You know it is time. Your child’s behavior has now reached a point where he or she would benefit from bringing in outside help. However, the process of deciding who to invite into your son or daughter’s life can be daunting at such a vulnerable time. You want the therapist to connect to your teen, but also for him or her to be someone you trust. Your child finally makes a connection with a therapist and is starting to open up. But have you ever wondered what your therapist is thinking?

Here is a list of the top 10 things your teen’s therapist wishes parents knew:

1. Trust that you are the expert on your kid.

A good therapist knows not to base his or her entire perspective on that of a teen. The therapist must work hard to develop a strong relationship with your child; however, he must also consider the opinions and viewpoints of the parents in order to more fully understand the situation at hand. It can be helpful to use the analogy of a CEO and his board to further illustrate the importance of your role. Until the late teen years, you are the CEO of your child’s company. You are inviting me, the therapist, in as a consultant. I should earn your respect and trust, bringing the latest research on behavior modification. However, your experience means you will always be the expert on your child. Use those God-given instincts to speak confidently with the therapist you are choosing to serve on the board. You will have a relationship with your child long after the therapist goes, so keep your seat at the table and find counselors that instinctually and actively acknowledge your worth.

2. Showing empathy is not the same thing as approval.

As therapists, we practice for years what is called Reflective Listening. It is a powerful technique that shows clients they are not only being heard, but are understood. So often parents get overwhelmed with the enormous task of keeping a teen safe that moms and dads forget to take the time to help their children know they are being heard. Parents can start simply by beginning sentences with, “I hear that you are frustrated,” or, “You sound overwhelmed.” It is natural for the parent to want to relieve pressure and solve problems; however, if children feel deeply understood first, they can often come to their own sound conclusions. The parents’ efforts in helping their children understand both the root of their issue and their reactions can be worth every bit of effort.

3. Negotiate parenting issues and decisions with your partner behind closed doors.

Parenting will only be as effective as the united front in which the structure is presented. Many times with children, it feels as if consequences need to be administered quickly. Teens are successful at communicating urgency in many situations and can make you feel you must tell them what will occur to alleviate his or her anxiety. However, if you speak too quickly and then change your mind later, the teen will know the doors are open to negotiations. Behaviors usually continue because they are allowed. If you find your teen raging for days after a consequence has been administered, evaluate your consistency. Taking a few hours behind closed doors to consult with your partner regarding realistic consequences that can be consistently administered and then delivering them as a united team will help to slow down the negotiations and make for a more peaceful home.

4. If all else fails, remember you are trying, and in the end, that will deeply matter. 

Children can be so angry with their parents, and yet as soon as they leave the room, teens may speak of how important they are to them. There is no bigger punching bag in life than a parent, and wise mothers and fathers know they will receive hits if they want to stay on the team. This does not mean parents have to tolerate disrespect; it does mean, however, that they will not always believe their teens’ initial reactions. Parents can partner with the therapist to investigate the explosive reactions to reveal the deeper currents of their child’s heart.

5. See differences in parenting styles within the marriage as casting a larger, more effective net.

So often, one parent is high warmth and the other is high structure. Parents can engage in bitter arguments regarding which parent is serving the child’s needs more effectively. However, a child being well rounded, raised by a variety of perspectives is the key to emotional health. Let your partner be different from you. Yes, consistency reigns supreme; however, implementing structure is simply style and multiple styles can serve your teen well in the long run. Before you criticize your spouse’s parenting, consider if it is actually damaging or if it is simply different from yours.

6. You can only take your child as far as you have allowed yourself to go.

This is the brutal reality of therapy and parenting—we can only take those following us down the paths we have had the courage to walk. Anxiety, depression, and self-esteem are highly contagious, and oftentimes the parent’s mental health, happiness, and well-being must be considered when teaching a teen how to heal. Remember, your child is watching and if you are not kind and truthful with yourself, it is very difficult for the therapist to teach your child to love and be honest with his or herself.

7. There is no bigger self-esteem booster than, “What do you think you should do about that?”

Most children have some sense of self-esteem in the early years. It is why a child will sing at the top of his or her lungs in the grocery store. However, many parents watch helplessly as their child loses confidence starting as early as elementary school. Self- esteem is deeply complicated psychology built on years of investment into your child’s sense of self. Simply asking your children what they believe they should do or how they can make a situation better lets them know you believe in their ability to think it through. This endorsement will be deeply felt and eventually appreciated by each teen.

8. Surround yourself with encouragers (and no, it cannot be your kids).

Any parent willing to invest the time, finances, and vulnerability of bringing a child into therapy is a parent invested in seeing that child heal and grow. All parents can tell you 10 things they wished they were doing differently; however, they cannot tell you three strengths they are bringing to their children. Parenting is a long-distance run and those who finish strong will be the ones who keep investing in their own self-care accounts, knowing the withdrawals will be deep. Hold onto friendships, professionals, and teammates who encourage and remind you of your unique contributions to your child’s life.

9. Earning your child’s trust is far more important than your ability to quickly modify a behavior.

There is far more to earning a child’s trust than simply providing for his or her needs. Many times, parents do not know the core contributing factors to their child’s behaviors because the teen does not feel parents will understand. It is tempting to try and relate by telling the teen stories of your youth, but teens do not start listening to parents simply because they have relevant experience. It is only through empathy and seeking to understand that a teen will stay bonded. The skilled parent can listen with fresh ears and an open heart to truly hear the fears and insecurities of each teen, without approving of all behavior.

10. Your child will only accept the grace you also extend to yourself.

Let’s face it, if there were a perfect way to raise a child, you would have read the book and followed it completely. Children, being uniquely created and facing different challenges, can often leave parents feeling confused, discouraged, and full of regret. Teens pick up on far more than what meets the eye and can often sense the underlying disquiet of their parents. This is the first time you have raised this child at this age and the first time that child has tried to do life at this stage, too. There are no rough drafts in parenting, only grace. So remember, how you respond to your own mistakes is as important as any reaction that you may show to your child.

PS – The secret to parenting teens? Listen and repeat. 

Whitney Herrmann

Whitney Herrmann is a licensed therapist serving women, families and marriages throughout the greater Denver area. She regularly accepts speaking engagements offering powerful insights, tangible steps for change, with a bit of fun and humor along the way. She is married to a wonderful man, Ryan and has two beautiful daughters, Eden and Shiloh. Please see her biography on Grace Counseling's website for more of her work or to schedule an appointment.