children that I will not share what is discussed in the therapy session.  If I learn that the client (child or adult) is in danger, then I will break confidentiality, this includes harm to self or harm to others.   I let the child know that if I am concerned about their safety that I will discuss it with them first, let them know that I am worried and together we discuss how to tell their parents about the situation.

Now that your child is safely ensconced in the care of a competent therapist, it is your turn to fall apart. As my reader asked, how do parents attend to their own emotional needs, both “individual and as a couple” and deal with the stress when the child has a hard time.  As parents,  a normal response is to self-blame: “what could I have done differently?”,  “it’s all my fault?”  or blame your partner: “he should have…”, “she didn’t…”  Neither is helpful; it is natural to go there, but for your sanity and your child’s well-being, try to avoid the blame game.

It can be excruciating to see your child struggling.  You want to protect your baby (no matter how old they are) and stop the pain. Often times the best medicine for your child is tough love and that can be the hardest thing to dole out.  He is afraid to sleep alone, but you have to enforce it for his own well-being.  She has been refusing to go to school due to anxiety and what she needs most is your loving push to get on that bus.  You are a wreck, your partner disagrees and it feels like  the entire family is about to be washed up in chaos.

I want you to remember that you have to take care of yourself. As hard as it may be, if you are not sleeping or doing the things you need to do for yourself, you are no good for your child.  For your child to heal, she needs you to be at your best.  She needs to look to you for strength when she feels overwhelmed with life.  Sometimes you have to fake it and that is really hard.  Talk to a friend, get support from your community, your  extended family and your partner.  It isn’t easy, but it is essential.

The other really hard, yet extremely important piece is for you and your partner to be on the same page with the issue at hand.  You need to present a united front.  Your child knows how to manipulate and split mommy and daddy;  that will undermine all of the adults involved.  If you and your partner aren’t in agreement, it is okay to tell your child that mommy and daddy are going to talk about (your punishment, your bed time etc.) and get back to you.  You don’t have to decide on the spot; it is better to take a time-out than to argue in front of your child.

Sometimes you, your partner,  or both of you may need your own therapy to help get through this difficult time.  Your child’s therapist may be willing to meet with you on occasion to discuss parenting issues, but if you are really struggling personally or as a couple, you may want to seek out a therapist of your own.   There is no shame in getting some help for yourself (see above where we convinced informed your child that it was a healthy and acceptable decision to seek treatment); it may be  one of the kindest gestures you have offered yourself in a long while.

I know this post was long, I could go on for days, I do hope it was helpful.  I thank my reader for the prompt.  As always, if you have more questions please contact me.



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