Bringing up the idea of taking a child to a therapist can be overwhelming or confusing for parents.
One of the simplest approaches is to use age-appropriate truth, with an explanation that will match their experience when they attend the first session.
“You get to play and have fun!”
For example, we encourage parents to say they’re going to meet with someone that the parent already met with. The child is going to get to play for an hour and they’re going to have a lot of fun.
This aligns with their experience when they come, and although there’s much more going on therapeutically speaking, the child feels more comfortable without the pressure or expectation of talking.
One of the common mistakes is that parents will tell their child they’re going to a “feelings doctor”. While the sentiment is valid, that still creates anxiety, stress or pressure for the child to have to deal with their emotions.
Therapy with a child is an experiential process, not a verbal one. So leaving it as neutral as possible is the most helpful approach.
When you say you get to go and play for an hour and you’ll have fun, it allows the child to envision a happy scenario rather than one where they’re sitting on a couch being asked questions.
Don’t emphasize “talking”
Sometimes parents feel it’s important to encourage the child to talk to the therapist about things that bother them. But that comes later in treatment, once the child has already built a bond and relationship with the therapist.
Finally, as a general rule, surprising the child, or not informing them ahead of time is not ideal. You want to be as honest and open as possible.
The more the child feels heard and understood, the less they will resist the first session