Updated: Aug 24, 2019
Sneha John - Child Psychologist | LifeWorks
Suppose you are considering therapy for your child and are quite skeptical whether he/she will even try. It may just be for career counseling or an IQ assessment.There may be times when you think of letting your child visit a counsellor after you have tried everything you know and it does not seem to work. There are times that happens, and it does not imply a ‘Mom or Dad fail.’It’s often common to see children dislike the C word, otherwise known as counseling or the word ‘Doctor’ as well. Not all children, but definitely a few, get afraid while thinking about the idea of going for counseling.You may think, why speak about children, when some adults themselves cringe while thinking about counseling. However, it may be a little trickier to get children for a counseling session because for a fact, they lack understanding about the process of counseling. Let me illustrate with a small example. Suppose you decide to take your child for a counseling session with a local counsellor for children. You load your child in the car and take him/her to this strange place which resembles a doctor’s office, except in this case your child would be taken to a room after you are introduced to the counsellor. Your child would be sat in front of this new person who begins asking questions. It is natural for your child to respond with complete silence for the whole session. That’s absolutely fine. In such cases, how would you get them to go for counseling? I think we should start from the basics. Here are some useful tips that specifically focus on the communication between you and your child. These tips would help you build a culture of trust with your children so that even when you decide therapy would be beneficial for your child, they would have less fear and anxiety.
1. Go beyond “How was your day?”
Establish a relationship of openness and transparency with your child. Let them see you as accountable and trustworthy to make choices for them. How’s that achieved? Firstly, spend time talking to your child on a daily basis. The topics may range anywhere between ‘how was your day at school?’ to their favorite period during the day or ‘funny moments that happened to them or around them during the day.’ These are just examples. You would have your own list of topics to talk about once you get the conversation started. However, ensure that you get to invest time asking them beyond the basics. Also, give sufficient time for your child to process their thoughts. If they say ‘my day was good’ and end there, ask them to tell you more. Let them be comfortable and confident to speak to you without hiding anything. Through the way you communicate, convey to them you intend to make the best decisions on their behalf, not just because you’re the parent. Some helpful ways of communication are ‘a relaxed composure, a smile on your face and responding consistently with ‘aha’ or ‘yes that’s right’ throughout the conversation. You will surely find a difference in the relationship between you and your child. You may be thinking ‘I would do this if my child would sit down with me for five minutes.’ Try it nevertheless, take the initiative to go their bedroom and talk to them.
2. Be a Role Model
Modeling is such a powerful tool which was discovered by an impeccable American Psychologist named Albert Bandura. Quite simply, modeling takes place when someone learns positive or negative behavior from another person. This phenomenon takes place throughout lifespan, however quite commonly in childhood. By being a role model and exhibiting behaviors that you expect your child to follow, you may notice that it becomes easier for children to follow rules. For example, this could be in the way you talk in the home. Some parents tell children out of sheer helplessness “you make me feel depressed.” Children in turn may speak in a similar way to their siblings, parents or peers. Some may learn to believe this statement. Remember, that your child soaks everything you say or do like a sponge. Hence, monitoring the way you act would do good.
3. Talk to the face, not the phone
As cliché as that sounds, it is important that you talk to your children face to face. In a lifestyle where we are all about getting things done, we can miss the true essence of a conversation. Life is busy, we’re at work and talking to our children may happen anywhere between catching a few minutes to breathe before you close an important quarter at work or meet a potential customer you have chased far too long. Of course, the best you can give your child is ‘how was your day?’ with their response being the obvious ‘good’ so that you can move on with your day. However, it is all about priorities. Prioritize a conversation that is worth half an hour with your child amidst all the other deadlines. If there’s a will there will definitely be a way.
4. Be there, be square
Apart from engaging in a conversation with your children, as parents, you would also have to be there for your children as they talk to you. Despite having stresses of your own to manage, it always helps if you are both physically and mentally present as your child speaks to you. Create a safe space for them to divulge anything they have to say. Just listen intently and do not judge them regardless of what they wish to say. Practice listening to your children first before giving them a piece of your mind.
5. Know your triggers
It always helps to know what your emotional triggers are. Suppose your child behaves in a certain way or tells you something that you consider as unacceptable. You may form your judgement based on your childhood experiences. Instead of reacting, relax. Take the effort to touch base with your feelings before you explode. If you feel sad or angry as soon as your child speaks about a certain topic or reacts a certain way, being aware about that emotional trigger would help you develop alternative helpful strategies. How do I do this? Think about that time recently when you reacted with anger and frustration for something your child had done. Go back to why you reacted that way. Was it a rational reaction? If not what caused it and how could you change it next time? The more you ask yourselves these questions when you go through an emotional outburst, the more it will help you change the way you react to your child.
These are just some ways parents can make it easier for their children to process through some of their struggles. You may be practicing all these tips or even more, but the more you do them consistently, you would notice that it gets much easier to break open the shell that child may seem to guard so carefully.