Sunday, December 16, 2012

How to talk to your children about tragedy

I have had a few questions from parents about how to tell their child about the school shooting on Friday.  Here are the few tips that I gave them.

  • Be honest - If you tell them something is not true or they hear the truth from someone else, they can second guess all the other things that you told them. 

  • Use kid language - Share it in a way that makes it simple to understand.  For example, "A man who was upset hurt many teachers and children today.  He is no longer able to hurt others, so you and I are safe."

  • Share how it makes you feel and validate their feelings. - You can share if you are sad, and that many people all over the country and world are sad because of what happened.  If they feel sad or scared, that is ok.

  • Do not pay too much attention to the media or images on the TV. - The stories on TV, Internet, or the paper are not meant for kids and can cause more harm than good.

  • Help them come up with a way to help if they express a desire to. - They might want to draw a picture to send to one of the families, or maybe find a way to donate a stuffed animal.  They could mail a card, or light a prayer candle.  These types of things help a child feel included in not only the grieving process, but also the healing process. 

So now what? (my response to Friday's shooting)

On Friday, I was sitting in my car while my toddler napped in his car seat.  I opened up Facebook and started to cry, and then weep as I read the tragic story. We had a doctor's appointment to go in to in 10 minutes, and I knew I had to pull myself together, but I couldn't. I wept for the innocent children, the teachers, the parents, the families and town involved, the officers and medical staff, and also for the shooter and his family. I stared at my child in the back seat and wept for him. Before long, I realized that what I was truly grieving was the sadness of our culture. The culture that I am a part of, that my son is growing up in. There is darkness and fear in this world that breaks my heart.

I have worked in mental health for over 10 years. I have two undergraduate degrees, a masters in counseling and in family therapy, and a specialization in play thearpy, but even with this training I struggle to understand this tragedy. I spent over five years working at an inpatient facility for children and teens. I worked hands on with some of the most emotionally disturbed teens in my area. While working there, I did not see the child as the problem, as something to be gotten rid of. I grew a heart for these children and saw their pain, their own personal darkness. I learned that there is no "understanding" or "making sense" of it, even as their therapist. I learned that my job was to come alongside them and be there. These teenagers were hurting, they were angry, they felt alone and isolated. The thing I could give them, that their world (whether that be our culture, society, their family, etc.) had not, was connection. They needed to experience what it felt like to have someone care, to be accepted, and what it was like to care for someone else. They needed hope that they too could connect in this world.

Many of these teens have shared desires to harm others and themselves.  For them, this desire was not because they were evil or full of hate.  Instead, it was from trauma, pain, sadness, isolation, hurt, abuse, being bullied, or being forgotten.  There are plenty of ways they can accomplish whatever pain they plan on sharing with the world. I, for one, do not want the responsibility of babysitter and making sure that all sharp objects are locked away. I would rather spend my energy dealing with the root cause of their pain in the first place.

I would love to fix our entire culture, but I am just one. So my time and energy is spent healing and helping those that come across my path in pain.  I am an advocate for relationship.  Each one of these hurting teens needed someone to join in relationship with them.  To listen to them.  To accept them.  And to be there for them.  I am not going to say it is easy.  Being in a relationship with someone who is angry, hateful, or depressed is one of the most tiring things you can do.  To do it well will take most, if not all, of your energy.  When I look around this time of year I see so many wonderful people giving and donating to children, charities, and families.  I am encouraged by all of the posts on Pinterest or Facebook about ideas on how to give back.  However, I can't help but feel like that is the easy way out.  I'm not saying those things aren't good, or not important.  What I'm saying is that again, it is an easy fix.  What would happen if instead of dropping a toy off in the angel tree bin, your family built a relationship with the family down the street who was in need?  What if we took the time to play with the children who do not have anyone to play with rather than handing them a new toy? 

Our society is so self invested, and all about me.  We are raised to "look out for number one" and to "just worry about yourself," but what would happen if we turned our eyes to those hurting, those that are in need, even when it was inconvenient.  Even when it meant taking a risk.  I can't help but wonder what this would do to our world.  How much of the darkness would be overcome with joy and love.  I know there will always be good and evil, but I wish that rather than trying to hide the "evil" in jails or mental health hospitals, that we were investing and connecting them with the good on a relationship level.

Let's be more of an investor in others than in ourselves and see the radical change that occurs.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

"It's not fair" - Sibling Rivalry

What You Can do about Sibling Conflict

 It didn’t take long for my child to notice the other kids at the park had a brother or sister to play with and realize that he was alone.  I would catch myself thinking about how much better it would be if he had a sibling to be his buddy.  Yet, I know firsthand that siblings tend to have a love-hate relationship.  They might play well one minute, and then be at each other’s throat the next.  As a parent, I want my children to love each other and get along.  Not only does that make a more peaceful home, it helps them to build positive relationships with each other and others. 

 Unfortunately, there is no instruction manual given to you when you leave the hospital after you have your first born. And there will be no manual created by the time you have your second, third, forth, or even tenth.  There can be no miracle book or set of instructions because each child is so incredibly unique, how could anyone try to tell a parent that they should each be parented the same. But, these wonderful differences in our children mean arguing, competition, bickering, confusion, and often frustration. 

 Here are seven tips that can help you enjoy the individuality of each child, while cultivating positive sibling relationships.

1)      Remember that life’s not fair.  This is the famous “F” word in my life.  It has a major tendency to get under my skin.  How many times have you heard, "why does he get to stay up late and I have to go to bed?" Or, "why does he get the bigger piece of pizza?" I could go on and on. Kids are natural born score keepers and struggle with the concept of fairness. However, what is equal and right, is not always the same as fair.  Remember that each child is unique and needs unique parenting. Use these times of argued fairness to explain how you embrace the individuality of each child and how you work to meet each of their needs.  A simple tip for food sharing; have one child cut the pieces and the other one distribute them.  This makes them work hard to keep it even and they work together.

2)      Make sure each child has their own individual space.  This will vary depending on the child, again part of that uniqueness.  Some children need to feel like they have control over a lot of space, like an entire bedroom, while others are ok with having a special chair or corner.  Whatever your children need, listen to them, and try to accommodate.  This space gives them a place to go to when things get to be too much, or when they want alone time. 

3)      Give each child one-on-one time.  I know this is something that is said about almost everything, “if you only spent more time with them, then they wouldn’t __(fill in the blank)__.”  Well, truthfully, it works for resolving sibling conflicts.  Think about how many of the sibling arguments or fights are from a child wanting your attention.  If we give them the attention on the forefront, this can prevent the need for them to act out to receive our attention.  I know life is hectic and schedules are busy, especially with multiple children, but 15-30 minutes for each child during the week or every other week can be doable.  And it can be cheap.  Maybe take a walk, paint fingernails, play a card game, cook dinner together, or even do chores together.  As long as it is special “mom and joey time,” and that child gets your attention, it can be fulfilling for them.

4)      Take out any competition.  This sets up a rivalry between the children and puts a thorn in the relationship.  Rather than having them compete against each other, give them a mutual goal to try and achieve together.  For example, don’t see who can clean their room the best.  Have them race the clock to see if they can both work to get the rooms clean together before time runs out.  The more achievements they have between them, the stronger their relationship.  Instead of comparing who has the better grades, or who is the better athlete, allow praise and excitement for each of their achievements.

5)      Set up coaching opportunities.  By this I mean, give them things to teach each other.  Going back to each child being an individual, there are going to be things that they naturally do well.  Have them teach the other one about this.  This will build one child’s confidence, educate the other, and increase the communication abilities for both of them.  For example, an older sibling could teach a younger one how to tie their shoes.  A younger sibling could teach an older one a song they learned.

6)      Help them work out their problems on their own.  Be there to guide them and moderate when needed, but let them choose who gets to watch what tv show and when, or what they think would be fair for sharing the computer.  And just think how much time you will save if they can work things out without you.

7)      Sometimes all you have to do is listen.  Kids need to feel heard, and they will do some pretty crazy things to get our attention.  Try stating what you are hearing them tell you or show you.  For example, “I hear you telling me that you are very angry with your brother because he broke your toy.”  Just being there for them to vent to or express something to is sometimes all they need. 

Some easy things to do over the holiday season to build on the sibling relationship:

-          Have a sibling gift exchange.  These could by handmade or store bought, but the idea is that they had to think about what their sibling would like and appreciate.  This has them stop thinking about themselves, and think about others.

-          Have “caught ya” jars or sticker charts for each child.  Tell each child they can put marbles (or whatever you choose) in a jar each time they catch one of their siblings doing something good.  Again, this will focus on the positive choices and build those up.  Once any of the jars reach a set point, all the kids can have a sibling outing or special treat.  Remember to keep out the competition, which is why you reward all the siblings when any of the jars are full.

-          Have them set their own New Year’s Resolutions for their sibling relationships.

-          Encourage a fun sibling tradition, like decorating cookies, writing Santa letters, donating toys, or making presents for grandparents. 

Keep in mind that not all sibling conflict is bad.  The relationship that we have with our siblings helps prepare us for the outside world.  We learn how to stand our ground, how to compromise, how to share, and how to be a friend. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

FYI's for Parents

There are a handful of things that I like to tell parents before we begin the counseling process.

1.) Please take your child to the bathroom before the session starts. This way their session is not interrupted with a potty break. This is pretty simple, and makes a big difference.

2.) I do not require that the children clean up the playroom when the session is finished. This is because a child has just used the toys and play space to share and tell me things. I do not want them to have to put all that away, or back inside them. I can help distinguish for them that the playroom is different than their toys at home if you would like.

3.) Please call or email me with updates from between sessions rather than telling me in front of your child. Often times, parents use the first 10 minutes of the session telling me all the negative things their child did during the week. Then, the child feels less motivated to play and has the perception that they are now in trouble. Counseling should never be a punishment. However, I do like to stay informed and up to date, so a phone call prior to the session works great.

4.) Please continue to be the parent even when I am around. It is better for your child if you continue to discipline and interact with them the same way you do at home. These behaviors are helpful for me to see and they also keep me in the role of therapist, and out of the role of parent.

5.) Be advised that counseling has ups and downs. We will have good weeks where we see improvement, and we are guaranteed to have set backs. It has been shown that children get worse before they make lasting, positive change. It seems to be their last attempt to resist and rebel. Try not to let this scare you that counseling isn't working.

6.) The more involved and active you are in the counseling process, the quicker it will be. Your child will take note of your seriousness.

7.) Please do not ask your child if they did a good job during the session. This communicates that they could have done a bad job. In the playroom, there is no good or bad job. There is only unconditional acceptance for you child. Instead, you can say something like, "when we get to the car you can choose to share with me about your play time if you want, but you don't have to." Please don't pressure your child to tell you about their play. They often don't know how to put it into words. I will always let you know if I have concerns and you can always ask me if you have any. I will do my best to communicate to you about your child's play, while also maintaining their trust and confidentiality.

8.) It is important to continue counseling until the graduation sessions. Even if your child is doing much better, they need this sense of closure to maintain their progress.

9.) It is also important to do the homework assignments I may give you. Your child is only with me for an hour, so the real progress can be made when you work with them at home. I will always try to help you with whatever homework so you feel confident and able. During the entire counseling process we are a team, and I am here to help your child and you.

10.) Be ready to play!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Divorce Contract Your Child Wants You to Sign

Almost every child that experiences the divorce of their parents struggles with their emotions and feelings.  Each member of the family has to fill a new role and navigate new things.  This is a document to be used for each parent as a contract with their child on what they will and will not do.  I think that it addresses the main things I hear from my clients that they wish would happen.  Hopefully, this will help your family to have an understanding or boundaries and healthy behaviors.

Monday, September 24, 2012

15 Minutes A Day

When I watch TV, I always see exercise DVDs or cooking shows advertising the wonderful things you can do in 15 minutes. I wish someone would create a segment about the wonderful things you can do for your child and family in 15 minutes!

The benefits of giving your child, each one if you have multiple, undivided attention for at least 15 minutes a day:
1.) you reconnect with them
2.) they get the opportunity to reconnect with you
3.) opens up communication
4.) creates a feeling of value and importance in the child
5.) increases their feeling of self-worth
6.) can stimulate growth in the parts of their brain that work on building lasting relationships
7.) gives you insight into your child

Surely, if we can spend 30-45 minutes getting ready in the morning and another 30 checking Facebook/Twitter in the evening, I can find 15 minutes to be with my child.

There is a catch though. These 15 minutes have to be uninterrupted. No phone calls, no other siblings, no focusing on what you are cooking for dinner. It is all about the child. This might sound easy, but think about your typical day and how often you give something or someone your entire attention for 15 probably doesn't happen that often. That is our culture. We multitask. Successful parents do not multitask their children.

Ideas on how to spend those 15 minutes:
For toddlers and pre-school, play. Yes, it is that simple. Get down on their level, turn your phone off, and get messy. You could teach them one of your favorite games growing up or engage in one of theirs.
For school age, tweens, and teens, let them guide you in what would be fun for them. Maybe it is a Sonic run for slushies just the two of you. Maybe it is sitting on their bed talking about their day. Let them be the leader, but you be the initiator.

Another catch (yes, there is another) is that this time can not turn into teaching, disciplining, or correcting time. If it does then the 15 minutes does not count. These 15 minutes are relationship building, connecting, and "bucket filling" minutes.

Try it out and see if you notice a difference.  I am willing to bet that you will see your child differently and will have fewer negative interactions with them throughout the day.

"Connection before correction."

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Crucial Cs

This is material that I learned in a training from KC Play Therapy Institute. It is adapted from Terry Kottman, Ph. D., RPT-S, NCC, LMHC

I give this handout to almost every parent and teacher I work with. I find it is often a "game changer" for how they work with a child.

In order to SURVIVE and FLOURISH, children must master each of the Crucial Cs.

COURAGE - children need courage - the willingness to face life's tasks and take risks even when they do not know if they can succeed. Children with courage feel hopeful. They are willing to take risks and believe they can handle challenging situations. They are resilient.

Children who do not have courage feel inferior to others and inadequate. They do not take risks and tend to give up without trying. They frequently avoid challenges.

CONNECT - children need to connect with others. Those who do connect with others, feel secure, are able to cooperate, and can reach out and make friends. They believe they belong.

Children who do not have the skills necessary to connect will feel isolated and insecure. They make seek attention (usually negative, self-distructive ways) in order to feel that they have a place in the group or family.

CAPABLE - children need to feel that they are are competent and capable of caring for themselves. Those who do feel capable, have a sense of competence, self-control, and self-discipline. They are self-reliant and assume responsibility for themselves and for their behavior. They believe they can do whatever they set their minds to doing.

Children, who do not feel capable, frequently feel inadequate and frequently try to control others or let others know that they cannot be controlled. They frequently become dependent on others or seek to overpower others.

COUNT - children need to feel they are significant - that they count. Those who feel that they count believe that they make a difference in the world and that they can contribute in some way to others around them. They feel valuable and valued, and they believe that they matter.

Children who do not feel as though they count feel insignificant. This belief is painful to them, and they may; react to their feelings of hurt by trying to hurt others. Many children who feel that they don't count develop poor self-esteem and may give up, try to intimidate others, or overcompensate by acting superior. Other children feel that they count only "if" - their sense of significance is conditional.
So, where is your child's weak point?  When they act out, is it to prove that they count or trying to connect?  If you can find these areas of need, then you can be intentional to build them up and help them to see themselves having all 4 of the Crucial Cs. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Top 10 Reasons Parents Give for Not taking their Children to Counseling

I hear many reasons from parents about why they had such a hard time coming to counseling or approaching a therapist.  As a parent myself, I understand these and have often felt them.  However, also, as a parent, I have to put aside my own fears and stigmas and do what is best for my child. 

Here are the top 10 reasons I hear for not going to counseling:

10. Only really emotionally disturbed people go to counseling
     Truth - Counseling is for everyone, even counselors.  The purpose of a counselor is to help their client achieve their goals.  All of us have goals and when we have an advocate to partner with us on those goals, we can achieve them quicker and easier.

9. Counseling is too expensive
     Truth - Yes, some counseling is expensive, but not all counseling has to be.  Some insurance plans cover mental health, but if yours does not, you still have options.  You can ask different counselors for their rates.  Many counselors work off a sliding scale that is based on income.  As an intern therapist (which are Master's level students working on their licensure), I often saw clients for $10 an hour.   

8. I can't take off work every week to take my child to counseling
     Truth - As a family therapist, I strongly value the family being present for sessions.  Many family therapists and child therapists feel this way also.  I work evening hours just for this reason.  I also travel to pre-schools or other schools to see the child there so the parent does not have to leave work and bring the child to my office.  Many counseling agencies also provide these services. 

7. I don't want my child to think there is something wrong with them
     Truth - I'm going to be honest with this one.  Most kids already know that something is not right, or that something different is going on.  The relief that I witness in a child when they know their parent has validated these feelings and made the child's wellness a priority is amazing.  Often times, this is the beginning of healing for many children.  When we as parents deny that something is going on, we hinder our child from growing and continue to allow the issues to occur.

6. I can fix it myself
     Truth - Yes, there are a lot of things that a parent can do to help their child.  But, there are also things that 1) you might not know how to do and 2) your child is going to hear and respond better to someone that is not their parent...especially teenagers. 

5. It really isn't that bad, plenty of kids act worse
     Truth - There are all levels of severity that I see in my office.  I even see children for preventative work.  A child (or adult) does not have to be at a certain level of "badness" to go to counseling.  If there are things that are negatively influencing the child or family, a counselor can help.

4. He/She is too young to go
     Truth - As a play therapist, I have training in infant and toddler counseling.  I also work with foster families and adopted children.  Research has shown that the earlier an issue is presented and worked on in counseling, the better long term results that occur.  The longer a child has to develop bad habits, low self-esteem, negative coping skills, etc. the harder they are to correct.

3. I don't want my child to have a diagnosis or label that will follow them around
     Truth - If you use your insurance to pay for counseling your child will most likely have to be given a diagnosis so that insurance will see the counseling as medically necessary.  However, if you look around you will be able to find counselors that do not bill through insurance and do not have to give a diagnosis to a young child. 

2. I don't know who to go to
    Truth - Unfortunately, this one does not have an easy answer.  It takes some digging and time to find the best counselor for your child.  There are many different types of counselors, all with unique personalities.  This allows for all children to be able to have a counselor out there that fits with their personality and needs.  You can look online for a list of Registered Play Therapist here. You can also check with your child's school counselor or school professionals on who they would recommend in your area.

1. I am just plain uncomfortable with the idea of counseling and somebody telling me how to raise my child.
     Truth - It is okay to be uncomfortable and to have your guard up when starting counseling.  You will need your "mommy radar" or "daddy radar" to help you know if you are finding the right counselor for your child.  Ask a ton of questions and do your research.  Also, if you are with a good counselor, they will not tell you how to raise your child, but rather give you option and new ideas that you can choose to try.  A counselor is there to be your partner, helper, and advocate for your child and family.  They are not their to condemn you or make you feel like a bad parent.  A great counselor will help build you up so that you can be the best parent you can be for your child.

It doesn't hurt to check your options and see what is out there for your child.  You might be surprised at all of the resources that are available.  Also, if you are in my area, feel free to schedule a free interview/consultation.  I offer a free 30 minute time to families that are unsure if counseling is a good fit for them.  They can come in and hear more about what counseling I offer and see if their child could benefit or not.  I find this gives parents the opportunity to "test the waters" without having to make a commitment right away.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Playful Balloons

I wanted to give parents and teachers some fun and inexpensive ways to play with their children.  Balloons are always a big hit in the play room. 

Here are some fun ways to play with a balloon:
  • Balloon Volleyball - hit the balloon back and forth and try to keep it from falling to the ground
  • Feeling Face Balloon - draw different feeling faces on the balloons with sharpie markers
  • Balloon Dance Around - blow up a balloon but don't tie it.  let it go and then mimic the way it fell to the ground by dancing
  • Shaker Balloons - fill a balloon with different things (pennies, rocks, glitter) and then blow them up.  see the different ways they move and fall.
  • Stress Ball Balloons - fill balloons with flour, rice, water, etc. to create squeezable stress balls
  • Balloon Pop - blow up a bunch of balloons and put a prize in one.  come up with creative ways to pop the balloons to find the prize
  • Air Balloon - use only your breath to keep the balloon in the air
Here are a couple websites with even more ideas:

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Car Survival Kit

Do your kids struggle with getting along in the car?  Is the car usually the first place that things "erupt"?  Do you dread having to drive your kids somewhere because you know they will get into a fight? 

You are not alone!  So many of my parents come to my office with stories about their car rides to school, home from school, and even to my office.  We have worked together to come up with a Car Survival Kit to help keep the peace in your car.

You might want to tailor it to fit your family, but here is the general template:

  • A small plastic box with a lid
  • Small notepads and pencils for each child (great for writing down their issues rather than yelling about them)
  • Headphones (don't have to plug into anything but can drown out the sound)
  • Peppermints or jolly ranchers (use these as sort of a "time out".  whenever they have one in their mouth they can not speak but are to spend the time calming down)
  • Small bottle of 'magic lotion.' (This is the lotion that I use to heal hurts -inside or outside ones- in my office.  It is just lavender scented, sparkly lotion.  If one sibling calls the other a name, then the magic lotion can be used to help them feel better).
  • Fidget toys (slinky, tangle, stretchy things, stress balls)
  • Markers or crayons to draw about their feelings
  • An eye mask or two

I hope this kit helps you and your family from needing to pull the car over and manage an argument as often.  The families that have incorporated this kit have said that the children enjoy car rides now and are even improving on sharing and communicating with each other.

Feel free to add a comment about what you would put in your Car Survival Kit

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sensory Play

I talk about sensory play a lot!  It is one of the things that I use in my practice as well as my daily life with my own child.  I am a firm believer that keeping our senses regulated helps us to control our behaviors and better understand the environment around us. 

However, sensory play and regulation is crucial in the classroom as well.  I have seen students that were struggling with acting out find ways to calm themselves down and be a successful student again after engaging in sensory play.  After working with many teachers on ideas for sensory experiences in their classroom, I thought that these things could also be set up at home.  I have begun working with parents to set up sensory stations at home and educating them on the benefits of how to use them so their family is calmer and their child is more regulated.

Here are some of the most successful sensory stations that I have used:

Rice Tray
I choose to use rice instead of sand in the classroom or inside the home, because it is easier to clean up and it is cheap.  I also prefer rice over beans because you can vary the color and it smells better.  You will want to base your tray size from the age of your students.  For a kindergarten classroom, I would probably use something similar to a shoe box.  It is deep and small.  For middle school or older, you could use something much larger and less deep. 
I then put various colored rocks, stones, and other objects in a bag next to the tray.  I also have a rake, shovel, cup, etc.  These allow for the child to explore in the rice tray, gaining the full sensory experience.
The location of the tray should be somewhere off from the rest of the class and in a quiet place.  I found that most teachers like to keep it close to their desk so they can be near the student that is using it.  What you don't want is a student that is disregulated trying to soothe and calm themselves down in the rice tray, and then being surrounded by a bunch of other loud students.
Here is a link on how to color rice: How to Color Rice

Scented Play Dough
This works great to help a hyper or energetic student to refocus.  I had the teachers take small Ziploc bags with a small amount of scented play dough and keep them in their desk.  Whenever they would notice a student getting off task or fidgety, they would hand them the play dough to use for 10 minutes.  For older students, the teacher just left some out on her desk and the students would use it as needed.
Here is a link to make your own: Scented Play Dough

Weighted Animals
These are simple to make.  I just open up a stuffed animal (I try to find something shiny and unisex so the boys like it too) and add some beans, colored floral stones, or whatever I have around.  I then stitch it back up.  It's not always a pretty stitch, but that is usually part of the appeal to the kids.  I have the teachers let a "special helper" get to carry the animal or care for the animal.  I tell the teacher that a student who seems like they just need a hug or just need some time on their own is perfect for this "special helper."  The added weight in the animal helps to provide a unique sensory experience that can re-center and regulate their body.  This also worked great for students that had a hard time in line and with transitions during the day.
Here is a link to buy weighted objects: Weighted blankets and animals

Music or Quiet Station
This is in a small corner of the classroom, or for older kids, could just be a portable cd player they can have at their desk.  I include comfortable headphones, not the ones that go inside of the ear, a CD player, and a nature or relaxation cd.  Sometimes the noise of the classroom, cafeteria, gym, or recess can be too much for some students, so having the soothing nature sounds can help them to regroup and get ready to participate in the classroom.

There are many more sensory play activities that you can incorporate into your lesson plans and use if you find that your students are really benefiting from the extra sensory experiences.  However, if you keep these few around your classroom and use them regularly, you should notice a decrease in outbursts and misbehavior.

For parents, if you have a child who seems to be struggling in the classroom, these are great things to suggest to your child's teacher.  You could even make a small sensory kit for your child to take to school and use as needed. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

What is Theraplay

Theraplay is a special type of play therapy.  It works on attachment skills in children and is a registered trademarked specialization that a play therapist can receive.  I do not have a theraplay specialization, however, I have attended various trainings on theraplay and use theraplay games and activities with specific clients often. 

Here is a 5 minute video about Theraplay
Theraplay Video

A little longer, but very informative video about Theraplay
Theraplay Video 2

I have used Theraplay activities during my play therapy sessions to work on:
  • Self-control
  • Decreasing aggression
  • Social skills
  • Foster parenting
  • Adoptive parenting
  • ADHD
  • Sensory Processing Issues
  • Anger Issues
  • Trauma Healing

What I love about Theraplay is that it brings the parents in so what we do in session can easily flow into the home.  This means that the actual counseling sessions can be fewer and further progress is made at home.  I have seen so many children benefit from theraplay games that otherwise struggled in typical play therapy. 

For more information regarding Theraplay, check out the Theraplay Institutes's website

Thursday, August 23, 2012

20 Ways to Engage Your Child About Their Day

Perfect for toddlers, children, tweens, teens, and families of all

As a parent or guardian, you know that it is vital to stay in the loop about your child or teen's day.  However, we often get the "I don't know" or "it was fine" response when we ask then how their day was...or at least I do :)

Here are some things that I have found are helpful and usually get me a better response.  Most of the time these lead to conversations about their day and help us as a family to stay actively involved in each other's days.

  1. Ask them to give a high and low point from their day.  You could even add a high five when they say their high and a low five when they say their low.  That would be fun for active kiddos.
  2. Use chalkboard place mats (you could DIY) at dinner time to draw a picture of their day and then parents have to guess what the event is.  A link for how to make one
  3. Place a feeling magnet board on fridge or in car for them to pick a feeling from their day and share about it. Here is a link to buy a mood magnet or you could make your own.
  4. Create a feeling face poster and put it somewhere in the house.  Each child has a certain color post-it note and can put post-its on their feelings from that day.
  5. Have your child that has a cell phone take a picture of something from their day and you do the same, then at the end of the day you can swap pictures.
  6. Use a decorative "talking stick" (I like to use a glitter baton) in the car and pass it around to share stories from their day.
  7. Each child gets an Oreo cookie, and as you are eating it you have to share a positive (top layer), a negative (middle layer), and another positive (bottom layer) from their day.
  8. During bedtime tuck in ask them something they are thankful for from that day and something they wish for tomorrow.
  9. Ask for the first thing that pops into their mind about their day when you say a key word (i.e. recess, lunch, teacher, friend, classroom, etc.).
  10. Play two truths and a lie from their day and you have to guess which is the lie.
  11. Use play dough to make a picture or symbol from their day.
  12. Trace their hand and fill in five fingers with five events from the day.
  13. Have the child make a sound and you have to guess what part of the day it is from.
  14. Have the child make a face and you have to guess what caused that face during the day.
  15. Play balloon pass, whoever lets it touch the ground has to share a story from their day.
  16. At bedtime, or even right when they get home, use "magic lotion" (just special lotion that is only used for this.  mine has sparkles) and ask if they have any hurts, inside or outside, that need to be taken care of.
  17. Draw a picture on each others backs of a feeling face from some time during they day and share what caused that face.
  18. Share a gold fish snack using the colored gold fish.  Label the colors with things from the day (red = recess, purple = peers, green = good things, yellow = yucky/bad things, orange = okay things)...could use small skittle or m&m packs if you want.
  19. Cut up strips of different types and colors of scrap book paper.  Have child pick a few out that represent different things from their day.  For example, black paper might be something bad that happened, while sparkly pink paper is a memory of something good.
  20. Play charades and take turns acting out things that happened during the day.

I always think it works better if the parent plays the game too.  This models for the child or teen how to share and that it is fun in the family to swap stories.  It also gives them insight into your day and what you do while they are not with you.

What are some other things you like to do to engage your child?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Snack in a Play Therapy Session

Snack Time

(I will preface this post with snack is not appropriate for all clients, nor is any client the same as the any other.  You have to use your discretion as a play therapist to see what would be best for them.) 

I love to end my sessions with "snack and story time" or "snack and share time."  Snack time provides a time where my client and I can have a few minutes at the end of the session to recap, set goals, build our attachment and trust to one another, and continue in our therapeutic relationship.

During the intake with the parents, I ask about any allergies and get their permission to have snack time with their child.  I then leave about 10 minutes at the end of every session for snack.  Sometimes, (mainly with the younger ones) we read a book and can process it while they eat.  Since they are eating, they are usually a fairly captive and engaged audience.  Sometimes, we play a game and have sharing time.  For example, I often use the colored gold fish as my snack.  During my first meeting with a client I might have them separate the goldfish into piles based on their colors and then assign something to each color for them to share.  I might have the red be "something that makes you mad," and the green be "something that scares you."  This provides a non-threatening, easy way for us to get to know one another.  I even play sometimes too :) 

When I was working as a school based therapist, I found that snack provide a wonderful closing to the session for a child before returning to class.  If a child had gotten really wound up and energetic during a session, they could relax and calm before returning to class.  Also, if they had experienced other strong emotions during their session, they could regain their composure before facing their peers again.

The greatness that comes from snack time:
  • Builds attachment skills within the child through nurture (part of the theraplay model)
  • Creates a routine and ritual that a child can rely on and find security in
  • Gives the child a chance to process their session
  • Can include family members to have structured sharing time before ending the session
  • Can provide time to read a book to a child and family
  • Gives the child a chance to soothe and calm before returning to the real world
  • Gives me as the therapist an opportunity to gather information if needed by structuring a game to play with the snack
  • If working with on building attachment, you can include the parent in snack time and build that bond
  • Great for group therapy with children, because it can provide a structured sharing time or story time
  • It is fun for the child!
  • Even teenagers and adults love it and look forward to it.  Many are curious what game we will play during snack time each week.

What are your thoughts on snack time? Therapists, do you use snack time in your sessions?  Teachers, do you find benefits in snack time?  Parents, how do you feel about snack during a counseling session?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Water Beads

picture from
At the teacher fair I attended recently, I had a bowl of water beads set up on my booth.  The response from the teachers were so positive and many asked where they could purchase them and what they are used for.  Well, here you go...

I use water beads in play therapy as a sensory experience.  When the senses are regulated then the brain can learn and absorb new things.  Water beads are fun for both boys and girls and are not going to be messy.  They are perfect for those kiddos who don't like to have residue on their hands. 

This website is about where to get water beads and different ideas that she does in her classroom with them.

If I was a teacher with a classroom, I would try to keep some sort of soothing sensory tool behind or in my desk to hand to a student that was struggling with self-control.  A bowl or bag of water beads would be great for this.  Give the student a 5-10 minute timer to sit by your desk and enjoy their sensory experience.  Trust me, you will be amazed how much less energy you have to put in to discipline when you catch them before they start acting out.

What other ideas do you have for water beads?

Some other websites about water beads:
Water bead sensory tub
The wonder of water beads
32 ways to play with water beads

Monday, August 20, 2012

How can you help your child fit in at school - Part 3

Many schools in my area are starting school today.  One very important thing that parents (and teachers) can be doing to help their child feel positive about school is to provide a ritual and routine.

Rituals and routines create security and confidence in a child.  They help provide stability.  The security that a child feels when they can predict what is going to happen allows for growth, positive self-esteem, and attachment. 

So, as parents, take the time to create a morning routine and an after school routine.  Include a good-bye ritual and a re-uniting ritual.  Here are some examples:
  • high-fives
  • special, secret handshakes
  • hugs and kisses
  • "see you later alligator," "in a while crocodile"

There are endless things that you could do.  Be creative and think of what would work best for you and your child. 

Now, the tricky part is to be consistent.  Once you build a ritual, you have to maintain it.  Your child will expect this.  Try not to create a routine or ritual that is difficult to manage.  Stick to simple things that are easy for you to remember. 

Teachers can use rituals too.  Have a morning greeting for your students that you do every morning and then have a good-bye ritual.  The students will love knowing what to expect and feeling a part of your classroom.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

How to help your child fit in at school - part 2

This is post 2 in a 3 part series

After your child has gotten a feel for the classroom, you can help them practice making friends and meeting new people.

This might feel silly to do as a grown-up but is fun and engaging for kids. Trust me, it has taken many years as a play therapist for me to feel comfortable being silly and making fun of myself in pretend role-play.

Here are some situations to role-play:
1.) introducing yourself to your teacher
2.) introducing yourself to new classmates
3.) re-introducing yourself to old classmates that you haven't seen all summer
4.) conversation starters for talking with new friends
5.) saying good-bye at the end of the day

Role-playing these scenarios can help your child get the kinks out if they are already social savvy, or help them learn and grow socially if they are sometimes more awkward.

How to help your child fit in at school - part 1

Here is the first of a 3 part series.

To children, school is for playing and friends. Learning is only a by-product. We have discovered through research that the more comfortable a child is in their classroom, the more they will learn and succeed.

So, the first thing you can do to help your child feel like they fit in is

Let your child get a feel for where their backpack will go, where they might sit, where the teacher will sit. Help them figure out how to get to their classroom and how to get to important places like the cafeteria and office.

All of this knowledge and practice in their new class will give your child an increased level of confidence and comfort going into their first day.

PS - even if you missed the official open house, you can still drop by and ask to see your child's classroom during the work day. Teachers will be up at the school preparing.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Anger Box

I recently did a raffle for an 'Anger Box' at a teacher fair that I attended.  The teachers seemed excited and interested in having one in their classrooms.  Unfortunately, only one teacher could win, so I thought I would share how you could make your own.  They can be as simple or as elaborate as you want, and you can always change it up throughout the school year.

Side note, you can call this box of tools whatever you like.  I have seen it called a 'Calm Down Box,' a 'Helper Box,' and a 'Meditation Box.'  You can pick whatever works best for you.

First, I like to use large plastic tub with a lid.  This is durable and will hold up to a lot of use.
Items that you could put in your box:
- Stress balls or some type of squeeze balls
- Play dough (they make scented play dough, which would be great but is a little more $)
- Bubbles (again, they make scented ones)
- Paper for drawing and/or journaling
- Markers and crayons
- Stuffed animal for cuddling, hugging, or talking to
- Eye mask
- Bubble Wrap (this can be loud so might be best for the hallway, but it can work wonders)
- A "mind jar" Here is a link on how to make one (I like to use a plastic water bottle rather than glass)
- A book or two
- A CD of soothing nature sounds, a cd player, and headphones
- Lavender scented lotion
- Peppermints
- A small puzzle

There are a few ways that I think work well for teachers to use their box.
1) You can instruct the student to go to the anger box, shake up the mind jar (so this can be the timer for you), and then use the box to calm down
2) You can have the student grab one thing from the anger box and then return to their desk or area to use what they chose
3) You can combine these two options by instructing the child to use the mind jar as their timer and only pick one or two items from the box to use until the glitter settles in the mind jar

I use option three the most. I find that children who are angry or upset can get overwhelmed with all of the choices in the box. 

I also like to go and talk with the student after the "timer" (mind jar) has finished.  This way I can make sure they are ready to rejoin the class.

Again, you can put lots of different things in your box.  The idea is to work the child's senses and help them to return to a point of self-regulation.  Touching soft things, squeezing things, taking deep breaths with the bubbles, smelling calming things, hearing calming things, moving in a soothing manner (like coloring), tasting calming things, can all help a child return to a state of self-control.

What are some items that you like to put in your anger box?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Approaching Parents

This post is written for teachers to help them gain confidence and feel more prepared when approaching parents about counseling for their child.  The information comes from a handout brochure I created.

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.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

How to Minimize Behavioral Problems in the Classroom

A fellow play therapist wrote this article for our Arkansas Play Therapy Spring Newsletter.  I thought it would be helpful for teachers working with children as we begin a new school year.  To access the entire newsletter, you can click here .


By Julie Minkel LPC RPT-S

Classroom Management Logistics:

*Play is the child’s field of study—during center time, the children are learning social skills, self-control, compassion, empathy, self-regulation, academic concepts, pre-reading skills, fine motor skills, problem-solving skills, self-worth. Support these times with your focused attention.

*Strive to have each adult in the classroom and on the playground focused and interacting directly with the children.

*Place only one adult in an area at one time—(as you position yourselves in various areas of the room and interact with the children, the effectiveness of classroom management will increase.)

*Remain at eye level with the children the vast majority of the time in the classroom. Minimize standing. This will enhance communication and make you more accessible to the children.

*When interacting with a child, position yourself in such a way as to have the widest view of the class room to supervise at all times

*Greet each child as they enter the classroom for the day (regardless of their arrival time)

*Minimize or eliminate non-child centered activities during class time (individual therapy, telephone calls, documentation).When these tasks need to be done, leave the classroom—you are emotionally unavailable, though physically present, which is confusing to children and co-workers

*Keep the classroom routine—if it changes, tell the children in advance

*Resist the temptation to have adult to adult conversations when the children are present. The children’s education is your focus—regardless of whether you are team teaching physics or preschool. (Cell phone conversations and texting should only be done outside the classroom.) Again, this creates emotional absence.

*Resist talking about the children, their disabilities, families, behaviors, etc. in their presence. When discussions are held, always keep a balanced focus on the child’s strengths and challenges. Oftentimes, in our field of behavior, there is a tendency to focus on the children’s deficits, rather than their strengths. Approach each child from a strengths-based perspective.

*When parents arrive, share a positive comment about the child’s day. Create time for the teacher to share the details and successes of the day. Pick up time is often the time of the highest incidence of accidents, since neither the teachers nor parents are clear on who is responsible for the children at that time. It is best to have the classroom assistant supervise the children while the teacher is talking w/ the parents.

Teacher/Child Interactions:

*Keep a minimum of 5:1 ratio of positive vs. directive comments to the children—(10:1 is your goal) As you are developing this habit, it is helpful to carry paper clips or buttons in one of your two pockets—transfer one object to the other pocket for each positive comment.)

As the teacher/child positive interactions increase, you will find yourself being proactive—enjoying positive behaviors in the children, rather than "policing" and "putting out fires."

*When correcting a child’s misbehavior, reflect the child’s feelings first (limits can wait for the next breath. Example: "That disappointed you, you’re sad, you were hoping to do this next,.."

*Pick your battles—ignore those behaviors which can be ignored—acknowledge the positive behaviors

*Join the child when he/she is positively engaged in an activity—minimize their mistakes/maximize their accomplishments—celebrate them!

*When transitioning an individual child from his/her on-going activity, join the child in that activity momentarily before you take him/her away from it.

*Be animated in your facial expressions--model joy!

Room Arrangement and Atmosphere:

*Create the feeling of containment in the classroom—wide open areas can escalate behaviors ( Create "cubbie" areas--this can be done with the placement of low bookshelves, rugs, sheer curtains, a tent with visibility which is large enough for a teacher and a small group, etc.) Eliminate runways .

At the end of the day, remind yourself of how valuable you are to each child and family member who will benefit for years to come, from your day’s labors!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

What you can do to help your ADHD child be successful this school year

As a parent or caregiver, you can greatly influence the success of your child's school year.
First, go and meet the teacher before school starts. Most schools host an open house for families and students to see their new classroom, locker, teacher, and classmates. Meeting your child's teacher will help ease some of the anxiety your child might have. This is also a great time to let the teacher know about your child. You can ask to schedule a short meeting with them before school starts or try to relay information to them at the open house. The more the teacher knows before school starts, the more they can be prepared.

Tell the teacher about things that worked last year and things that didn't. Did your child do better sitting close to the teacher's desk or the front of the class? Did they struggle with keeping their area clean and organized?  Did you child have a special tool they used to help them focus, like clay, a pencil grip, or standing in the back of the room?  Learn the teacher's plan for sending home papers, communicating with parents, and dealing with negative behaviors.

Another thing you can do before school starts is to practice organization. ADHD kids often struggle with losing homework and assignments along with feeling overwhelmed. When you get your school supplies try to develop a simple file system that your child understands. Have fun role playing where different things go and how to keep track of his school work. This will build his confidence and help him feel ready for school. Continue to practice and work with your child many, many times on this over the first month of school. Repetition is key for ADHD. You will still have to check in on your child's organization throughout the year.

Once school gets started there are other things that you can do to influence your child's day. All children benefit from structure and routine. The predictability provides safety and security. However, ADHD children need this so much more. Without it they can feel lost. Start your mornings with predictability. If you know last year your child struggled with waking up on time, then practice before school starts and discuss with your child what works so you have a plan. Maybe this year he can shower at night and have his clothes already picked out. Maybe you keep an extra deodorant and toothbrush in the car because it was a battle every morning last year. You can pre-pack the car with his backpack and homework so he doesn't have to worry about forgetting it. I even had one family where if the child got up on time they were able to have yummy waffles or a similar hot breakfast they liked, but if they overslept they were stuck with a granola bar in the car. You will have to be creative and see what works for your family.

When your child gets home from school try and take 5-10 minutes to check their homework planner and see what they need to accomplish. I have found that it works best to have ADHD children do their homework right when they get home because all too often they forget or it turns into a battle. If you have a child who tends to rush through their homework so they can go play, try setting a timer that they can see and know they are expected to work until it goes off. Some ADHD children are easily distracted at home and the last thing they want to do is focus any more. This is especially true if their medication is starting to wear off. Try to find something that will motivate your child. Maybe for every 20 minutes of homework they do, they get 10 minutes of outside or video game time. I am a big proponent of positive motivation. As grown ups this is a part of our world. If you work hard at your job you are rewarded with a pay check and sometimes even a bonus. We can use this same sort of behavior training to help children see the value in their work and efforts.

During the school year, keep in close contact with your child's teacher(s). Make sure your child is succeeding. Often times parents feel they didn't know their child was behind or causing disruptions until it is too late. The more you communicate with the teacher, the more knowledge you will have.

Praise, praise, and more praise. Recognize your child's successes. What may seem small and trivial to parents was actually a lot of work for an ADHD child. Try to find something, even small things, to let your child know they did a good job and you noticed. Maybe it was getting up on time 4 out of the 5 days. Maybe it was only forgetting one homework assignment this week. Maybe they remembered their lunch balance was low and asked for money before you had to check. School is very hard for ADHD kids and can do a number on their self-esteem. Your encouraging words can help ease the stress and struggles of a bad day.

Warning signs you child is really struggling and might need further intervention:
- he has a large drop in his grades and can't seem to recover
- his mood has become increasingly depressed and sullen

- he seems to be holding in a lot of anger
- his teacher comments that he can't stay in his seat and is continuing to disrupt others, even after multiple interventions
- he doesn't seem to be retaining what he learned in school even though you know he is very bright
- he has not been able to make or keep his friends or has been in fights
These are a handful of signs to watch for, but it is not an extensive list. If you ever have concerns, talk with the teacher and counselor at your child's school. They will be able to help you in deciding what is best for your child.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Booth Event

Necessary Play and Fresh Roots Counseling hosted a booth at the World's Largest Baby Shower event in Springdale, AR this past weekend.  They estimated that there were over 5,000 people at the event.  This booth was a great way to get the word out about play therapy to families.

We set up the booth as a general play room, bringing various things from our offices.  We wanted parents, and children, to get a visual of how different play therapy can be.  We included two sensory trays, a puppet stage, a play area on the floor, and an art table.  We gave each child a coloring book on How to Deal with Bullying and then gave the parents our information and a brochure about play therapy created by the Association for Play Therapy. 

We had a tremendous response of families and parents that were interested in learning more about play therapy and how it is different from other types of child therapy.  I hope to do more events like this in the future to continue to promote play therapy and also do reduce the negative stigma that is often placed on counseling.

I am very thankful for my friend, and fellow play therapist, Temple Carson.  She was my partner in this booth and is a very passionate and talented counselor. 


108 E Central Ave.
(On the square, above Table Mesa)
Bentonville, AR 72712

About Me

Licensed Associate Counselor, Licensed Assoicate Marriage and Family Therapist, Registered Play Therapist