Before You Take Your Kid to Therapy…Take a Breath, Be Patient and Look at Yourself

By Laurie Conaty, MSW, LCSW, LCAS

A surprising statement from a therapist-but, unless your child/adolescent  has something biologically going on—and yes, depression , anxiety and ADHD is biologically triggered—do a quick assessment of the “basics” in your family life before you contact a therapist!  You know, even if something biologically triggered is going on, getting these basics in order is just good for a family!  Along with that, you might be able to fix some of the things that you are not happy with on your own….  If you are struggling with where to start, we can help.  But first, give this a try!

  1. Do you have set “family time?”  If not, get it on the books.  Yes, life is hectic and busy, but family should take priority.  Everyone has to be present, don’t force the conversation or happiness, but don’t allow a kid to ‘opt out’ of family time.  Invite your kids to pick an activity (but don’t react – and you pick- if they say, I don’t care! Whatever you do, don’t not do it!)
  2. Do mom and dad (by the way, the ‘parents’ can be any adult, of any gender, who is responsible for and committed to parenting a child) have a good relationship?  Good—that means that there is no violence, no name-calling, and you can talk things through that you have different opinions about.  Good relationships are not typically identified as we “never have disagreements” or “we never fight.”  Two different people under the same roof have differences-the deal is this:  Can you work them out in a respectful, reasonable way?  Primary caregiver relationships affect kids!
  3. Are you consistent?  Yes, there should be set bedtimes, limits on technology and general rules of the house that are respected by all and consistent.
  4. Is alcohol or other drug misuse an issue for either primary caregiver?  If so, get help!  Help is available and alcohol or other drug misuse causes problems for kids.  Reach out—stigma can only be reduced when we acknowledge that this is a brain disorder and not a moral failure!  But, reach out, ‘cause it will mess up your kids!
  5. Do the kids have chores?  They should!  Age appropriate, developmentally appropriate responsibilities are important.  Get that chore list created and working!
  6. Do your kids have a balance of privacy and transparency?  Kids need to learn to respect privacy and they learn that by parental role-modeling.  Doors closed while clothes are being changed or having a phone conversation/text conversation with a friend—sure!  Doors closed for hours is not ok!
  7. Are you clear about the values that you expect your kids to live by?  Know them, teach them and be honest about them.  Different people value different things and that’s ok.  Just be sure that your kids know your values and that you lovingly and firmly hold them to those values.  And a side note, if you don’t live by the values you teach your kids—get ready for some real pushback!  Kids are absolute sleuths at finding discrepancy in what we say v. what we do!

So, if you go through this list and think hmmmm…. maybe we need some help with this, we can help you and would be happy to do so!  And as you can guess, help will include work with the parents and family but probably not a lot of “fixing” the kid—because parents can often do that best!   But I really want you to try everything on this list first—and see what happens!