4 Tips for Talking to Your Child About Starting Therapy

A young girl and her mom, sitting side-by-side on their back porch.

Gabriela Nunez
PsyD Pediatric Psychologist
CHRISTUS Children’s
Assistant Professor, Baylor College of Medicine

Introducing the idea of starting therapy to your child requires patience and care. CHRISTUS Pediatric Psychologist Gabriela Nunez, PsyD, shares expert guidance on how you can talk to your child about starting therapy.

These simple tips aim to make the conversation easy for both you and your child, fostering a positive and supportive environment for their mental and emotional well-being.

Be Honest and Normalize Therapy

Nobody likes to be blindsided, especially when it comes to starting therapy. Therapy can be a vulnerable process, so it is best to be honest with your children.

When it comes to informing your child about attending therapy, it is important to use developmentally appropriate language.

For younger children, inform them they will be seeing a “feelings and thoughts doctor” and not one that gives them shots or inspects their body.

For tweens and teenagers, talk to them about why you and your child need extra help and normalize therapy. In other words, talk about therapy as a good and necessary thing, and not as something that is needed because there is something wrong with them.

Be Supportive and Validate Feelings

Supportive introductions can look something like this, “Lately I’ve noticed you have been feeling down, I’ve tried being here for you and listening to your concerns, but I am getting worried you’re not feeling better. I think we need extra support and I’d like to make an appointment with a mental health therapist or psychologist.

Pause after an introduction to your plan and allow for questions and fears to be expressed. Validate those concerns and use supportive or reflective statements.

This can look something like, “I hear you saying you don’t want to go to therapy because there is nothing wrong with you and you don’t need therapy. While I agree, I think we can get you feeling better like you were before.

Let’s give this a chance. People of all ages go to therapy for different reasons and therapy does not mean something is wrong with you.”

Explain The Therapy Process

In therapy, we usually meet for an initial visit. This is where a psychologist or mental health therapist will collect information about your family and school life, family background, and personal medical and mental health background.

The meetings are confidential, meaning they are private and may be protected from being shared with parents and other people. Your doctor or therapist will then collaborate with you to create a plan for how often you should meet, goals for what you’re hoping to improve, and clear expectations about what steps to take next.

This may mean a referral to a psychiatrist for a medication consult, to other providers to rule out medical explanations of symptoms, or for more testing and evaluation if a higher level of care is needed.

Prepare Your Child

Tell them therapy only works if they agree to participate and feel like their provider is a good fit.

Advise them that therapy is a process, and it takes time to build good skills and habits in order to feel better.

You may also share with them that mental health therapists and psychologists have good intentions and have different ways of working.

However, generally, a therapist will mostly be talking and teaching new skills or ways of looking at situations. For younger children, you may adapt language and prepare your child using a simpler explanation.

Listen to Your Child

When talking to your child about starting therapy, the most important thing is to be open and honest and listen to their feelings and questions. Therapy is a way for them to learn to understand and express their emotions. As their parent, you play a crucial part in this process.

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