How to Talk to Your Child About Their First Counseling Appointment

Many parents, after scheduling their child’s first session with me, ask, “How do I explain counseling to my child? What do I tell them about this appointment?”

Here are my suggestions…

  • Set aside a quiet time to have the discussion.
  • Briefly, in a couple of sentences, talk about the challenges that your family has been having. Stick with the facts including what you’ve tried to help so far and how it’s worked out.
  • Let them know that you have decided to ask for more help and you’ve made an appointment for counseling. Tell them when it is, the counselor’s name and what they’ll do there. (Ask the therapist to clarify their expectations for the first session, so you can clearly explain this to your child.)
  • Ask if they have any questions, thoughts or feelings about the appointment.

Explore their beliefs about what counseling is and who goes to counseling.

Many kids come to me with two worries, one that they are in trouble or two that they are “crazy”.

Most kid’s initial exposures to what counseling is come from two places; the media and the school guidance counselor. The kids they see going to the counselor are seen as crazy or in trouble. They have no other frame of reference for why they would be being “sent” to counseling (like being “sent” to their room.)

A gentler message is to honor what they believe to be true and to explain that there are all types of counselors. This one is different and here’s why.

“Yes, some kids do go to counselors because they are in trouble or crazy, but Kim is not that kind of counselor. She helps kids and parents learn to calm anxieties. She will listen to you and teach you new things to try. So, you are not crazy or in trouble. We’re just going to get some extra help to figure this out.”

Especially for younger children:

Discuss the difference between this appointment and a medical doctor appointment.

A young child’s only familiar reference point for a counseling appointment may be a doctor appointment. The children that make this connection will come into my office scared that they are going to have to sit up on the exam table and maybe even get a shot.

Ask the therapist to clarify her/his expectations for the first visit. This will help you explain it best to your child.

At my office, I encourage parents to say, “We’re going to Kim’s office and we’ll sit on her comfy jean couch and talk. She also has things for you to draw with and toys to play with, if you’d like.”

Sample Script:

Ella, can we chat for a minute?

Lately, I feel like you are having a hard time with your worries. They’re giving you stomachaches, making you not want to go to school or sleepovers and you tell me that you are worried more than you are happy. We’ve tried everything we know to help you with this and I think it’s time we ask for help, so I’ve made a counseling appointment next Tuesday at 4pm with Kim Restivo. At that appointment, we will talk about school, family, friends and feelings and we’ll see if she can teach us some new ways to deal with worries.

I’m curious, what do you think about counseling and going to a counselor?

(Listen here for any concerns or mistaken beliefs they may have about counseling, so you can address them.)

I’d love to hear how this works for you. Let me know in the comments below.

4 thoughts on “How to Talk to Your Child About Their First Counseling Appointment

  1. Great tips!

    Depending on the age of the child, I’ve found it helpful to describe the person as a teacher. My son is familiar with teachers and has a positive association with them. Therapists often use play therapy and the experience has been quite similar to working with teachers individually or in small groups. I explain that the person is teaching us [X], for example, better ways to handle our feelings. I haven’t run into any situations where this is problematic because the experience doesn’t at all resemble a clinical medical appointment.

    I’ve also used “we” quite a bit since I’m with my preschooler during the appointments and since parental coaching is part of the plan. By using “we”, I’m admitting that I will learn things too and that we’re in it together.

      • Ironically after I wrote this, I talked to a therapist and made an initial appointment for my son. The therapist asked me to describe him as someone who helps families work better together. He asked me not to describe him as a teacher. Looking forward to getting help!

        • It’s so great that you stepped out and scheduled this appointment and that you checked in with the therapist about his preferences. Thank you for connecting here, too! I’d love to hear how things progress for you both.

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