You may be wondering how to get your child to see a psychologist Here’s how to get them more comfortable with the idea.

People of all ages may benefit from seeing a mental health professional. However, children may feel afraid to talk with someone they don’t know. They may also be wary of something they don’t fully understand. You may ask yourself: How do I get my child to see a psychologist?

It’s common for a child not to want to see a therapist because that person is a stranger, notes Scyatta Wallace, PhD, a psychologist in Brooklyn, New York, who specializes in creating leadership development and mental health wellness programs for teenage girls and young women.

“Just the idea of doing something that’s very unfamiliar may be really difficult for them,” says Wallace. “They could be really nervous or hesitant about that.”

You can help your child overcome their fear or reluctance by explaining why therapy might be helpful.

Describe it as a way to make things better for your child and the family, advises Dr. Beth Westbrook, a clinical psychologist specializing in psychotherapy in Portland, Oregon. “A general emphasis on the fact that talking is positive will go a long way,” says Westbrook.

Many children may be resistant to beginning treatment. It’s important to be understanding while also recognizing their needs and what’s best for them. Child therapists are skilled at managing a child’s discomfort or hesitation, and many children often feel open to continuing to meet with a therapist after initial sessions.

Since the COVID-19 global pandemic hit in early 2020, people’s stress levels have increased dramatically. Wallace suggests that parents consider the impact on their children’s mental health — even those who seem to adjust well to changes.

“Your child may be suffering more from this pandemic than you actually know and if you start to see small signs, be open to therapy as an option because they may need a lot of support right now,” advises Wallace.

If you notice changes in your child’s mood or behavior, relationships, school performance, or any other aspect of their life, it could be a sign that they may benefit from therapy.

Some signs therapy might be helpful for your child include:

  • changes in mood or behavior
  • sudden shifts in relationships, for example, going from being outgoing to more withdrawn
  • expresses thoughts of suicide or self-harm
  • seems down, for example, loss of interest or enjoyment in activities
  • changes in appetite, eating more or less than usual
  • changes in school performance

“Those are situations where a parent would be on the lookout to say this child needs support,” says Wallace.

If you’re considering acting on suicidal thoughts, please seek professional support immediately.

Calling or texting a crisis helpline will connect you with a trained counselor 24/7, any day of the year, completely free of charge:

When your child asks about therapy

It’s also possible that your child may ask to see a therapist. This is common for some children and teens, and can be a positive thing since certain topics may be difficult to talk about with parents and caregivers. If you are concerned, therapists always share information with parents if their child’s safety is at risk.

“Especially now that conversations about mental health are really being supported in schools and in other spaces, the child may be actually more aware and open to (therapy) than the family member,” says Wallace.

She advises parents to take the request seriously. And even if you’re alarmed, try not to show it in front of your child.

“You don’t want to make it seem like something is abnormal by the child asking to go to therapy,” says Wallace.

Be curious about why your child wants to go to therapy and get a sense of their feelings and the severity of the situation, advises Wallace.

“It could be a cause for alarm, or it could not be,” says Wallace.

This is why having a calm, honest conversation with your child is important. It can help keep the lines of communication open, she adds.

Consider that it may be challenging to get an appointment with a child therapist because of the pandemic’s ongoing strain on mental health care availability.

Also, the first therapist you try may not click with you or your child’s personality.

“You might have to go through one or two therapists before it’s a good match for your child.” But don’t give up, says Wallace.

“It doesn’t mean that you failed or that your child is completely against it. It just means you haven’t found the right person.”

If the first therapist is a miss and if you’re able, take some time to explore more, and seek referrals from people you trust, like your child’s pediatrician or other parents.

For example, Wallace says, some therapists are quite calm, while others are chatty. During your search, think about how your child connects with people in general.

Another tip for parents is to look for a licensed mental health professional with expertise and training for the type of therapy that will work best for your child and family.

Before you suggest therapy, it’s a good idea to really listen to your child and note how they express their concerns. says Mary Alvord, PhD, a psychologist in Rockville, Maryland, who works with children and specializes in anxiety and mood disorders and regulating emotions and behaviors.

Your child will likely relate more to you if you use the same words they do when expressing themselves.

Convincing your child to go to therapy may take time, and it may be better to encourage a child by suggesting why therapy might be helpful.

Parents can explain that therapy can be a way to stay healthy, just like daily routines can help us care for our bodies.

“It’s important to normalize mental health that way,” says Wallace.

“It is part of your physical health as well. Most kids who are at least above the age of 5 understand their body and going to the doctor and eating certain foods, brushing their teeth, they understand that there’s nothing wrong with that. They get that,” she adds.

It can be helpful for children to understand if mental health is framed in the same way.

When you talk about therapy with your child:

  • Try to stay calm.
  • Try to manage your own feelings of nervousness or frustration beforehand.
  • Share a positive personal experience, maybe you were able to sleep better after talking with a therapist.
  • Encourage your child to “give it a try” at least once.
  • Frame therapy in a positive light to increase the likelihood that your child is not afraid to talk about or participate in it.

Therapy can address a variety of mental health challenges and symptoms in children. The goal of therapy for children may often be to provide them with emotional support and understanding, and to find new solutions and ways to cope.

Therapy can provide a path to becoming resilient, which is a trait that can benefit a person over a lifetime and fuel mental health, says Alvord.

Intervening early to help your child through therapy can set them up for success through childhood, adolescence, and long into adulthood.

Are you experiencing challenges in finding an in-person solution for you and your child’s needs? Check out our article about the best online therapy and mental health support programs for kids.

If you’re considering acting on suicidal thoughts, please seek professional support immediately.

Calling or texting a crisis helpline will connect you with a trained counselor 24/7, any day of the year, completely free of charge: