Child therapy can be a great way to help enrich your child’s self-esteem, mood regulation, coping skills and communication. However, successful child therapy is not possible without the parent’s support and involvement. Here are 7 ways to ensure that your child gets the most out of their counseling sessions:
1. Be ready for the commitment
Therapy is a process. Usually it takes at least 6 to 8 consecutive weeks in order to see any type of progress. Depending on the issue(s) being addressed, it could take up to several months. Knowing this up front can help you to make a wise decision about starting therapy for your child. Remember that this is not only an investment of your time, but also your money.
Before starting therapy, check your insurance benefits. Is this investment financially feasible? Many counseling agencies have sliding scale fees to help lessen the financial burden. Plan ahead to invest time, energy and money, to help create a therapy that will be truly beneficial for your child.
2. Prepare your child ahead of time
You can ease your child’s anxiety about the initial meeting with the therapist if you explain what is going to happen and why s/he is attending. Use age appropriate terms. Ask how your child feels about it. Explain to your child that therapy is a positive experience, focusing on how the therapist is going to support him or her, help learning new skills, instead of focusing on how the therapist is going to “fix” the child or make them “less bad.”
3. Be in frequent contact with your child’s therapist
Your child’s therapist should give you frequent updates about what they are working on in therapy. If they don’t, you should ask. Feel free to express any concerns that you want to have addressed with your child. The therapist should be on the same page when it comes to treatment goals.
It can also be helpful to give the therapist updates about how things are going at home. If there is an increase in a behavior or your child is having a particularly rough day, that can be valuable information that will help guide your child’s therapy session.
4. Ask questions
If you have made the investment to start your child in therapy, you have every right to know what is going on. Don’t be afraid to ask questions when you don’t understand something about the treatment plan or something the therapist is explaining to you. If you’re unsure about where the therapy is going, ask. It will help to clarify things for you, but also keep both therapist and parents on the same page.
Important questions to ask:
- How does your treatment process work?
- What are the treatment goals?
- What are you working on in session?
- How can I help facilitate the process at home?
- Any concerns about specific disorders or behaviors you may have
5. The work begins in therapy, but is implemented at home
Your child’s therapist will usually only see them once a week for an hour. The therapist may ask that you try out certain techniques and strategies at home with your child. If you want to get the most out of your child’s sessions, you need to try to implement the suggested strategies and techniques at home, to help with learning and foster the gains from the therapy process. Consistency and repetition are important for achieving the best results.
If you feel uncomfortable or unwilling to implement what the therapist has put in place, please speak up. You and the therapist can then devise a different course of action that you would feel more comfortable with. If your therapist does not discuss with you any changes you can make at home, make sure to ask.
6. Be Patient and keep it positive
Therapy can take time, as quick fixes never last. Things may get worse before they get better. It may feel like you take two steps forward and one step back. Try to stick to the positives. Focus on what has gotten better. Refrain from criticism but try to “catch” your child doing something right: even the smallest victory is a step in the right direction. Remember to point out and reward your child for these victories as well.
Never “threaten” your child with therapy, or use therapist’s name outside of sessions as some punitive figure to whom you will report on bad behaviors, in order to reprimand and punish your child later. Help your child to accept therapy experience as “a safe zone” and “a positive learning environment”, and view their therapist as a trustworthy, gentle and supportive person.
7. Implement a planned termination process
Hopefully, therapy is working for your child, and you feel they are nearing the end. Or maybe it isn’t going well and you want to take a break or switch therapists. Planning out the termination process can help your child process through the change in the least stressful way possible.
Children can become very attached to their therapists, especially if they see them consistently for a long period of time. Do not just decide one day to pull them out and never show up again. This can cause a great deal of damage to the child and their progress. First, it is very confusing to the child to just never show up again. They don’t understand why this is happening, becoming angry, sad or anxious. Ask your child if s/he is in agreement with your decision. Second, therapy is about patience, respect, and courtesy, which includes saying “thank you” and “goodbye”. You must allow your child an opportunity to learn to express these important relational skills. Help to facilitate a termination or a break that teaches your child good social skills, healthy emotional expression, and fosters the ability to handle social situations appropriately.
Discuss with the therapist the best way to terminate the sessions. Usually, it begins by tapering down the sessions slowly, from every week, to every other week, to once a month, to once every couple of months. If that isn’t feasible, plan at least having one or two sessions to prepare for termination. It gives the therapist time to prepare the child for termination, and help them process through any uncomfortable emotions that come up surrounding the change. It provides a proper ending that leads to calm and comfortable kids and keeps them on a trajectory of forward progress.
If your child is in need of therapy, you can help streamline the process with these simple steps. It may not always be an easy but a very beneficial process, helping your child to blossom into a happy, healthy, and well adjusted person.