Scheduling an appointment for your child to see a mental health therapist is an important first step. While you wait for your first appointment, there are several things you can do to prepare yourself and your child to start treatment.
- Fill out the initial paperwork. Find out if there’s new patient paperwork and if you can complete it now. By starting early, you’ll have more time to think about your responses to questions. Be honest when you describe your child’s behaviors so that the therapist can work to create an effective treatment plan.
- Keep a running list of questions. Things that you want to ask the therapist may occasionally pop into your mind. Jot everything down in one place, so that when you go to the first appointment, you won’t forget any of your questions or concerns.
- Encourage your child to compile questions. They can write everything down to bring to the first visit, or you can volunteer to write everything down for them, especially if they’re younger.
- Track the behaviors you’re concerned about. Use our tracker (see below) to note the behaviors that are interfering with your child’s daily life. This will help your therapist better understand the concern when treatment starts.
- Prepare your child. If your child has never visited a therapist, tell them what to expect.
- They will likely sit down with a therapist who is also seated. Most of the time, a parent or caregiver will go in with the child for the first meeting.
- For younger children, explain that when people are sick, they go to the doctor, and when people have feelings that they need to understand and talk through, they go to a therapist.
- For older kids, explain that they’ll learn new strategies to help them manage emotions to reduce disruptions to their day-to-day routines and responsibilities.
- The therapist will ask some questions and it’s important for everyone to answer honestly. Tell your child that it’s OK to say, “I don’t know” if they are unsure about something.
- Answer your child’s questions. They may want to know basic information about therapy that you can explain, or they may have more complex questions that you can’t answer. When you’re stumped, be honest and tell your child that you’ll learn more together at the first appointment.
- Validate uncertainty and emotions. There will be a lot of unknowns before starting therapy – and doing new things can be scary. “What will my therapist ask me?” “What do I have to say?” “Will I like my therapist?” Reassure your child that therapy isn’t something that you can do wrong and that it is the therapist's job to move the session forward. Remind them that it’s normal to feel a little nervous the first few times, but you will get through this together.
While you’re waiting, there are changes and strategies you can start now to help your child. Make sure to take care of yourself to better care for your child.
Download On Our Sleeves While You Wait Behavior Tracker
Download the behavior tracker to help you keep helpful notes for your child’s mental health care team.