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What to Do When Your Child Wants to Go to Therapy

How to encourage kids to talk about mental health and get them the support they need

What to Do When Your Child Wants to Go to Therapy

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Needles: they can be really scary when you’re a kid (or an adult!), and for my best friend’s 10-year-old son, it was terrifying. When he started fourth grade, he was not only scared of the vaccines he had to get but also of the COVID-19 and flu shots he’d need. When he went to the vaccination clinic with his mom, he was so petrified that he threw up in the waiting room minutes after receiving the first shot.

On the drive home, he turned to his mom and said, “I tried all the tricks they taught us in school: deep breathing, meditating, going to my happy place. Nothing worked. I think I need to go to a psychologist.”

Over the past couple of years, schools have started to teach our kids about mindfulness and self-care. I know at my son’s school, they have meditation time once a week where the entire school goes quiet and listens to a five-minute meditation exercise over the intercom. As a library volunteer, I know everyone participates and both students and staff happily engage in the activity. From four years old, they learn how to sit quietly with their own thoughts and clear their minds, how to breathe and how to relax amidst the chaos.

Through this, schools have started to demystify mental health wellness. For far too long, admitting we were struggling with something mentally was considered weak or embarrassing. But in today's society, we are encouraged to talk about our mental health. I was so impressed that a 10-year-old kid would ask for help to cope with their anxiety, because why wouldn’t they? As my own son once said to me, “We go to the doctor when our body hurts… why wouldn’t we go to see a therapist when our feelings hurt?”

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Address their emotions right away

My friend’s son has gone to three therapy sessions for his fear of needles, and the child psychotherapist is helping to desensitize him from being immensely scared. Sure, getting shots isn’t pleasant, but it shouldn’t make us physically sick. In fact, the doctor told my friend this was an irrational fear and a simple problem to solve, but it needed to be addressed right away to avoid it becoming a habit during an anxiety-inducing or stressful situation.

If left untreated, physically throwing up could become a response to the first days of school, job interviews, sports tryouts, or anything that could be considered nerve-wracking.

So far, her son’s response to therapy has been nothing but positive. Not only has it helped with the problem at hand, but her son has gained the confidence to take control of his thoughts and emotions. Now, he feels like he's in charge of his feelings instead of the other way around. My friend said he seemed empowered. This is a lesson he will carry with him throughout his life with all its ups and downs.

It doesn't mean you're a bad parent

At the beginning of her son's therapy journey, it was a little tougher for my friend and her husband to come to terms with taking their son to therapy. Although they didn’t hesitate to find him an expert and immediately start sessions, she admitted to me that it bothered her that she couldn’t fix the problem herself. "I’m the mom – I’m supposed to know how to make my son happy," she said.

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Accepting therapy as a solution was a harder pill to swallow, but once she and her husband took part in the first appointment and saw the results of the subsequent sessions, they realized that they were the ones who needed to work on their acceptance of mental health wellness too.

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Emphasize the importance of mental health

We want to instill healthy habits in our children. We teach them from a young age to take care of their physical bodies: brush their teeth, take a bath, eat well and get good sleep. The same should be said about their mental health. It’s important to talk about and be able to identify our feelings, especially if something is bothering us.

It’s essential to learn ways to cope with our emotions, particularly if they cause us stress or anxiety. If that means practicing self-care at home or speaking to a psychologist or psychiatrist, then so be it.

Going to therapy should be like going for a doctor's check-up, to the gym or for a massage. It’s cathartic. It’s good for our overall health and something to be open to. Keeping our minds in check is important— whether we’re the grown-up or the child.

This article was originally published on Oct 20, 2023

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