7 Reasons Why Parent Participation is Key to Successful Child Therapy Outcomes
Why is Parent Participation So Important?
When it comes to child therapy, parents are key partners in the process of change.
I’ve worked in the field of Psychology and Mental Health with hundreds of children and families for nearly two decades, in different contexts and different positions.
And time and time again, there’s one key factor that separates successful outcomes from early termination or lack of goal attainment. And that one things is parent participation in their child’s therapy.
But don’t take my word for it – there’s plenty of research that clearly demonstrates that parent-child or parent-only therapeutic approaches are far more effective than child-only therapies, especially when it comes to younger children. Here’s a starting point if you’re interested in reading more about it…
And that’s why parent participation is not only recommended, but is a required component for your child to work with me.
When parents are active participants in their child's therapy, it enhances:
- Child Participation
- Skills Development
Let’s explore each of these a bit further, so you get a better understanding of how parent participation in Child Therapy can help.
How Does Parent Participation Improve Child Outcomes?
Parent Participation Facilitates Child Participation
Let’s face it, kids can’t access the services they need without the help (and consent!) of their parents.
When parents are active participants, kids tend to show up more consistently, feel supported and get the message from home that therapy is beneficial (so have better attitudes toward it; aka reap a lot more benefits in the long run), and are less likely to drop out early.
When parents aren’t involved, when they’re open to therapy but don’t really see the benefits, or when kids get mixed messages about their participation in therapy, they start to question the benefits as well, and it basically becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But it’s not enough to simply show up. When I talk about active participation, there are a few other components that are required above and beyond simply showing up. One of those, is to actively work WITH your child’s therapist.
Parent Participation Maximizes Collaboration
YOU are the expert on your child – and don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise! No therapist (and I’m no exception!) can ever have the amount of knowledge or experience you have with your child.
That being said, a great child therapist is an expert on child development, psychology, learning, and behaviour change.
It’s important both parents and therapists understand this delicate balance of authority and expertise, and have a good awareness of their own strengths, limitations, and boundaries within this working relationship in order to maximize the positive impact for your child.
Treatment outcomes in therapy are highly correlated with client-therapist fit. Which means, the better the fit, the better your treatment outcomes will likely be.
And when a child is the client, it’s just as much a matter of fit between the parents and the therapist as it is between the child and the therapist.
The right fit can facilitate a great collaborative parent-child-therapist alliance, which can make all the difference in your child’s therapy.
Because when parents and therapists work together in collaboration, we become aligned in our perspectives, treatment goals, and how we’re going to get there, and we’re a whole lot more effective and impactful FOR your child.
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that children don’t learn from people they don’t respect or who they feel don’t care for or respect them… well, the same is true of all of us. And it’s only after establishing trust and a good working relationship between parents and therapists that parents will truly benefit from the rest of the areas…
Parent Participation Enhances Understanding and Knowledge
I truly believe that 99% of parents out there deeply love their kids, and are doing the very best they know how to do with the circumstances they’re currently in.
And the 1% that isn’t, certainly isn’t seeking out information on child therapy, so I think it’s safe to say, that’s NOT you!
One of the huge benefits of parent participation in therapy is that, when parents are part of the process, they gain access to a whole lot of knowledge and information they otherwise may never know.
A deeper understanding and knowledge of why your child’s struggling can lead to a whole new awareness and perspective of the issue(s), and facilitate “aha” moments and insights into where to go from here, which ultimately leads to new patterns of interaction and fundamental changes, that actually stick.
And it’s this understanding that’s necessary for the next point to be effective
Parent Participation Allows You to Gain Necessary Tools and Strategies to Help Your Child
Understanding is great, but it’s not enough just to know what’s going on and why… You also need to know what you can do about it, how therapy can help, and what the process might look like.
Spoiler alert about the process: it’s almost never a steadily improving straight line to success that we’d like (and – let’s be honest – expect) to see.
The process of change is messy. It’s hard. And you need to know that going into it. Because the more you understand and anticipate some bumps along the way, the more prepared and resilient and likely you’ll be to get through it toward success.
The benefit of active parent participation in child therapy is that you’ll learn the same tools and strategies as your child is learning, along with when, where, and how to apply them to maximize success. And you can discuss questions, concerns, issues, and successes along the way.
Parent Participation Enhances Mutual Support
You get support. I get support. Your child gets support. Everyone supports each other. And when that happens, it’s a beautiful thing.
The reality is, your child may not want to, like to, have the capacity to, or see the benefits of doing certain things.
I probably don’t need to tell you this, but FYI, kids are focused on what feels good right now, in the moment, not on what’s best for them in an hour, a week, a month, a year, or a decade from now. That’s what parents are for.
So, your child is going to need your support to successfully apply what they’re learning in therapy, outside of the clinic, where it matters most.
Sometimes this just means being a cheerleader. Sometimes this means healthy modelling and encouragement, and sometimes this means implementing expectations, boundaries, and a healthy push in the right direction.
Also, regardless of why your child is in therapy, there are a lot of ways that paying attention to how you respond to their emotional or behavioural difficulties, and adjusting your interaction patterns, can have a tremendous impact on how successful the outcome of child therapy can be.
Children’s difficulties don’t appear in a vacuum – they appear in the context of other relationships. That doesn’t mean parents caused their child’s emotional or behavioural difficulties – far from it! It just means parents focus on what they can control, and do their best to adapt to the situation in effective ways.
Adjusting maladaptive relationship patterns is key in achieving child therapy goals.
The more willing you are as a parent to actively participate not just on encouraging your child to do what they need to, but also taking a look at what you can do and committing to making changes in yourself and in your relationship with your child, the more likely your child will be to meet their goals in therapy.
Parent Participation Enhances Skills Development and Transfer to the Real World
Child therapy often happens in the clinic. When kids are in an ideal learning environment, and in the presence of a therapist. While it’s a great environment to optimize learning new information and skills, it’s hardly real life.
Kids can only reach their goals if and when that information is applied in their natural environments. At home. At school. At soccer practice. At the grocery store. At birthday parties. At the park… You get the drift…
It really doesn’t matter how much is gained in the therapy room if the skills are never transferred to the real world, where it matters most.
In order to turn learning into action, it takes practice. And when it comes to kids, practice often needs to be facilitated and encouraged by parents.
This practice allows kids and parents to test out different theories and tools and strategies, figure out what works and what doesn’t, and bring real-life experiences back to the therapy room to discuss, tweak, and refine as necessary to meet their individual realities.
That’s where the magic really happens!
As much as I’d love to take credit for the great changes that my clients achieve, it’s not the work I do that matters most… It’s the countless hours and days of practice kids and parents put in outside of the clinic that leads to their success! And active parent participation is a huge part of it.
Parent Participation Allows for Well-Rounded and Ongoing Evaluation
The whole point of therapy, is to get to a point where you no longer need therapy…
And it’s important to get the whole picture. The child, the therapist, and parents will all have their perspectives on how things are progressing, and it’s important everyone’s aware of where things are at throughout the process.
Active participation in treatment means parents both give their perspectives, so they can be taken into account, as well as receive regular updates on progress toward goals.
The child, therapist, and parents can all work together to continue to evaluate and reevaluate treatment goals, structure, and timelines as therapy progresses.
Which means, your perspective is valued, and you’re not left in the dark wondering what’s happening, how things are going, or what the plan is moving forward.
To Sum It All Up
Active parent participation maximizes your child’s success, by enhancing participation, collaboration, knowledge, strategy, support, skills development, and ongoing evaluation.
The amount and structure of parent participation in child therapy may vary depending on the age of the child, the presenting concerns, the type of therapy, and the context in which it’s provided.
So if you’re searching for a therapist for your child, keep this in mind as you find the best fit for your child and your family.
And if your child is already in therapy, ask how you can play an active role to enhance the process.