The Taboo About Counseling:
Unfortunately, counseling still has a negative stigma attached, and many parents can become offended and defensive when approached by an outsider regarding counseling for their child. However, many families and children could greatly benefit from counseling and we as professionals should not shy away from sharing this opportunity with families.
Many parents do not fully understand what child counseling or family counseling looks like and are therefore resistant. Parents also worry about the financial stress that comes along with seeing a mental health professional.
How Do You Start:
Schedule a time to meet with the parent that is specifically for this discussion.
If the parent has a strong, positive relationship with other school staff members, invite them to the meeting.
Be specific about the behaviors that you have seen and when you noticed them. Be able to show detailed documentation if needed. Do not speculate or give opinions. It is very important that you stick to the facts and stay away from negatively labeling the child. For example, even if you have 5 other children in your class that behave the same way as this child and are diagnosed with ADHD, do not tell these parents that you think their child also has ADHD. Instead, present the facts and suggest that the child could benefit from an outside, professional opinion and/or testing.
Many parents are naturally going to feel defensive and like you are blaming them. Work hard to let them know that you are on their side and that you know they want the best for their child. Remind them that you can be an advocate for their child and family.
Have a specific plan. Know the resources that your school offers and the different options that are available to parents. Be able to give them numbers and information of professionals to contact.
What Not To Do:
Don’t assume the parents also see a problem. Many parents are surprised or caught off guard by the topic of counseling.
Do not lose hope or give up on the family. Sometimes it takes awhile for parents to come around to the idea, but if you are gently persistent, they often do.
Do not gang up on the family by surrounding them with lots of school officials and staff. They may feel embarrassed already about counseling and all the extra people will add to their anxiety.
Questions often raised by teachers:
What if a parent does not see the need for counseling or denies that there is a problem?
Unfortunately, we can’t make every parent listen to our concerns. However, I have found that the more documentation and hard facts you can present them with, along with multiple options, the more responsive they will be. Sometimes it takes more than one meeting to get a parent on board. Also, starting the conversation early, before things get too far, is also very helpful. This helps keep the parent in the loop and keeps them from feeling blindsided.
What if I talk with the family but they never take action and look into counseling?
You can try having the school counselor get involved and speak with the family. They are trained in talking with resistant parents and sometimes having an outsider step in keeps you from having to be the “bad guy.”
What if I think a child could benefit from counseling, but I’m not sure?
You can talk with the school counselor. They should be able to share with you what behaviors or concerns would be helped through counseling. If you have a positive relationship with the parents, I suggest asking them what they think. They might have been wondering the same thing, but needed a second opinion before acting.
What are the options that I can offer parents?
We are fortunate to be able to have many options for students. Many schools have small groups that the school counselor conducts and this may be an option to look into. There are also 504 plans that the school officials can work with the family on putting into place that will allow extra testing time, special testing rooms, etc. There is also testing that is possible, along with counseling resources outside of the school. Medication is an option, but one that most doctors would recommend trying after counseling and testing.