Last month, I shared three things that parents want therapists to know:

  1. Parents don’t know if they can trust therapists.
  2. Parents love their kids.
  3. Parents are juggling multiple responsibilities.

I promised a follow-up, so here it is, three things parents want therapists to do.

1) Please listen to us. We know a lot about our kids, and we want to partner with you. I remember going to one therapist and handing her a complete history. I had spent a lot of time on it, making sure it was only a few pages long, that it covered his history, current issues, and things we had tried. The therapist told me it was irrelevant. She then proceeded to try to get him to give details about the “accident” that had landed him in a wheelchair. She asked what put him there. He said, “I put myself in.” Had she read the “irrelevant” history, she would have known that he is in the chair due to a birth defect, not an accident, and had been around enough kids like him that the chair was not the issue here.

Later, she thought she’d made a lot of progress when he told her about a memory he had with me as an infant. The “irrelevant” history would have told her that he was 6 when we met.

Even better, she got upset with me for not letting go places alone with his friend Toby. Only thing was, my son was 7 and Toby was a dog. A dog my son had tried to hurt. He wasn’t even allowed to be alone in the same room as Toby.

I could keep on going, but you get the point. Not only did I know my son’s history and the things that we’d tried, I knew his personality, and I had researched his issues. Had she listened, she could maybe have been effective. Instead she allowed my son to triangulate us. He got worse during our time with her.

2) Please remember: children with attachment issues lie. Even the cute. Even the very young. Even the ones in wheelchairs. This is a survival skill for them, and having survived this long, they’ve gotten very, very good. No one is immune to it, not teachers, not parents, and certainly not therapists. You will fall for it sometimes, so modeling an appropriate response is key. Helping the child is more important than your ego. You cannot teach a child to handle disappointment if you handle your own with denial, anger, or a lie of your own.

Oh, and if the child is caught in a lie, or escalates and throws a tantrum, don’t be upset if the parents smile. It’s not that they approve or find it funny. They just feel relieved that someone else is seeing what they see all the time. It disrupts triangulation, which helps the child, and makes the parents feel less alone.

3) Please consult with us before you make any promises. If you want to promise computer time, it’s worth checking with the parents whether the family even has a computer. If they do, then remember some kids struggle to use a computer in an appropriate way. My son used a regular Kindle (not even a Fire!) to get online where he found himself a porn site “girlfriend” who told him to get my credit card. He was desperate to talk to her. He would have done anything she said. The episode scared me. Our family did not need anyone, much less a therapist, promising computer time!

Or take this example. A friend recently had a therapist promise her foster child that if the child did her homework, she would get to visit her biological mother. Had the therapist talked to the foster mom –or anyone else, for that matter– she would have learned that the biological mother was in jail. In another state. For prostituting her daughter. There was even a restraining order.

Even treats and gifts can be a no-no. For one, attachment therapists generally recommend all such things come from the parents. If the therapist wants to reward the child, it should be done through the parents. Besides, there may be food allergies or food-triggered behaviors.

There may also be other children in the family who are not receiving the same promises or rewards. One family had a child in RTC for trying to kill his siblings. A therapist at the facility gave the child in care a very expensive Christmas gift, while the rest of the kids had a leaner-than-usual Christmas due to the cost of the one child’s treatment. A lot of hurt could have been avoided if someone had just talked to the parents first.

And now, I want to hear what you think. Parents, what would you add, to this or the previous post? Therapists, what could parents share that would help you?  We all want to help our kids. Let’s find ways to do it together.