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What questions will a psychologist ask my child

Attending an appointment with a psychologist for the first time can feel a bit overwhelming, especially for children who typically have no idea they even need to see one. Perhaps your child is showing a delay in some of their social, emotional, or academic skills and they need psychological testing. Maybe they are going through complex life challenges and need therapy sessions with a licensed psychologist. Regardless of the reason, a child psychologist has the knowledge, education, training and experience to help.

On the way to their appointment, your child may ask where they are going. They may feel anxious about what to expect during their visit with the psychologist. This interaction is natural and healthy. A child who is curious and asks questions is more likely to be a willing participant during their session with the psychologist. Understanding what to expect will help set your child at ease during their session. Today we will discuss the various questions a psychologist may ask your children.

What to Expect During Your Initial Appointment with a Child Psychologist 

During the first few appointments, you and your child should expect the psychologist to ask questions about your child’s medical history and family history. Although it may feel silly to answer questions about people who aren’t even at the appointment, this information will help the psychologist understand your child’s needs in a bigger context. Additionally, family history will help correlate the patient and their family’s history regarding mental health, learning disorders, and more. 

Initially, the intake questions will be directed to the parent or guardian. A few of the questions that may arise during your child’s initial appointment include but are not limited to:

  • What brings you here today?

  • What is your child’s personality like? Have there been any notable social changes?

  • How do you spend time together as a family?

  • Are there any mental health, addiction, or unusual disorders that run in the family?

  • Are there currently any significant stressors in the family’s life (i.e. divorce, financial concerns, legal problems, etc.)

  • How well does your child get along with other children?

  • Does your child struggle at school (emotionally, socially, academically, etc.)?

  • What are your approaches to discipline?

Play Therapy for Younger Children

play therapy for younger children

When treating younger children, the psychologist will most likely have a parent or guardian complete the initial appointment intake. During this time, you will share your entire family history and reasons for your child’s referral. After this initial intake is complete, the psychologist will meet with you and your child to start developing a solid therapeutic relationship. 

After the psychologist has earned the child’s trust, they may use play therapy as one of their therapeutic methods. Play therapy allows your child and their therapist to continue developing their relationship and deepen their trust levels through play. Whether it’s LEGO, games, play-doh, or art, play therapy is a unique way for the therapist to ask your child questions without being so straightforward. Play therapy is designed to help to avoid any potential confusion or unsettling feelings.

Questions a therapist may ask your child during play therapy include but are not limited to:

  • How is school for you? Do you have friends, a favorite teacher, etc.?

  • What are your favorite things to do with your parents or siblings?

  • Do you have any fears?

  • If you could wave a magic wand, what would you change?

  • If you had three wishes, what would they be?

Although these are just a few examples of baseline questions, a psychologist will get creative to meet your child where they are at and develop questions in a way your children will understand. If your child has suffered a traumatic event, these questions will be phrased in a manner to discover their truth without causing further trauma.

Scheduling Your Child Psychology Appointment

At BE Psychology, we understand the uncertainty of attending a first-time mental health appointment. What will be asked? Who will the psychologist be? Will my child feel safe and comfortable? These are common questions many of our clients either ask or are thinking about. Our team of therapists, counselors, and psychologists work to create a welcoming, judgment-free environment where clients of all ages feel safe to discuss their feelings, concerns, and challenges. We work with children, teens, and families to help them achieve greater mental health and well-being. We can help you during challenging times.

Contact a member of our team to schedule your appointment.

reem shaheen counseling psychologist

Reem Shaheen – LMHC

“Parents and caregivers are the ones who know their child the very best,” said Dr. Petra Steinbuchel, Director of Psychiatry at Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland and Little Otter Provider Advisor. “We take a whole person, whole family, and whole team approach.”

Keep in mind that you’re not obligated to share certain personal or sensitive details if it makes you feel uncomfortable.

While it’s important for your child’s provider to have an understanding of your family’s experiences, your story is your own. You get to decide what parts of it to share.

2. Questions about Your Family’s Story

This first appointment is an opportunity to explain your family’s story and any concerns in your own voice.

“I like to ask, ‘Beyond what’s on paper, I’d really like to hear in your own words what brings you in today, and how you think I might be able to help,’” Dr. Steinbuchel added.

Your provider will likely ask questions about:

  • Your child’s personality, challenges, and feelings

  • What your child enjoys and does well

  • How your child navigates different environments (social, academic, family, romantic)

  • How you spend time as a family

  • When you feel most connected (particularly if the child is older or a teen)

  • Your home environment and routines (like mealtimes and household rules)

  • Your approach to discipline and caregiving

These kinds of therapy questions for kids are about building understanding and trust. These details will give your child’s mental health provider a complete picture of your family so they can create a plan that works for you.

3. Questions about Your Family’s Goals

During your first appointment, your mental health provider might ask about your goals, and what challenges feel most important to work on first.

You’ve made the decision to get your child help, and chosen a psychiatrist, a psychologist or some other mental health professional. Next up on your to-do list is figuring out what you can expect of the therapist  and what’s expected of you. Here we will walk you through how to form a solid working relationship, set appropriate expectations and understand your role in helping your child make progress. And we’ll give you pointers on how to work through obstacles to good care.

Getting started

“The best relationships start with transparency,” says Wendy Nash, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist. She suggests coming to your first meeting prepared to talk not only about your child’s issues but also about their background, what they were like before you became concerned, key stressors or events that may have triggered a change, and what your priorities are for treatment.

“It’s helpful if you can explain what you’ve already tried, what has worked and what hasn’t,” Dr. Nash says. “The more context you provide, the better.” Information from schools can also be valuable, and the therapist can guide you on ways to request it without disclosing why it is needed.

Another good move is to iron out logistics up front. Misunderstandings can be avoided if you have clarity on matters like what you will (or won’t) be billed for, how quickly the therapist will return calls, and the kinds of incidents that merit a heads-up call before an appointment.

Expectations for treatment

Worried parents want to know how long treatment will take, and how soon they will start to see progress. Being aware of the factors that affect results can help you form realistic expectations and keep frustration at bay.

Some types of talk therapy are open-ended but some, like cognitive behavior therapy, which uses skill-building techniques that have been rigorously tested, have been found to show results over a specific timeframe. That doesn’t mean all kids make progress at the same rate, notes Jerry Bubrick, PhD, a child and adolescent psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, but it gives you a frame of reference, and it’s appropriate for parents to ask what the estimated time frame is. It’s also appropriate to ask about specific goals for treatment, and how you will measure success.

How quickly your child makes progress will depend on the complexity of their challenges as well as how long the problem has had to take root. A child who is severely anxious, for instance, may have difficulty participating in therapy, and need medication to get to the point where they can benefit. A depressed teenager may resist treatment, and need help to see how they might benefit from it. “A family move, divorce or traumatic incident can slow things down a lot,” notes Dr. Bubrick. Missed appointments and conflicts between parents over the need for therapy can also undermine treatment. One overwhelmingly positive influence is having a supportive and involved family.

Parents are pivotal

Even the best therapist in the world gets only a snapshot of a child’s behavior and mood in 45 minutes a week. To round out the picture, clinicians usually set time aside for regular check-ins with mom or dad. How are anxiety management skills translating from therapy to playground? How is your child responding to the medication? Do you see signs of their depression worsening? Was there a major meltdown your child may not have mentioned in therapy? Parent feedback provides the therapist with a richer and more accurate picture of your child’s needs.

“Whether or not parents sit in on sessions depends on the age of the child and the nature of the treatment,” Dr. Bubrick explains. “But parents are still the coaches, the ones who drive treatment at home.” The takeaway: For your child to get the most out of treatment, you’ll need to monitor them closely, know which skills are being worked on and how to reinforce them outside the office in everyday life.

When a five-minute meeting or phone call with the therapist isn’t enough, ask about background reading material, online resources and parent support groups. You can also ask to meet for a full session without the child present. These “collateral” sessions may be covered by insurance, allowing you to discuss issues and care in greater depth.

Strategies for building teamwork

Although parents and therapists have a common goal of helping your child get better, you each see them from a different perspective. Effective communication depends on many variables, including your own stress level, how receptive the therapist is to input, how well you articulate your concerns and the personal factors that play into any kind of relationship. Here are five parent-tested strategies to help you work through the challenges.

  • Respect your own knowledge. Your child’s therapist is the expert on therapeutic interventions, yet you are the expert on your child. You have spent more hours with them in more settings than anyone else. That knowledge matters, as does your gut feeling for what’s going on. Don’t be afraid to speak up! The therapist needs to know what you see, sense, and think is happening.
  • Plan what you’ll say ahead of time. The more you can pinpoint your worries, the easier your concerns will be to convey. Focus on observing changes in your child’s behavior, mood and social interaction and see if you can identify what it is that’s causing your spidey sense to tingle. It may help to keep notes about the frequency, intensity and duration of symptoms. If confusing new behaviors emerge, it’s okay to tell the therapist, “I’m not sure what this means, but here’s what I’ve been seeing.” You can puzzle it out together.
  • Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. Raising a high-maintenance kid can toss parents into situations in which they feel very vulnerable to the judgment of others. Do you admit to your son’s therapist that you yelled at your kid? That you find your daughter’s cutting revolting? That you are mortified when people stare at your child’s tics? Instead of avoiding these kinds of issues, try asking the therapist for advice on how to handle them. You can begin with something like, “I need help with strategies for how to defuse them when…” or “Can you suggest ways to deal with…?” The therapist may not have an answer for you right away, but if you open the discussion you may make progress.
  • Tell a story. Sometimes a child presents differently in the therapist’s office than at home or school. This can create a disconnect between your impression of what’s going on and the therapist’s. Anecdotes help. Instead of summarizing the week with, “Mornings have been rough,” try including detail so it’s clear exactly what you mean. “She had a 40-minute scream-fest that included flinging books and shoes, and left a dent in the wall,” for instance, gets an entirely different message across.
  • Use curiosity to express a different opinion. Intelligent people can and do disagree, and occasionally your child’s therapist may reach a conclusion you think is off base. Instead of launching into a debate, probe for more information. This honors the therapist’s expertise without putting them on the defensive. You might try something like, “Can you tell me more about why you think that’s what’s happening? I have a very different take on it” or, “Hmmm. Are there other possible explanations?”

What to do about bumps in the road

Any relationship has its rough spots, and occasionally people say things that are inconsiderate or hurtful. When this happens with a therapist, parents may feel blamed, unheard or angry. “The key question is whether what was said indicates there’s a problem with the relationship, or if this is simply a communication bump to get over,” advises Dr. Nash. She suggests a face-to-face meeting to discuss the issue directly. “You can ask ‘When you said ___ I heard ____. Is that what you meant to imply?”

Dr. Bubrick agrees. “It’s okay to say, ‘I felt dismissed when you said ___’ or ‘I didn’t appreciate the way you responded when ___.’ Addressing the problem directly is the fastest way to move forward.”

If after trying to resolve the issue you decide you are unhappy with the provider or with your child’s progress, it’s okay to seek a second opinion on treatment. It’s generally a lot easier on the current relationship if you let your child’s therapist know that you’re exploring other options.