What should I tell my child?

Parents often ask us “What should I tell my child?” when visiting a psychologist for the first time. The best explanation is likely to vary depending on the age of the child and the purpose of your visit. The key messages are:

  • Be open and honest

  • Provide information according to the child’s age and development stage

  • Reassure your child that visiting a psychologist is common, rewarding, and fun!

You will very likely have met your psychologist without your child, so you should take the chance to ask any specific questions during the parent session. Below is more information about how to approach the subject with children of different ages.

  • Very young children (1 to 3 years)
    For very young children, a simple explanation - such as “We are going to see (psychologist’s name) so that you can play and have a chat” - is a good place to start. Answer any additional questions honestly and calmly.
  • Young children (2 to 8 years)
    It is a good idea to let young children know that going to a psychologist is not like going to the doctor. Make it clear that there are no physical examinations, and there will never be any needles, as this is often a niggling fear! Let them know that they will be talking to someone very nice who helps lots of children and that they will probably play games or do art and craft.
  • Older children (9 to 12 years)
    As children become older, most will be more wary of things like going to a psychologist, as well as more protective of their privacy. As they progress through later primary school they will also become more aware of how they are perceived by others and begin to align themselves more with their peers than with parents and other adults. 
    This is why it is important to normalise the experience of going to a psychologist by explaining that many people seek this type of help, and that it is as common as getting help from a doctor for a broken arm or chicken pox. Remind them that their information will be kept private: the psychologist is not allowed to share their information with parents, teachers or doctors without their permission (unless risk of harm is suspected).
  • Teenagers (13 to 17 years)
    Some teenagers are self referred whereas others may be resistant to visiting a psychologist. Either way it is important that they feel supported but not pushed. Listen to your teen’s concerns and do not lecture in return. Let them know that they will have control over the process of therapy and sharing of information (unless there is risk of harm) and encourage them to meet the psychologist before they make a decision not to attend.

At all ages, the fact that you have been prompted to make an appointment suggests that your child’s behaviour has been challenging in one way or another. It is important that they do not feel that coming to the clinic is some form of punishment or something to be ashamed of. Remain positive and send the message that this is something they will find helpful and probably even enjoy! Help them to feel that you and the psychologist are on their team.

For more information
You can show children pictures of our clinics at our Flickr webpage, so that they have a better idea of what to expect when they arrive.

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