How to help your child while they're in therapy.
I’ve been working with children and adolescents as a therapist for almost 7 years now either privately or in schools. On my journey I have come across all sorts of parents too. I have also been the parent on the other side, sitting outside the therapist office waiting for my child. Wondering what they are talking about? Why can’t they tell me? Do they hate me? What can I do to make things better? So I feel I have a good experience of both sides. I decided to write my top five tips after realising that this is all alien for parents, they don’t know how to react. Even as a therapist I struggle but I am able to channel my experience and I now want to share it.
1, we don’t fix… As a therapist I am not here to fix kids, I am here to help them navigate their way through a life that is extremely different to the one I was brought up in. I hear to often “This didn’t happen when I was young” yes your right, It didn’t, our world was very different. We didn’t have the pressure of social media, a very different education system and a world where threat can be very real. We are also adults, that mean our rational (front cortex of the brain) has developed, (if your over 25 reading this), this makes decision making a lot easier. Navigating a world that can seem overwhelming, their issues, anxiety or depression are real to them. Therapy’s a good place to work out what is right for you in a safe way.
2, Please don’t ask the therapist what we discussed. Therapy is a confidential space, I know as a parent we want to love, protect and fix it all for our kids. You accessed therapy because your child is going through something and that can be hard when you don’t know what is going on. I always ask the kids I work with if they want me to share anything with their parents at the end of the session. Some want me to act as their advocate and get something they have been working on across to their parent, especially if they need something back from the parent to make it work. If not, I take them out and book the next session. Obviously if there is a safeguarding issue then I will tell you as soon as the session ends or in some cases I have brought the parent into the session. A child in therapy is trying to work out their world and I’m working with them so they can access their own safe answer.
3, if a child makes a decision and shares it with you, please try to support them. I’ve had children come to me where they are trying to make a decision about their next life event. For example, if they want to go to college, uni etc. Now I know that I have been guilty sometimes of finding a really exciting career path that I think my kids should follow, I sling suggestions at them and hope they grab onto one as I suppose there is little bit of me scared about their next route and guilty of wanting to live something that excites me through them. The amount of adolescents I work with who have anxiety about making these decisions and if they are the right ones, it feels like there is no room for change if they get things wrong. This can be a really anxious time for any parent too, especially if you have a neurodiverse child and are worried about how they will cope in the world. Please remember these are your worries and why yes, it’s ok to have them, if your child has taken the time to bring it into the therapy room to work through this with their therapist, they feel they’re ready. It could go wrong, who knows. We live in a world of uncertainty but it could be the most amazing thing they have every done, and ultimately it was their choice that they worked through and you supported them in.
4, Family dynamics matter. Families come in all different shapes and sizes now, I love the difference and diversity that this can bring into the therapy room, but they do matter. Whether it’s a child that spends different times at different houses, with different rules or a family that live together but the parents don’t parent from the same handbook. I can’t change the environment some of these children live in but I can work with them to build resilience and give them a voice to show you how it’s affecting them. Remember, everything is up for negotiation; it might not fit into your life what they want but please discuss it and don’t shut them down. Which leads me onto my last point.
5, be prepared to change yourself. There may be some changes that need to come from you, these wraps up all my points together. Have them conversations when your child is ready, allow them to have a voice, give them independence, and prepare them for going out to the world we live in.
Now, I hope this hasn’t put you off reaching out to therapy if your child feels they need it, as it can be such a positive experience. As a parent, I embrace the fact that when they come out of therapy a completely different kid, they are not a moody teen if only for that drive home. I have learnt never to dig now, it’s just a “good session?” question and we go from there. It could be a “Yes, what’s for dinner?” or a “Yes, we spoke about…” but the main thing is if it’s a yes or no they have had their 50 minutes of time and space trying to navigate their world.