Show the way without getting in it.
In my private practice as a psychotherapist, I’m privileged to work with a lot of kids – preteens and adolescents – who admittedly teach me as much (maybe more) as I teach them. Thanks to those wonderful kids and the caring, compassionate parents who bring them to me, I’ve put together this list of how to help your child get the most out of counseling. I’m sure I’ll add to the list as time goes on, but for now, I hope you find a few of these helpful.
1. Be patient
Counseling takes time and with kids it can take even longer. The goal of counseling is not (or should not be) to “fix” your kid but to help him or her navigate life constructively and to become a more resilient problem-solver. It takes time for anyone to develop a new relationship and it can be even harder for kids in counseling. After all, they’re meeting an adult they’ve never met who has a role in their life that might be new them – their therapist is not a parent, a friend, a teacher, or a coach. Getting to know a new grownup in a new-to-their-world role takes time and, yes, patience.
2. Let them know it’s okay (even good) to ask for help
Asking for help is hard and especially hard for kids who, depending on their age, want everyone to think they’ve got their act together. It’s important for kids to know that they’re not bad or wrong or broken – just human. I often tell clients that if we were supposed to make this journey on our own, we wouldn’t be on a planet with 7 billion other people. Be a role model for asking for help by asking your child for help with your computer or let them see you asking for directions and admitting when you don’t know something.
3. Make their counseling appointments a priority
Kids are busy and you’re busy so, from time-to-time, something’s got to give and sometimes that will need to be your kid’s counseling appointment. That’s okay (at least with me) and, in fact, I like to see kids involved in things. That said, when there’s a scheduling conflict, your child’s counseling appointment shouldn’t always be the first thing you try to reschedule. Your kid will likely take their cues from you in how important they think counseling is. And I’ve had some kids actually take a stand with their parents that they want to come to counseling rather than do whatever the competing activity might be. Don’t hesitate to talk with child’s counselor when a conflict arises and together decide if the counseling appointment should be canceled (or rescheduled) or if the other event should take a backseat.
4. Don’t ask
Sure, you’re curious and you’re concerned. You’ll naturally want to know what I talk with your kid about for an hour especially if you have trouble getting them to say a handful of words to you in the course of a week. But try hard not to ask. Give them the space and grace to make their counseling relationship their own – a place they feel super safe where they can work things out before they’re ready to tell anyone else. Even you.
5. Don’t tell
I understand that parents who bring their kids to see me (thank you and good for you) have goals for the counseling process. If I’m your kid’s counselor, we talked about your goals the first time you came in. Try not to give your child a list of things each week to bring up in counseling. If you have such a list, maybe you should be in counseling, too – really. I know I’m biased but I think everyone could benefit from counseling.
That's it for now but check my next post for five more ways to help your kid get the most out of counseling.