What should you tell your child before testing?
I am often asked what one should tell their child before testing. The answer depends on several factors. Many things can come into play. One of the most important factors is whether the child has been tested before and what their experiences have been with it.
If the child has a negative history with testing, it is important to weigh your words carefully. In such a case, I have an initial conversation with the parents and prepare them for what would be most appropriate to tell their child before testing.
In other cases, there may be no need for specific considerations.
There can be different reasons for testing
It is important to defuse the situation. Most children do not know what a psychologist is. If they go to school, they may have met a school nurse. For these children, you can, for example, say that a psychologist is like a school nurse, but where the nurse takes care of the body, the psychologist takes care of the way we learn and think.
The word “test” can create associations that there is something one can fail in. Some children are very concerned about whether they are good enough and are performing well enough. Instead of saying “test,” you can say that the child will be doing some tasks with me. The tasks are helping me learn how the child learns. So it’s not about what’s right/wrong, but about how the child works with and solves tasks.
The (presumably) gifted child – Aleksander, 10 years old:
“Listen, Aleksander. You’re really good at learning new things and quick to do your homework. That’s why we want to find out how the school should give you the right kinds of tasks. Some of the things the others in class do are too easy for you. We need to find out what your tasks should look like and how many you should have. That way, it can be more exciting for you to go to school. So we’re going to visit a lady on Wednesday. Her name is Dea, and she has a lot of different tasks that you two will try to solve together. She has done tasks with many other children your age, and now it’s your turn. She’ll tell you a lot more about it on Wednesday. If you have something you want to ask about already now, feel free to say it, and I can ask her. What do you think the tasks you’ll be doing together will be like?”.
In the above example, there is first a description of the background for the testing, then a description of the purpose, an introduction to me, and finally an opening for the child’s reflections on it.
The preschool child – Mille, 5 years old:
“Mille, listen up. We’re going to visit a lady named Dea. We’re going to visit her because she needs help with some tasks, and since you’re so good at tasks, we’ve agreed with her that you’ll come and help her. Dea has told us that some of the tasks involve puzzles and some involve memory. She also says there are some tasks where you have to be quick. We think you’re good at all those things, and Dea was happy to hear that. She said she’s looking forward to meeting you and that you’re welcome to bring a snack. What do you think we should bring?”
The child in distress – Aja, 12 years old:
“We need to talk, Aja. I want to tell you that we’ve been thinking about how things are going for you with your friends at school and at the club. We’ve seen that it’s been hard for you to be allowed to be a part of it when the others are together and having fun during recess, at the club, and after school. We want to help you talk about it and learn more about what we as parents should do and what the school should do to make things better for you. We’re going to visit a lady on Monday. Her name is Dea, and she’s going to help all of us. She also has some different tasks that you two will try to solve together. She has talked to many other children who also have a hard time in the same way as you. She’ll tell you more about it on Monday, but if you have something you want to ask about already now, feel free to say it, and I can ask her. How do you think it will be to talk to someone about all of this?”.
In the above example, there is again a description of the background for the investigation, then a description of the purpose, an introduction to me, and finally an opening for the child’s reflections on it.
The larger examination, suspicion of a psychiatric diagnosis – Victor, 9 years old:
“Come talk to me, Victor. I know it’s been really hard for you since you switched to the new school. The teachers have tried to help you sit more quietly during class. They have tried to explain the tasks so they are easier to understand. How do you think it’s going in school? I think it still seems difficult for you. I believe the teachers and we parents can do better to help you, but we also need help. That’s why we’re going to visit a lady on Friday. Her name is Dea, and she will talk to us as a family and also with you alone. You two will do some different tasks that you will try to solve together. She has talked to many other children your age who also have a hard time in the same way as you. She will help us find out how we can be really good at helping you. She’ll tell you a lot about it on Friday, but if you have something you want to ask about already now, feel free to say it, and I can ask her. How do you think it will be to talk to someone about all of this?”.
In the above example, there is again a description of the background for the assessment, then a description of the purpose, an introduction to me, and finally an opening for the child’s reflections on it.
Are you still unsure about what to say?
As shown in the three examples, there is a largely comparable choice of words on what you can tell your child before testing, but there may be a need for customization depending on the background for contacting me. If you are in doubt, ask me, and we will find a suitable phrasing together.
Have you got everything?
Please note that it is possible and in many cases advisable to supplement testing with a questionnaire to assess well-being and any mental health problems. You can get more clarification HERE (in Danish) on what you should choose to make sure you shed light on everything you want to learn more about.