Do’s and Don’ts for Parents Involved with Child and Teen Therapy

For parents of kids and teens going to therapy for the first time, the process can feel unfamiliar, and perhaps a little confusing. You’ve taken the crucial first step in supporting their mental health, so you already know how beneficial therapy can be for your child. However, there’s something you might not be sure about: that is if, when, and how you’ll be involved in the process.

We work with several children and teens each year, so we understand the importance of parents in the process. In this guide, we’ll explain the role that parents play in their child or teen’s therapy journey, going over some essential do’s and don’ts to bear in mind.

Why Do Kids and Teens Need Therapy?

Therapy can be used to address any number of concerns. Whether it’s short-term support to help them get through a difficult time or ongoing sessions to support enduring mental health concerns, therapy has the power to make lasting, positive change. Here are just a few concerns that can be addressed through therapy for children and teens:

  • Learning challenges
  • Difficulties with motivation
  • Addressing bullying or being bullied
  • Support with trauma
  • Navigating grief
  • Mental health disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety, etc.)
  • Support with family conflict
  • Recovery from abuse or neglect
  • Anger issues
  • Support for ASD, ADHD, or OCD
  • Assistance with exploring self-identity and self-conflict (e.g., sexuality, gender identity)

No matter the concern that brings them in the door (or even if there isn’t something specific) therapy can improve your child’s mental health, support them in creating positive coping mechanisms, and set them up for a brighter, happier life. 

Do Parents Need to Be Involved with Their Child’s Therapy?

In most cases, it’s beneficial for parents to be a part of their child’s therapy. This is particularly true of therapy for younger kids, but it can also be a key to success for adolescents and teens in therapy. Why should you be a part of therapy for your child?

For younger children, the role of parents in therapy is often straightforward. Therapy can be a strange, unfamiliar process for young kids, and having a trusted parent with them can make the sessions much more effective. 

Depending on the situation, your therapist might ask that you sit in on each session, especially if the parent-child relationship is a focus of the therapy (as it often is). Naturally, parents need to be present for specific types of therapy, such as family therapy or parent-child interaction therapy (PCIT). With these types of therapy, you could actually become a central part of the process.

Of course, parents won’t always be needed in sessions—this is especially true as kids get older and need more space. But that doesn’t mean you don’t still have a role to play as a parent. It’s vital that parents respect their children’s privacy, while still being available as a trusted person to talk to when needed. 

So what does it truly take to help make mental health treatment a success for your child? Here are a few specific do’s and don’ts to help you better support your child or teen through therapy.

Do: Take Your Time with Initial Research

If you want your child to get something out of therapy, trust is non-negotiable. Your child needs to feel safe and comfortable with your therapist, and you need to trust that they have the skills and experience needed to do good work. As you weigh options for therapists in your area, be sure to take plenty of time with the research stage.

If possible, getting a referral from someone who knows you and your child can be a great start. Try talking to other parents who have faced similar challenges with their kids. Talk to your child’s teachers or coaches for suggestions and recommendations. Your child’s doctor can also be a great resource for suggesting specific types of therapy, and will likely have professionals to refer you to as well. 

Do: Be a Teammate

Remember that you and your child’s chosen therapist are members of the same team, with the shared goal of seeing your child as happy and healthy as possible. You should expect to be a part of the process to some extent, whether that means sitting in on sessions or simply being someone for your child to confide in between appointments.

By remaining involved and taking an interest in the specifics of your child’s therapy, you can help reinforce and encourage the skills and healthy patterns of thought that they learn. 

This might look like meeting with the therapist before or after sessions—this is a time to share your perspective and observations to help guide future sessions. If the therapy is working to address conflict between you and your child, you might be asked to sit in on sessions and participate. Regardless, you should follow the therapist’s lead, joining when invited and giving room when asked for it—after all, you’re on the same team.

Do: Connect with the Therapist

Developing a good relationship with your child’s therapist is key to success. Just as your child needs to feel comfortable with a therapist, you need to be able to trust them as well. 

A great way to initially connect with your child’s therapist is to take time to discuss the goals of the therapy. You, your child, and your therapist should all have objectives for the therapy process, and these need to be in alignment in order for therapy to be useful. Think about how you hope therapy will help, and share those goals with the therapist early on to ensure you’re on the same page. 

Setting out these goals will also give you peace of mind as a parent, assuring you that therapy is headed in a useful direction without having to pry for private details between sessions.

Don’t: Force Therapy Onto Your Child

Too often, parents believe that their child needs therapy by absolutely any means necessary. Some parents might surprise their child with therapy, telling them they’re going to another kind of appointment before springing the truth on them. The same goes for point-blank forcing your child into therapy. Neither of these approaches respects your child’s right to make decisions, and all you’re likely to achieve is making them resistant to the idea of therapy.

It can indeed feel uncomfortable to bring up therapy with a child— parents might worry about their kids feeling like something’s ‘wrong’ with them, or will simply refuse to give it a try. But, assuming your child is old enough to understand the concept of therapy, we highly recommend being honest and open about it. Explain your position—tell your child what you’ve observed, and why it makes you feel concerned. Explain why you think therapy can help them, and above all, prioritize kindness, empathy, and open dialogue above all else.

Ideally, your child should be intrinsically interested in the idea of therapy—even if it was your idea. When kids and teens enter therapy with an open mind, it makes it much easier to create positive change throughout the sessions.

Don’t: Take a Backseat in Supporting Your Child

This ties back into considering yourself a part of the team! Your child needs your love, support, and counsel—even if they’re getting help from a therapist. Don’t assume that your child’s therapist will take on the full weight of their emotional and mental support. In fact, you should plan to be even more available to your child as they develop emotional skills and their sense of identity.

While you shouldn’t let your child’s therapy become the sole basis of your life and relationship, it’s vital that you continue to take an active role in their wellbeing. This means checking in after sessions to see how they’re doing, asking about their day, and making sure you’re generally there when they need you. 

Don’t: Overstep

This is the most common mistake that parents make when trying to support their child with therapy—and it’s understandable. Good parents are fiercely protective of their children, and the idea of someone knowing and affecting their emotional and mental sides can be uncomfortable at first.

Ultimately, you need to have trust in your child’s therapist. Resist the urge to exert control and influence over the process, and instead believe in the expert to know what they’re doing. Suggesting types of therapy or specific exercises might seem helpful, but they usually won’t fit into the professional’s expertly crafted treatment strategy. 

The same goes for questions. While children often don’t have the same rights to privacy as adults seeking therapy, you need to respect their space all the same. Your therapist will inform you of things they discover in sessions at their own discretion—trust that they will know what’s appropriate to share, and what should remain confidential. 

Don’t interrogate your child about what they discuss in therapy, either. Feel free to ask open-ended questions about their sessions, but be prepared to accept if they don’t want to talk about it with you. Just like your child’s teachers, tutors, or coaches, their therapist is a trained professional who will be able to do their best work without interference or meddling on your part.

Getting Started with Therapy for Children and Teens

If you’re looking for a trusted therapist to support your child or teen’s mental health, Hopewoods is here to help. We offer a range of therapy services to kids aged 12 and up in the Toronto area and beyond. 

No matter what exact therapy processes we use, you can trust us to help your child understand their feelings, develop healthy ways to manage their emotions, and grow and flourish into the positive, happy people they deserve to be. You can also trust us to keep you involved in the process as much as possible, equally respecting your need to know and your child’s need for privacy at all times.

Learn more about how we can support your child or teen in overcoming life’s hurdles by contacting us today. You can also book a free 30-minute consultation.

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