Childrearing

Should Little Kids See A Therapist?

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A couple months after my boyfriend and I got together, his 11-year-old daughter started seeing a therapist. This, I’d like to believe, had nothing to do with me entering their lives (though my therapist would say I’m projecting!).

She was, apparently, having a hard time dealing with his divorce. I had met his daughter numerous times and didn’t see a need for her to see a therapist. I thought she was a perfectly normal 11-year-old whose feelings were perfectly normal for a child seeing her parents get divorced. She has a very open relationship with her father. Why the heck did she need to see a shrink?

As someone who has seen a therapist for almost a decade, I worried that sending an 11-year-old to therapy would cause more problems rather than solve whatever ones she was having in the first place. I was completely against it.

I know my therapist puts ideas into my head that I wouldn’t have thought of. Not that this is a bad thing. But when my therapist says, “Why don’t you look at it this way?” – suggesting the opposite of what I’ve been thinking – at least I know what he’s doing. I can separate what I’m feeling and what my therapist is suggesting, because I’m an adult.

I worried that this other therapist would start asking my boyfriend’s daughter questions like, “So how do you feel about…” (fill in the blank about something his daughter hadn’t been thinking about and now would). Could an 11-year-old’s brain process what the therapist was suggesting? Would she be able to see the difference in what she’s feeling and knowing that the therapist is just trying to help her see things in a different light? I was doubtful.

Also, I’ve seen kids in the waiting room of my therapist’s office. They all seem so morose and unhappy to be there. They’ll sit with their heads hung, listening to music, and grunting at their mothers and ignoring their fathers. Half of

them are probably forced to be there, thanks to custody battles. That is not my boyfriend’s daughter: a well-adjusted, completely normal 11-year-old who has friends and who’s constantly surrounded by people who love her.

So I worried, too, that she’d become like them.

And I worried, as a therapist junkie myself, that she’d become addicted to therapy. While I didn’t start seeing a therapist until I was in my 20s, I worried that she would become reliant on her therapist and then would want to

continue going with no end in sight, as is the case with me (I rely on my therapist for every crisis that happens in my life). I thought my boyfriend’s daughter was way too young to start on this path.

The expense aside (and when you go for 10 years, it is a great expense), seeing a therapist is almost like being addicted to drugs, except it’s legal. Sometimes I wish I were never introduced to the concept of therapy in the first place.

But I was not her parent, and although I questioned the need for an 11-year-old to go to therapy, I couldn’t say much more. I could only think, “This is a mistake!”

Fast forward to now, months later, and the 11-year-old is turning 12 and my boyfriend’s 8-year-old is now having issues. I crawled into her bed one night and she was off on a rampage about how, pretty much, everything in her life
sucked. Her friends sucked, school sucked and she was upset that her mother and father would never vacation together again (although they never really did.) The 8-year-old didn’t understand why children have “no say” in divorce. To me, she is wise beyond her years and I understand her personality completely. When she speaks, it’s as if we have the same worries, yet I’m almost three decades older than her.

To my shock, it was I who suggested that she might want to talk to a therapist. I had seen my boyfriend’s 11-year-old blossom into this beautiful young woman, who is friendly, funny and just plain sweet. She saw the therapist eight times and that was it. She doesn’t seem upset by her parent’s divorce any longer. She doesn’t mention therapy.

The 8-year-old needed a bit of a “lesson” in therapy, and what better person to teach her about therapy than someone who’s been there for a decade? I told her she could tell the therapist anything. She was surprised when I said she could argue with the therapist. She liked that I said, “The only thing you can’t do is hit your therapist!” I explained that she could yell, she could cry, and that she wouldn’t have to tell anyone after what she said or what the therapist said. (I clenched my teeth during this latter part.)

The one thing I don’t like about the idea of therapists and children is that, even as their parent, you can’t ask the therapist what went on, or what your children say in their session. I know, I know, it’s their time. It’s not about the parents. It’s about them.

So, yes, I’m a bit of a convert to children and therapy. I’ve seen good results. I think that if there’s an actual end in sight to their therapy, then it can be good for them. As a parent, if you can hold back from asking questions, and let your children have that time with the therapist, it can be beneficial.

Still, when my 7-year-old said to me about my boyfriend, “I feel like he’s stealing you away from me,” I cried a little inside and thought, “I wonder if there’s a group rate for therapy?”

Even though I’ve seen results, and good ones, I’m not convinced it’s the best choice for my daughter. Instead, I tell my shrink what my daughter says and then apply what he suggests. After all, she’s too young for therapy.

(Photo: Snoopy.com)