According to a recent survey conducted by the CDC, about 11% of children ages 5 to 11 have sought mental health counseling services. Logistically speaking, this statistic seems low. I am writing an anonymous post about my child, within that age bracket, who recently started therapy. I understand that some parents either do not believe their child needs therapy or cannot afford to send them to therapy. Or their child does indeed go to therapy, but the parents have not been surveyed.
This post is to safely vocalize why and how you may want to pursue therapy for your child.
Why would your child potentially need therapy?
- Has your pediatrician repeatedly given warnings at well-visits that something bigger is going on that is affecting your child’s overall health?
- Does your child have phobias or control issues interfering with normal daily functions?
- Has your child behaved in a way that is beyond your mama expertise?
- Has your child had trouble verbalizing or working through their emotions?
- Has your child vocalized comments you know are an age-appropriate request for help?
I answered yes to several of these questions. I could not continue to ignore the signals. It was time to seek a mental health professional.
What are the first steps to take before finding a mental health professional for your child?
- Get on the same page as your partner and other family members. Have heart-to-hearts with your loved ones about why therapy is the best choice. Speak openly and ask them to help you support and encourage your child throughout the process. Set guidelines for how you want to discuss (or not discuss) the process.
- Be honest with your child. Emphasize how help is a good thing, even if it may seem scary, hard, or stupid. Welcome their questions, frustrations, or silences. Reassure them in a way that connects to things that they comprehend. Give examples of famous people (or people they love and trust) or popular characters who have sought professional help. Come up with metaphors that more clearly explain their struggles.
- Reach out to local friends in the mental health field. Ask them for specific child-centered practices or names of therapists they would highly recommend.
- Carve out time for hours of research, carefully reading through the websites of the recommended practices. What approaches of therapy do they use? Do details in the personal bios of therapists seem like they would be a good fit for your child? Are they accepting new patients? What are their hours? How close are they to your home?
- Carve out more time for hours on the phone with your insurance. What percentage do they cover for in-network vs. out-of-network practices? How do you navigate claims?
- Lean on your best friends. Tell them as much or as little as you feel comfortable because your mama heart needs extra love. You may even discover that you opened a magic door, and they reveal that they too have sent their children to therapy.
What to expect when therapy begins.
- Once you think you have landed on the practice that will work best for your child, you will have a parent consult meeting, where the therapist or administrative director asks you pertinent questions about your child to assess the degree of your child’s struggles and what plan of action to take.
- Before the first session (or several sessions), your child may resist going. Calmly repeat some of the advice in #2 of “before finding a mental health professional.” Decide upon some appropriate small prize they will get for going.
- For the first session (or several sessions), your child will likely want you in the room with them. Make your child feel comfortable. Follow the lead of the professional; they may want you to sit in the room quietly, or they may invite you to be part of the conversation or activity. (Play therapy is quite fun!).
- A range of emotions. Let them happen.
- Very gradual growth. Celebrate the seemingly minor developments. They are actually major steps forward. Remember why you brought your child there in the first place. They have had years of a fixed mindset, so when you notice any breaking down of that wall, it is a huge sign of progress in the grand scheme of time. If the therapist is the right fit, they will also give positive reinforcement.