Is Counseling Right for My Son or Daughter?

Smiling boy puts coins during developing gameWhen adults enter counseling, they are typically ready for change. They know something is amiss and that they need help to get to a more comfortable place emotionally. They arrive at their appointment, purge their worries and fears to a counselor, and begin on the road to a better life.

Kids, however, are different. They are often brought to the office by parents who are unsure of the process themselves. They are out of ideas. No longer can they insist a particular behavior is “just a phase.” What was initially a small problem has grown beyond their control.

Some questions parents may ask themselves when considering counseling:

  • Do I think this behavior is typical for a child my son/daughter’s age?
  • How frequently does this concern occur?
  • Have any of the things I’ve tried to help the situation worked and to what degree?

When parents notice that their son or daughter is unable to function well on a daily basis, it may be time to reach out for help. If a parent is unsure about whether a behavior is typical, asking the child’s teacher, another family member, or other parents can help gauge the severity of the concern.

“What should I tell her about going to counseling?” concerned parents ask on the phone. Most kids and teens are familiar with school counselors, which can be a point of reference. They’ll know that the school counselor often talks about feelings and how to handle certain pressures. Other families like to tell a child that the counselor is like a coach. A soccer coach helps players learn to kick the ball and defend the goal; a counselor coaches kids to handle tough situations in their daily lives.

The rapport-building process with children can take time. Although some children are immediately comfortable with their new counselor and have no problems sharing their thoughts and feelings, most kids and teens are unfamiliar with this type of interaction. Depending on a child’s age and development, a therapist may use games or toys to help the child feel he or she is in a nonthreatening environment and share more comfortably. (Some therapists have additional training specifically in play therapy.)

As counseling progresses, there are some benchmarks a parent should see. These should indicate counseling is a good fit for the child. When the child is actively engaged in the counseling process and seems to have a positive rapport with the counselor, progress may be seen quickly. A child ought to be able to share and implement some of the strategies developed during the sessions (sometimes with the help of a parent). Beware that there are times therapy can bring up negative emotions and there may be some evidence of regression in certain areas, but this should be temporary.

When the child is actively engaged in the counseling process and seems to have a positive rapport with the counselor, progress may be seen quickly.

What if a child refuses to go to counseling or participates on an extremely limited basis? Should a parent force a child to go to counseling? This can be an issue for older children and teens who feel that counseling is a punishment or that it won’t work for them. When given a choice between bringing a child who refuses to engage in the counseling process or terminating the counseling sessions until the child is ready, it is generally better to wait until the child is prepared to participate. When counseling is used as a punishment until behavior improves or forced upon a child who isn’t interested, the net effect can be negative. The child not only does not make progress, but he or she also may then carry that negative experience into the future and avoid counseling because it didn’t work the first time.

By helping to support a child through counseling, a parent not only gives the child new ways to handle stresses today but also builds the toolbox of resources the child has for the future. If there comes a time when he or she needs additional support, he or she will know where to look and that it can help in difficult times.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Emily Kircher-Morris, LPC, therapist in O Fallon, Missouri

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Emily

    Emily

    November 16th, 2015 at 6:29 AM

    If you ever have any questions about whether this is the right thing to do for your child then I think that you at least owe it to them and to yourself to give it a try. There is obviously something that is there that causes you to think that this could be what needs to be pursued so I at least think that you should pursue that possibility.

  • jessa

    jessa

    November 16th, 2015 at 3:37 PM

    I guess I am still not too sure why anyone would be hesitant to seek out care and guidance for their child.

    I know that there are some families for whom this seems like it is going to be a bad thing but I am sure that once you find the right therapist to work with him r her you will see a marked improvement in their behavior and their attitude about life in general. Sure at first it might not be a cure all but it will at least get you started in the right direction.

  • Cade

    Cade

    November 17th, 2015 at 8:39 AM

    So you have to know the same thing for your child that you know for yourself, that it is time to make some changes and that you need some help accomplishing that.

  • martin

    martin

    November 18th, 2015 at 7:23 AM

    I too was a little hesitant to try this for our son, just because you know, it was something different and we always just thought that we could work out all of the issues and kinks ourselves. Not true, we needed help and with the help of our pediatrician have found a wonderful therapist for him to work with.. He was a little shy at first but then the two clicked and I have seen remarkable changes in him.

  • Judi

    Judi

    September 22nd, 2017 at 9:58 AM

    Wonderful

  • Joely

    Joely

    November 19th, 2015 at 2:17 PM

    I guess that I have never had this kind of hesitation because of the good things that counseling has done for me in the past. I have been on my own, with my spouse, and I would never hesitate to seek out this kind of help for my child if I thought that it was needed. Heck, many times this is the best hour of my week!

  • owen

    owen

    November 21st, 2015 at 1:44 PM

    This is one of those areas that you would think that over the years it would gain more acceptance but I know that there are still those who have a deep fear and ambivalence about going to therapy themselves, much less sending their children into this kind of work.
    Not sure why this has happened, but while I think that there are certain parts of the country where it is very widely accepted there are large swaths where it is not.

    If you think that your child needs it though I would beg you to wipe away all of those pre conceived notions of what you think that therapy actually is and give it a good look. It might in the end not wind up being the right thing or what is needed, but I would never want to think that I could have done something to help and didn’t.

  • thomas t

    thomas t

    November 23rd, 2015 at 8:17 AM

    It never hurts to check into multiple options. Sure, this may be an answer but there could be other things that could help as well. The worst thing to do though is to do nothing. That will only make things worse.

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