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My Child Needs Therapy But Won’t Go, Please Help!

What can you do when you notice your child struggling, but say no to therapy?

Maybe they’ve been isolating in their room, not completing assignments, seeming tearful and upset and more irritable than they used to be. Perhaps you and your child aren’t getting along and you know you need help with your relationship. It’s so upsetting! But they dig in their heels.

Below we share some ideas to consider.

1. Try to find a way for therapy to be their idea.

For example, you plant the seed but then you go away and wait for them to come to you – then it’s their idea. Or, you wait for them to be talking about something therapy related and you throw the idea out but it’s like you are just continuing a conversation THEY started. Do they know other people who go to therapy and therefore might bring it up? Do they follow any therapists on Instagram they tell you about? You can piggyback off of what they say to you already.

2. Go to therapy yourself.

It will help you generate new ideas and insights you could use to help get them on board as well as communicate better. But, it’s also similar to getting a child to go outside and play by going yourself and having a good time. If you are enjoying something, they come around and say, “Hey, you look like you are having fun, I want some of that.” (Not in those words but you get the idea.)

3. Give them some incentive.

You can say, “If you will try two sessions, you can pick out a new (something they want)”. Sometimes it’s just the initial meeting that scares them so finding a way over that hump is good. Rather than thinking of it as a bribe, think of it as a reward. We all reward ourselves every day for doing things that seems scary and hard like going to work or making a difficult phone call or going to the gym. We go out to eat at the end of a long week. We buy a new shirt or a new case for our phone. Reward them for trying.

4. Draw a boundary about it.

If your child is self-harming or engaged in activities with safety concerns, you can draw a boundary and say, “This is what we are doing until I know you are better. I am your parent and it’s my job to make sure you have the tools you need and, most importantly, that you are safe.” Find a therapist that is engaging and willing to back you up about this boundary. “As long as there are safety issues, we need to be talking about things and finding a way to make things better.”

5. Give your child control over the therapy process.

Give them the Psychology Today website or this website and let them see if there’s a face they feel drawn to. Who seems like someone they could talk to? Who gives them a good feeling when they read the profile? Do they have friends at school who go to therapy? Who is their therapist? Let them be the one finding the person and maybe that will help get their buy in. Giving them control teaches them that you respect them and that goes a long way.

6. Finally, if your child won’t go to therapy will they go to a group or a class instead?

Maybe one-to-one therapy is too intimidating but if they could bring a friend to a therapeutic activity, then they will be able to do it. I had a client once who loved group therapy but hated the intimacy of a one-to-one session. It just felt too overwhelming. If you need ideas, you can email us for groups, classes, and suggestions about IOP programs that might be a good fit. You can also see the group therapy page.
Good luck and reach out if you need support.

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Free Clear Mind Therapy provides in-person therapy in Fishers & Indianapolis and online therapy across Indiana. Specializing in anxiety therapy for teens, adults, and kids.

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