How Do I Talk to My Child's Other Parent About Therapy?
You’ve noticed the signs. Your child seems different to you: more worried about things that didn’t use to bother him, more angry at times she used to be calm. Or maybe, your child has asked you directly to see a therapist. He wants someone to talk to about what’s next after graduation. She feels different than everyone else at school. You’ve searched around the internet, found some prospective therapists, and even made some calls.
Now is the time to talk to their other parent (your spouse or a co-parent) about getting them in for an appointment. You’re not sure how they will respond. They may be open and willing, or they may have questions or even concerns about the process. Either way, you know you have to have the conversation.
Try these suggestions to ease the discomfort of beginning to talk with them:
Is this a good time to talk? It may seem hard to wait until there is a special time to talk. The days are busy, and sometimes you and your spouse may not get time alone until the evening. If you are co-parenting, you may never have one-on-one time unless you plan it. Either way, conversations about the wellbeing of your child are not the best to be had if attention is low or time is sparse. When you’re ready to talk with your child’s other parent about therapy for your child, make sure that there is enough time for the conversation, that it is in a space where you can share all your feelings without worries about privacy or your child overhearing. It is also important that other parent is in a place where they can actually hear what you have to share. The importance of therapy disappears on the sidelines of games, over texts at work, or while dropping the children off for the weekend. How do you know when the right time is? Rather than assume, ask the direct question. If the answer is yes, great. If the answer is no, ask for a specific time during the next day or week to sit down together and talk about your concerns about your child.
I’ve noticed some changes with [child] including…and I’m concerned. What do you see? When you speak from a place of “I” you disarm defenses and open doors to more effective and neutral communication. Speak from your own perspective about the changes you have seen with your child. If your child has specifically asked for counseling, include their request to you in this observance, and share about the conversation if you feel comfortable. Then, allow the other parent to share their observations. Remember that the other parent may or may not see what you see, and they may not interpret the symptoms you’ve noticed the same way that you do. We interpret based on our own beliefs and experiences, so consider where your partner or co-parent may be coming from, and use empathy when listening to their opinion.
What are your thoughts on counseling? Ask the other parent to share their thoughts on therapy. They may be on board right away, agreeing that this is an important next step. On the other hand, they may feel like now isn’t the right time. They may have concerns about budget or worry about labeling. Your partner or co-parent may have had their own experiences with counseling which could change how they view it, for better or for worse. Listen with compassion to their opinion and avoid the temptation to correct or change it. If you don’t ask about their thoughts, then you never have a chance to address their concerns.
I think our child could benefit from therapy because… Return to speaking from “I,” and share the specific benefits you believe therapy could bring for your child. Think of two or three concrete benefits and share these during the conversation. When presented with specific benefits rather than abstract ideas of “getting help” or “feeling better,” the other parent may be more open to the idea. Maybe you believe he could learn coping skills or she could learn how to practice self-compassion. Perhaps you think it would be beneficial to have someone outside the family to speak to about the challenges of growing up. Share the benefits so that they become a part of the conversation, too, rather than only concerns about the child’s behavior or mood.
Let’s come to a decision together. When both parents work together, there is a greater chance of an effective outcome for the child. If you both agree that therapy is the next step, decide together who will look for therapists. What are the important qualities of a therapist for your child? Will it be both of you who call around or look online? Will you let your child help decide? If you are still disagreeing, decide what the next step will be to help you come to an agreement. Is it getting a list of the questions your partner or co-parent has about therapy? Would he or she prefer to speak with a therapist directly? Once you know what could help, you can work in that direction, finding a place of understanding as parents to get your child the help that they need. If your partner/co-parent is still unsure, give them a few days to think about what they would like to do and come back to the conversation. You may choose to share literature with them to help them understand the benefits of counseling if you feel they would be open to reading up on different topics to help inform their decision.
What if you give them time, try to compromise, and they are still saying ‘no’ to setting a therapy appointment up for your child? Ask your child’s other parent to meet with a therapist, just the two of you, without including your child in the process. This is a great first step and it will allow you and your partner/co-parent to meet the potential therapist, have any questions answered and create a plan for how to best help your child. Still having difficulty? If it is hard for you and your child’s other parent to come to an agreement on the next best step for your child, the next best step may be to sit down with a neutral party to help you both come to an agreement. A marriage therapist or mediator are great resources.
Ready to take the next step? Finding the right therapist for your child is important and can take time. While you are looking, refer to #4, and ask yourself how you want your child to benefit from counseling. When you find a therapist that you think could be a good fit, give them a call and talk with them about what you observe, what you want for your child, and what they could do to help. Remember, the earlier your child starts working with a counselor, the sooner they will be on their way to making progress on their goals. Good luck!
In the Harford or Cecil County area? I specialize in working with children, adolescents and young adults who are struggling with attention, anxiety, life transitions such as divorce or moving, and the overall challenges of growing up (pressure from school, self-esteem, perfectionism). I also work with young women on the Autism Spectrum to help them learn to navigate their internal and external worlds. Think we might be a good fit? Reach out to me today for a free consultation.