How to Tell Your Child that They'll Be Going to Therapy

Do you have to tell your child that they'll be going to therapy, but you don't know how to do it or what words to use? Here, we'll help you!
How to Tell Your Child that They'll Be Going to Therapy
Sharon Capeluto

Written and verified by the psychologist Sharon Capeluto.

Last update: 17 November, 2023

Telling your child that they’ll be going to therapy isn’t an easy task. Sometimes, it’s difficult to find the right words or to give a clear and empathetic explanation. It’s natural to have doubts about how and when to tell them. Or you may worry about their reaction to the news. As this is a new situation for you both, it’s more than understandable if you feel nervous and have questions about it.

In this article, we’ll share with you some strategies for telling your child that they’re starting therapy. We’ll also talk about phrases that many mothers say but that are best avoided.

Why would a child need to go to therapy?

A young girl talking to her therapist.

When the need to take your child to therapy arises, it’s essential to approach the topic gently and clearly. Explaining the reasons why therapy is being considered can help your child better understand and accept the experience. There are a variety of reasons why a child may need to go to psychotherapy. For example:

Whatever the reason, you should consider your child’s age, personality traits, and level of understanding when telling your child that they’ll be going to therapy. In addition, it’s always important to talk naturally and honestly about mental health issues.

Preparing your child before going to therapy: Things to consider

When the decision is made to take your child to therapy, it’s crucial to approach the subject in an appropriate and understanding way. Preparing them emotionally and providing them with the necessary information can help them feel more comfortable and receptive to the experience. To do so, here are some tips.

1. Choose the right place and time

The fact that your child will be going to therapy isn’t terrible news, so it shouldn’t be treated as such. You don’t need to go through meticulous logistics to tell your child that they’ll be going to therapy. Your face doesn’t have to convey concern, extreme seriousness, or sadness.

However, it’s not insignificant either. Therefore, it’s important that you choose to communicate it in a private and comfortable place, where you and your child are at ease. For example, it’s not a good idea to tell them in the middle of a tantrum, when they’re going through an episode of emotional intensity, or in front of their friends or classmates.

On the contrary, you should address the issue when there is a chance to talk calmly and create a space of trust for them to express themself freely and ask all the questions they want.

2. Make sure they understand what a psychologist does

It’s essential to make sure that the child understands what the role of this professional is, as they’re likely to confuse it with other figures they’re familiar with. A psychologist isn’t a doctor or a teacher. Nor are they a friend.

To clarify they’re doubts, you can tell them that a therapist is a professional who works with people of different ages, including children. You can also tell them that a therapist is a professional who helps us understand the emotions we feel and manage what we do in a healthier way.

Giving concrete examples can be helpful. For example, you can say, “A psychologist can help a person who feels sad to feel better, to control their anger in a healthier way, or to resolve a conflict with family or friends.”

3. Explain that there’s nothing wrong with going to therapy

Going to a psychologist isn’t something negative, nor should your child feel embarrassed about it. It’s essential to explain that there’s nothing wrong with people who go to therapy and that everyone may need it at some point in life. If you go or have gone to psychotherapy, it’s a good opportunity to tell them about your experience, sharing how it has helped you.

You can also emphasize that a child psychologist’s office is a place to play, draw, and talk, and that no one will say that what they do is right or wrong. No one will judge them.

What messages should you avoid?

A mother threatening her daughter.

You’re a human being and you can make mistakes. We’re all subject to making mistakes in different areas of life, including parenting. However, it’s important to be cautious about the type of messages you convey to your children by being mindful of your words. Carefully read the following comments that are best avoided when introducing the topic of psychotherapy.

“If you keep misbehaving, I’ll take you to therapy”

Using therapy as a threat or punishment is something you should definitely avoid. Doing so won’t produce anything positive. In fact, it’ll generate feelings of guilt and fear in the child.

In addition, linking psychotherapy with a corrective may have unfavorable effects on your child’s perception of therapy and their willingness to participate. As a result, they may develop resistance or rejection toward the idea of receiving professional help.

“You need to go to a psychologist this minute!”

It’s not a good idea to use an alarming and exaggerated tone. Nor is it advisable to use such drastic words as “you need” or express urgency, as this conveys the idea of an emergency situation.

Speaking in these terms will only generate anxiety and nervousness. Instead, emphasize that psychotherapy is an opportunity to learn and grow.

“I’ll tell this to your psychologist and they’ll he will be disappointed in you”

Another mistake that many parents make when telling their children that they’ll be going to therapy is to use this figure as someone who will judge them or issue value judgments on what they do.

The therapist isn’t a judge who’ll punish them if they do something “inappropriate”. Nor will they be disappointed in unfavorable behavior. Rather, the therapist is someone they trust, with whom they can express themself freely, and who will offer them support.

“I don’t know what to do with you anymore, I’m going to have to take you to therapy”

It’s not helpful for your child to feel that therapy is your last resort because you no longer know how to handle their behavior. By doing so, you’ll be conveying frustration and hopelessness about their mental health. Instead, you can tell them that psychologists are trained to understand and help people solve certain problems, pointing out the enormous value of therapy.

A family therapy session.

Let their therapist be your guide

You, your child, and their therapist make up a team. Everyone is involved and working together in the process. Everyone must steer in the same direction: Wellness. Therefore, when it comes time to tell your child that they’re going to therapy, it’s essential to rely on the psychologist and trust their knowledge and experience.

Therefore, after providing important information about your child, the psychologist will be able to guide you on how to convey the news. Allow them to explain what their therapy consists of and what benefits it can provide and help you adapt the explanations according to your child’s age and level of understanding. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, no matter how basic they may seem.

Together, as a team, you can overcome challenges and find new ways to deal with difficulties that may arise as your child grows up.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.