Preparing Your Child
Children and teens can benefit from being told by their parents what to expect at their first appointment. They usually experience less anxiety when they know what will happen — and why.
What you say to prepare your child for a first visit will, of course, depend on your child’s age and temperament. But unless your child is very young, we encourage you to make a very general statement about the experience. For example, “We’re going to talk to a doctor about how you’re feeling, thinking and behaving, to make life easier for you.” You might also explain that the Child Mind Institute is a place for families to get help: “When one person in our family is having a tough time, we all need help. This doctor is going to help us.”
It’s helpful to explain that a clinician will be asking questions, and to alleviate young children’s fears by making sure they know that “none of our doctors give shots.” If your child is coming for a neuropsychological and educational evaluation, please let him know that we like to find out how children learn best. You might explain that we do this by talking with kids and playing activities that involve listening, problem solving, reading, writing and math.
Guidelines for talking with kids of different ages
It is usually difficult for children this young to understand why they’re visiting a psychiatrist or psychologist. Parents should focus on helping children of this age feel comfortable throughout the experience. These children usually appreciate having a familiar toy, blanket or stuffed animal to hold during the evaluation.
Children this age are typically concerned about being separated from their parents. They also require more of an explanation for visiting a mental health professional. Parents can alleviate their children’s anxiety by offering reassurance — for example, “The Child Mind Institute is a safe place” — and explaining that a visit to the Child Mind Institute is much like going for a check-up at the pediatrician’s office, but without anyone giving shots.
Children this age can have anxiety about visiting any doctor. Parents can reduce their children’s anxiety by talking to them about the visit a week in advance and letting them know what to expect. These children appreciate having time to ask questions and to plan what they’ll bring, like a book, a game or doll. Parents should encourage questions.
It is crucial that pre-teens and teens are involved in the planning to visit any mental health professional. Parents should tell them what to expect and encourage them to ask questions of their clinicians. It is also important to keep in mind that teens want their privacy respected. Parents should communicate that it’s okay — in fact, it’s very good — to have confidential conversations with a clinician.