Discussing Treatment with Your Child
How exactly do you go about discussing your decision for your child to undergo treatment? Three answers come to mind: carefully, gently, and confidently. Being careful and gentle means that you consider where your child is developmentally. A four-year-old understands a lot less than an eight-year-old. Explain why you are seeking help in such a way so that your child understands there is a problem.
What to Say
For younger children, an explanation might go like this: “Sometimes we get sad and we don't know why. I have arranged for you and me to go see a lady (or man) who talks to kids all the time about how they feel. There's nothing to be afraid of, and I will be right there with you.”
For an older child, you can give more detail. Never, ever apologize for taking your child to treatment. You want her to understand that seeking help is a good thing. Try to answer her questions as best you can, and don't be afraid to say, “I don't know.”
It's easy to associate a child's personality and identity with their depression. Your child will pick up on this and begin to see herself as damaged and lacking in self-worth. Make sure you separate your child's identity from the disorder and help her do the same. The depression is not your child!
What if your child refuses to go? This is likely to make you second-guess your decision to seek treatment because “maybe it isn't that bad.” Stop and think! This is where your confidence needs to kick in. You are the parent and you have done your homework! You might try gentle persuasion, but if she still refuses, then it's time for a different approach.
Tell her that you can certainly understand her misgivings about seeing someone and that it is normal to be a bit anxious. You can even bargain with her, but only a little. You might say, “You don't want to go and I get that. But we are going. We'll talk about how you feel about it after you've tried it.” The bottom line is that you are in charge, not her.
Your Child's Role
Aside from teaching your child about what she is about to do, it's important to help her understand her role in the process. She will be responsible for reporting to the doctor how she may feel on medicine or how she feels about a particular event. Encourage her to ask questions of the professional. Doing this will teach her two things. First, she will have an active role in getting well and will see herself as capable of doing so. Second, she will learn skills to get her needs met that will follow her through her life.