What To Know Before Your Child Begins Therapy

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated March 30, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Content Warning: Please be advised that this article mentions childhood trauma and other potentially triggering subjects. Read with discretion. 

Many therapists are trained to address mental illness, emotional dysregulation, and behavioral patterns in children. If your child is experiencing anxiety, self-control issues, or has been bullied at school, a children's behavioral therapist may work with them to develop age-appropriate solutions and coping skills. As a parent, you can make it possible for your child to receive support by learning more about child therapy. 

While Children's Mental Health Awareness Week is celebrated every first week of May, it can be advantageous to know the importance of children's mental health at any time of the year. Across the US, many children receive mental health services each year. In 2019, 10% of children between the ages of five and 17 participated in child counseling with a mental health professional. Of that number, many were young children. The source found that 10.8% of young children between the ages of five and 11 had received treatment through therapy, medication, or a combination. 

Although many parents may believe that only children that have experienced trauma, loss, or mental illness may benefit from therapy, any child can talk to a child counselor. Therapy can improve their well-being by helping them understand daily struggles and develop life-long healthy coping skills. 

What parents needs to know before their child starts therapy.

Tips For Parents Considering Therapy For Their Children 

Many parents hope to be the primary support for their children. However, you might experience moments when you don’t know how to help your child. Needing support does not make you a bad parent, and taking your child to a child therapist can offer various benefits. 

Your child might feel more comfortable opening up to an unbiased person about their thoughts, emotions, or behaviors. In addition, professionals can provide mental health treatment you may not be equipped to provide. Knowing what to expect during your child’s sessions could help you feel confident in choosing this support option.  

Pay Attention To How Your Child Feels After Sessions 

Caregivers may assume that their child will feel better after talking to a therapist for the first time, and, at times, that may occur. However, there could be times when the session brings up distressing feelings for your child. These feelings can be essential for them to discuss, but they can also make your child feel upset or overwhelmed after the fact, as children often do not know how to control their emotions as adults do. In these instances, an emotion chart for kids can be helpful for them to visualize their feelings, emotions, and behavior. After therapy, be there to support your child. Therapy may not be easy, but with a suitable counselor, your child can meet their goals and make improvements. 

You could also explain to them on the way to therapy that they might sometimes feel upset after sessions and that their emotions are normal and okay. Some parents might also choose to take their child to a fun activity after counseling to help them associate therapy with rewards. For example, you could go to the zoo or buy ice cream. 

On the other hand, some children might want to go home and sit with their feelings and thoughts. You know your child best, so follow your instincts and monitor your child’s behavior. After sessions, you can also ask your child what they think would work best for them. 

Look Out For Resistance 

Your child may say that they do not want to go to therapy before the session. Listen to your instincts and ask yourself questions. Do you see improvements? What kind of feedback are you getting from the therapist? If the resistance becomes a pattern, talk to the therapist about solutions and consider asking your child how you can make therapy a more positive experience for them. If the therapist has been pressuring them to open up in sessions or the child struggles to sit still, they might benefit from a more expressive form of therapy like art or play therapy.

Involve Your Child In Disclosure Discussions 

Some therapists may alert parents of topics discussed in sessions. Others may include parents in the sessions. However, if you receive information about your child’s thoughts, emotions, or disclosures, let them know. If they know what to expect, they may not feel betrayed or unsafe. If your child is under an age where they might care about these disclosures, use your discretion on what you tell them about their sessions. 

Listen To The Therapist’s Advice

A therapist may not tell everything a child states in sessions with their parents. However, they could offer parenting advice if they notice areas where the family could participate in the child’s treatment plan. They may also suggest parenting tactics to aid in your child’s challenges. You can count on therapists if you're someone who is still preparing for parenthood or just wants some guidance. It may benefit you not to think of their advice as an intrusion or a reprimand but as part of the mental health services the counselor is providing. 

Child therapists are trained experts in the area of child mental health. If they notice an area where the family environment impacts the child, they may bring it up. Progress updates with parents can be valuable tools for the entire family unit. For example, suppose the child has reported that they are wetting the bed due to anxiety about their sibling yelling at them during the day. In that case, the family might decide to attend family therapy together or address the sibling conflict at home. 

It may also benefit you to tell the therapist about what occurs at home when you can. A child might come into sessions and tell their therapist they feel fine when conflicts occur at school or with their siblings. The therapist can offer feedback and guidance as you navigate these challenges if they know they exist. 

Consider Family Therapy 

There may be times when the therapist suggests a session of family therapy. For younger children, the whole family may be involved. However, regardless of your child’s age, the therapist may ask for you to participate in sessions to facilitate a conversation with your child about a subject involving the family unit as a whole. 

In addition, children might tell their therapist about subjects or conversations they want to address with their parents but feel uncomfortable doing so outside of therapy. In these cases, the therapist can moderate discussion as the child tells their emotions. These sessions can be beneficial for parents, as well. 

Note that the therapist is not trying to be a “better’ parent or undermine your rules or experience with your child. You are paying the therapist for a service, and they are there to offer your child mental health support and guidance. They are a resource and not a replacement for the love or care you have for your child. Like with a doctor, you may not partake in every skill suggested, but keeping professional advice in mind when you interact with your child can be beneficial for the entire family. 

What parents needs to know before their child starts therapy.

How To Find Child Therapy Near You 

Finding a suitable therapist for your child may take more than one try, searching for "child therapist near me" will surely list most of your easiest options but you want to find the therapist that fits your child personally. You might speak to several providers before finding one your child feels comfortable with. Before settling on an option, consider scheduling short consultations with each therapist to ask questions and see how your child feels talking to them. You might find options if you look specifically for a child therapist instead of a general adult counselor. 

When meeting with the providers, ask them what types of therapy they use, whether it’s play therapy, art therapy, filial therapy, behavioral therapy, or another option. In addition, tell them the specific reasons you hope to seek counseling for your child. If you decide on a therapist and the therapist is not a fit, or the therapy is not effective, talk to them to devise a plan. You can also switch therapists at any time. 

How To Find Counseling As A Parent  

Many parents may also benefit from counseling while they support their children through therapy. Watching your child experience a mental health concern can be distressing, and a mixture of emotions may arise for you. An adult therapist specializing in parenting may be able to offer support. In addition, if you find your schedule too busy for regular in-person therapy, online parenting support is available. 

Studies have shown that online counseling can help parents with children experiencing mental health issues. In one study published in Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, researchers examined the efficacy of online therapy in supporting parents in interacting with their children exhibiting symptoms of behavioral disorders. Researchers found that online counseling services fostered better communication and interactions between parents and children and provided valuable tools that might not have otherwise been available to underserved families.

If you are ready to begin a treatment program for your child or seek parent-child interaction therapy, online counseling is available. With tele-mental health services through a platform like BetterHelp for adults, you can speak with a therapist from home at a time that works for you. In addition, you can take advantage of an unlimited messaging feature to send messages to your provider at any time. If you’re looking for online services for a teen aged 13 to 19, you can also consider signing up your child for a platform like TeenCounseling, which offers the same benefits as BetterHelp. 

Counselor Reviews

“I have been working with Carolyn for 6 months now, and have tremendously benefited from her pediatric counseling as I support my daughter for Anorexia. Anorexia is a very complex mind-body illness and the families can play a very important role in the recovery by educating ourselves and understanding her behavior. This allows me to use correct words with her, and watch by own behavior with her so I am supporting her in a healthy manner, and not enabling her illness further. Additionally, my own stress has been very difficult as I watch my sweet daughter suffer, so I had been in need of finding coping skills for myself. Carolyn's expertise, her very compassionate but clear guidelines and feedback to me have made be more confident and capable in dealing with this difficult illness. I am finding a lot of strength from her therapy, and most importantly I am handling my daughter better and can see the difference in my interactions with her. I am thankful to Carolyn for coming into my life when I needed someone to guide me through this. In addition to our weekly video chats, I am able to send her quick texts on the BetterHelp app if an issue arises and I need her thoughts, and Carolyn replies back very quickly with more tips to help me. I have recommended BetterHelp to friends as a great therapist like Carolyn would not have been possible for me without this platform... while I also do this from the convenience of my time and home. Thank you Carolyn, and thank you BetterHelp for being here for me!”

“Tammi has made such a difference in my life. Had I not had her help I’m pretty sure I would’ve lost all contact with my 19 year old daughter who chose to live with her father. She understands teenagers and moms of teenagers! So kind, wise, experienced, compassionate, and level headed, I can’t say enough good about her!!”


While finding a therapist for your child can be overwhelming, it may be a first step to finding solutions to recurrent concerns in your child’s life. In addition, they can learn personalized coping mechanisms to use throughout all stages of their life, which may improve their adult mental health when they reach that stage. 

For additional help & support with your concerns

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started