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.


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