Why Therapy Is Great for Kids – Even when nothing’s wrong

Most kids are pretty easy to raise during the grade school years. Not effortless, of course; there are all those last-minute school projects, multiplication tables, sports boo-boos, and occasional personality conflicts with teachers. There can also be more serious social problems like bullying or extreme shyness, and some kids do need professional help learning to get along with their peers during elementary school. But by and large, the ages of about 6 through 10 are parenting’s coasting time. Your kids are in school, they are active, and they are pre-pubescent. Easy-peasy.

Now is when they need to go to a therapist. Why? Because looming on the horizon is the terrible triumvirate of middle school, puberty, and high school. And because if you wait until there’s a problem, you might not be able to get your kid to talk to you (or anyone else) about it.

I used to think that taking kids to a therapist was laughable – something that wealthy Manhattanites with more money than sense would do. It was throwing money at a problem that wasn’t a problem: kids are kids, and therapy for kids is pointless.

Then our youngest son drowned, leaving our family devastated. Out of necessity we took our oldest sons, then 6 and 7, to a therapist for grief-focused counseling. They met with Dr. Becca many times in that first year, and while she didn’t divulge the specifics of what they talked about, she gave my husband and me general information about their progress.

After a year or so, my sons’ grief became more manageable, but my husband and I still made a concerted effort to keep their relationship with Dr. Becca current. We took them in for “check-ins,” even when nothing was really awry. And we’re so grateful that we did.

“People tend to view therapy as only to fix what’s ‘broken,’ forgetting that the therapeutic relationship can also provide valuable emotional prevention, skill building, and education,” says Julie Hanks, director of Wasatch Family Therapy in Salt Lake City, UT. “Having an already established therapeutic relationship in place will make it more likely that parents will take their child to the therapist for help, and that the child will actually open up to the therapist.”

Middle school can be a tough time. Sandwiched between childhood and adolescence, middle school-age kids want to be accepted and popular. They long to be mature while they revert frequently to childlike behavior. Kids hit puberty and growth spurts at different ages, and those inevitable comparisons are stressful. We kept checking in with Dr. Becca, sometimes just a couple of times a year. It was reassuring for both our sons and us to hear from her – another adult that they trusted – that everything was okay.

And now there’s high school. Hoo, boy. What a minefield American teenagers face nowadays; the dangers involved with sex, substance use, reckless driving, the internet, and peer pressure threaten our kids, who are already under pressure to excel at school and get into college. And those teen hormone swings are nothing to sneeze at.

“For a teen, life is overwhelming : Having a space to talk to someone that is not in their every day can help them make better choices, increase confidence, and build self-esteem,” says Marcie Beasley, who has worked for years with adolescents in a rehab setting and currently works with homeless young adults.

Maturing into an adult is no small feat, and there are plenty of topics that your child might feel uncomfortable discussing with you. You don’t want your teen getting all of his or her questions answered by peers or the internet. You don’t want your child to crave another trustworthy, helpful adult voice in his or her life and not find it.

Granted, a professional therapist doesn’t work for free. If you must pay for the visits on your own, you’re probably looking at $75-$150 per hour-long session. Many insurance policies do at least partially cover mental health, however. Also, a therapist may be willing to work with you if you need to pay monthly for two or three visits per year for your child, which should be enough to establish a comfortable, ongoing relationship.

For us, therapy was well worth the cost. We now have an extra player on our parenting team. Dr. Becca has adult sons but is young enough for my guys to identify with her. She’s warm, approachable, and professional.

Our oldest sons are now 13 and 15. They’ve been dealt some hard blows during their young lives: our house burned down in 2003, their brother’s life ended in 2005, and their teenage cousin left this world in 2010. Despite all of this, they are smart, funny, and athletic, and happy a lot of the time. Would they be where they are right now without Dr. Becca? Maybe – but I’m glad I haven’t had to find out.

Meanwhile, our youngest son, Frank, just turned 2 years old. He’s too young for a therapist appointment, but we have every intention of taking him in for visits with Dr. Becca when he gets to be around 6. We don’t anticipate any emotional problems with him – all the same, we want to use every tool in our arsenal to prevent them.

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