Preparing Your Child for Their First Counselling Session

Recognising the Need for Counselling

Recognising and accepting that your child may need counselling isn't easy. However, looking out for changes in their behaviour or mood is important as it could be a sign that they're struggling to cope.

Counselling can offer a nurturing and secure environment for your child to freely express themselves and learn healthy strategies. It is an empowering tool that can support resilience, emotional intelligence, and help them in dealing with and addressing challenges throughout their life.

Identifying the Signs

Verbally expressing feelings or emotions can be tricky for some children. Therefore, it's important to be able to identify the signs that your child is struggling and may need counselling. Signs could vary depending on your child's age, personality, developmental history and behaviour.

Some common signs include:

Difficulty sleeping

Tiredness

Irritability

Aggression

Low self-esteem

Loss of interests

Difficulty with concentration

Anxiousness

Frequent headaches/tummy aches with no apparent cause

Repetitive acts/compulsions

Socially withdrawn/isolating themselves

Neglecting personal hygiene/appearance

Self-harm/threatening to hurt themselves

Eating changes

Fluctuations in weight

Remember, these signs do not necessarily mean that counselling is needed, but they are indicators that further assessment could be beneficial.

Open and Honest Communication

When preparing your child for their first counselling session, it's crucial to communicate openly and honestly. Explain what counselling is in words they will understand, without overwhelming them.

You could say something like, "Counselling is a time for you to chat about your feelings and thoughts with someone who can help guide you, just like a coach helps you learn a new sport."

Following these conversations, you can further explain that it is a safe place for them to explore and talk about things that are on their mind. It's okay if they struggle to express their feelings in words - our counsellor loves to play and draw!

Explaining Counselling to Different Age Groups

Toddlers (1-3 years)

Use simple language and analogies that they can grasp. You could say, "You know how we read bedtime stories about characters who feel sad or scared? Counselling is a safe place where you can talk about your feelings, just like those characters. The counsellor is there to listen to you and help you feel better."

Preschoolers (4-5 years)

Use simple language and make it relatable. For example, "You know how when you're building a big tower of blocks and sometimes it falls down? And how you have to figure out a way to build it again so it won't fall the next time? That's like what happens in counselling. Sometimes feelings can feel too big and make us fall down, and the counsellor helps us figure out how to build ourselves back up stronger."

School-Age Children (6-12 years)

At this age, you can use more detailed explanations. For instance, "Counselling is like tools in a toolbox. Your counsellor will give you new tools and teach you how to use them - so you can handle your emotions better, solve problems, and make friends!."

Teenagers (13-17 years)

You should be straightforward. You could say, "Counselling is a confidential space where you can talk about anything that's bothering you. The counsellor is a trained professional who can provide strategies and techniques to help you cope with stress, improve your relationships, and increase your overall well-being and happiness."

Setting Expectations

Explain to your child what they should expect during a counselling session. It's important that they understand it's not like a visit to the doctor, where they might get injections or undergo physical tests. Instead, it's a place for activities - like playing games, drawing, or talking. This is a safe space built on trust, safety, and transparency; building a therapeutic relationship.

These conversations can feel daunting and overwhelming for a parent to have with their child so the counsellor will go through this with a child in initial sessions.

Ways to Set Expectations

It's like adventure time...

Just like going on an adventure, in counselling, you'll explore your feelings and thoughts, and sometimes face challenges. But don't worry, you'll always have a helpful guide by your side, your counsellor!

Just like a treasure chest...

You can think of counselling as a treasure chest. It's a safe spot you can store all your thoughts, feelings, and worries. Remember, whatever you put in the chest stays there unless you want to share it!

Imagine you're a superhero...

In counselling, it's like you're a superhero learning to control your superpowers. Feelings can sometimes be strong, just like superpowers! Your counsellor will teach you how to control them so you can use them for good.

It's like a puzzle game...

Sometimes, feelings can be like a jigsaw puzzle and a bit tricky to figure out. That's where your counsellor comes in! They're like a puzzle master who can help you put all the pieces together.

Just like going on a road trip...

Counselling is a journey to understand your feelings better. It's like going on a road trip where you discover new things about yourself. Your counsellor is your friendly tour guide on this exciting trip!

Your personal training ground...

Counselling is like your personal training ground... you will learn and practise new ways to handle your feelings. The counsellor is your coach, always ready with tips and techniques to help you understand yourself and get stronger!

A Safe Place

Trust is an essential aspect of counselling. If your child trusts their counsellor, they will feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings. Rapport is an important aspect of a client/counsellor relationship and sometimes this can take time to build.

Any questions, concerns or worries you or your child may have, the counsellor is always open to listening, acknowledging, and validating these to support and reassure your child. You can also write them down and bring them to our counsellor so we can work through them together.

Make sure your child knows that the counsellor's office is a safe place. Everything they discuss in that room is confidential. In initial sessions our counsellor will help your child understand confidentiality, as this is a big word for kids. This helps them understand they can talk about anything, no matter how big or small, without fear of getting into trouble or being judged.

Our therapy is family-centered, so there will always be some level of involvement in sessions. This way, uncomfortable conversations with a parent after sessions won't always need to happen and we can bring it up as a team within the space. If your child doesn't feel ready to talk about it straight away that's perfectly okay. What’s key here is letting them know they can talk to you when they feel ready, and you're there to listen.

Remember to respect their privacy if they don't want to share something immediately. Your patience and understanding will show your child that you respect their counselling process and are there to support them regardless of whether they share their experience or not.

Encouraging Consistency and Continuity

Consistency is key when it comes to counselling. Having regular sessions helps your child develop a sense of routine and comfort with their counsellor. They know they will have a safe space to express themselves at regular intervals, which can significantly aid their coping mechanisms.

Discuss the importance of attending each session with your child, even if they sometimes don't feel like it. It’s also essential to tell them that it's okay not to have a significant breakthrough in every session. Counselling is a process, and progress may be slow and steady. Remember, every step forward, no matter how small, is still a step in the right direction.

Parent and Counsellor Communication

Effective communication between parents and the counsellor is crucial for success. As a parent, keeping the counsellor informed about major events or changes in your child's life can help them tailor the sessions to best fit your child's needs.

This communication allows the counsellor to understand your child's mood and objectives better. You might want to inform the counsellor if your child had a particularly tough day at school or if they achieved a significant milestone. This information helps the counsellor adjust their approach, intervention, and tools for the session, making it more relevant and productive for your child.

Wrapping Up Our Guide

It may take time for your child to open up and fully participate in their counselling sessions, and that's okay. Just keep reassuring them that they're doing well and that you're proud of them for taking this step.

Getting your child ready for their first counselling session may seem like a daunting task, but these steps can make it more manageable. Remember, counselling is a journey and every journey begins with a single step. By maintaining open communication, setting clear expectations, and assuring them of their safety and the importance of honesty, you're setting your child up for success.

Remember, the team at 8 Senses Therapy is here for you every step of the way, so whether you're just starting or you're well into the journey, we're here to offer our support and guidance.

We hope you've found this guide helpful in preparing your child for their first counselling session.​ If you have any questions or would like to schedule an assessment to work with our clinical counsellor, Daniella Collicelli, please don't hesitate to call us on 0412 318 503.

Mental Health Services

Please note, 8 Senses Therapy is not a 24/7 support service. If you or your child are in crisis, call one of the mental health helplines below:

Lifeline

13 11 14

lifeline.org.au

Kids Helpline

1800 55 1800

kidshelpline.com.au

Beyond Blue

1300 22 4636

beyondblue.org.au

If you feel that your or your child are at immediate risk of harm, please call triple zero (000).

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