Explaining an assessment to your child

By Senior Psychologist Erin Hume

Seeing a psychologist for assessment is often a brand-new experience for children, teens, and their families. Having a conversation ahead of time regarding the reason for the assessment and what to expect can help children feel more at ease and make it more likely they will actively participate during the process.

In some situations, the young person has prompted the assessment themself by acknowledging or self-identifying a challenge they have at home or school. In other cases, the child may not be aware that there are one or more things they find tricky and need extra help with.

In all instances, being open and collaborative with the young person as to why the family has chosen to go down the path of seeking an assessment is the best approach. However, as in all conversations with children or teens on any topic, it is important to discuss things in a developmentally appropriate way.

An example for a younger child might be:

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Modelling and encouraging a curious attitude towards the assessment is also important. You can do this by:

  • talking about how our brains are amazing, powerful and unique. This means that what comes naturally to some (such as reading or paying attention) can be harder for others and vice versa (for more information see our post Talking neurodiversity with children)
  • wondering together what you might learn from the assessment in relation to areas of strength and challenge
  • asking your child what they might like to learn about themselves from the assessment and writing this down so it can be shared with the psychologist (though it is totally fine if your child does not have any questions they want to ask)
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We can also support young people to become the expert on their own brain by listening to and validating what they like and dislike about school, and which things they find easy or tricky.

Talking through with the young person what they can expect from the first session can help to alleviate any anxiety and concern. Generally, an assessment with a young person involves:

  • having a chat about how they think and feel about a lot of different topics, such as home, school, friends, and interests
  • completing some puzzles and brain teasers (many of which are on the iPad!) to help figure out how their brain learns best
  • doing school-like tasks of reading, writing or math to see where their strengths are, as well as any areas that might need building up with some extra support

It is important to emphasise that there is no need to prepare for an assessment apart from a good night sleep the night before, and a good breakfast the morning of. Also, you can let the young person know that the process is definitely NOT like a test or exam at school – they will be able to take movement or game breaks throughout if needed or wanted.

If the young person is reluctant to attend or participate in the assessment you can explain that the process is specifically set up as one step towards making something better or easier for them. This can sometimes help the young person become more invested in the process for themselves rather than doing something because they have been told they have to do it.

For young people who are still very resistant to the idea, please talk about this with your psychologist, as an initial conversation with the young person can be organised. This may allow them to get to know the psychologist and to talk through any concerns or roadblocks prior to starting.

It can also be helpful to let the psychologist know any special interests or favourite activities the child or teen has, so they can integrate this as much as possible into the sessions to help build rapport and assist the young person to feel more comfortable.

In summary, the key approach to take with young people with talking about an upcoming assessment is one of positivity, collaboration and curiosity.