How to Talk to Your Kids About Starting Therapy

May 07, 2024

Congratulations! You’ve taken the first brave step in your child’s mental health journey by scheduling their first therapy session! But wait! Does your child know what to expect out of their first session or do you know how to tell your kids they will start therapy? If not, keep reading!

Below you can see by age how you can communicate with your kids about starting therapy: 

For Toddlers-Pre-School Aged Children

I recommend using developmentally appropriate language and bonus points if you can connect it to something they are already familiar with. It’s likely that your kid is going to be doing play therapy so it can be helpful to remind them they can play during therapy: “You are going to meet a special helper and go and play in many of the ways you would like (maybe even with _____ (insert a toy they love). They can talk with you about your feelings, what you need help with and more!” Frequent reminders leading up to the session helps with this age group as well!

For Elementary Aged Children

Your child is most likely familiar with what a counselor is because they have one at school and comparing their new therapist to a school counselor can be helpful. I recommend adding some depth to your explanation: “You are going to meet a therapist (who is similar to your school counselor) that can help with many things. Their first and most important job is to build a relationship with you. When you feel ready you can share anything you are comfortable with such as your likes and dislikes. They also want to have fun and help you with any feelings you might be having. This is important to us because we want you to have another trusting adult in your life who can help you.” 

For Pre-Teens/Teens

It’s possible that this age group might be a bit more resistant to therapy. I recommend being more direct and compromising with them so they can have a sense of control over their choice (all children have a choice): “I think it might be a great idea for you to see a therapist. Their job is to build a trusting relationship with you first and get to know you deeply and it’s up to you how and when you share your feelings with them. What you say in therapy is confidential unless there is talk of harming yourself or others. We think it would be helpful for you to have another trusting adult in your life that you can talk to.” 

It can be natural for your child (and you) to be nervous about this! It can be reassuring to your kids to share that you’ve already met their therapist during a parent Intake session. You can also share positive aspects of their personality such as “They seem kind, caring…etc.”. It may even be helpful to show them pictures of their therapist. Ultimately, your kids will follow your lead so staying positive, reassuring and understanding will help. Can’t wait for you to see how their first session went! 

Written By:
Mae Grant, LPC, NCC, CSC, RPT-A


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