I'm embarrassed to admit that I have been a Registered Play Therapist for almost ten years and have never been able to attend the biggest play therapy conference in the country...until 2018.
This conference is hosted by the Association for Play Therapy, the place to start for all things play therapy related. This year the annual conference was located in Phoenix, Arizona and brought a crowd of about 1100 mental health professionals and clinicians.
It was one of the most fun professional experiences of my life.
*Please note, that I do not represent or speak for the Association for Play Therapy, or any of its members in any official capacity. This blog reflects my personal experience and is designed to communicate how much fun I had at the conference. I have nothing but love and respect for this community!
Check out my experience in GIF form...
What should we look for in a Play Therapist Supervisor? Where does one find a Play Therapy Supervisor? Welcome back Kamini Verma, LCSW, as she takes you on her journey in choosing a Play Therapy Supervisor in this 2 part blog series!
Once I made the decision to become a registered play therapist (RPT), I needed to find a supervisor. Reviewing the requirements on the Association for Play Therapy (APT) website was the first step. I felt I knew the basics of how to identify a good match for myself, until I started looking. I had been through picking a supervisor before, as many of you probably have, when I worked on my clinical license. Until 2020, I could use any LCSW supervisor (or LPC, if that is your license) to obtain my RPT license. Yet, I knew I wanted to utilize a registered play therapist-supervisor (RPT-S.) If I was going to hone in on this skill I wanted to be guided by someone else that had done this work as well!
I Must Do Supervision Again?!?
At first, I had to get over some personal resistance. I enjoy going to trainings and learning new techniques, modalities, and interventions as much as the next person, but having specific requirements and extra time commitments seemed daunting… and a little annoying. I had to think long and hard about how I wanted to develop my skills and myself to make this commitment. The more I thought about it the more I recognized the joy I had when implementing play therapy techniques in my practice. This was what was calling me. Once that lightbulb went off the time and financial commitment did not seem as daunting!
What is Required?
The supervision for my LSCW clinical license had to take place in person, either in a group or individual sessions. I assumed this would be the case for my RPT. I was wrong! With the technology of today I was excited to see that “distance supervision” was an option. Distance supervision meant that I could use secure video chat or phone consultation to count towards my supervision hours.
The time commitment was also an issue. You may have more than one supervisor, according to the rules at the time of this blog, but you must track carefully how many hours you get from each one. (Again, I recommend checking the Association for Play Therapy (APT) website to ensure you are up to date on the requirements.)
What Do I Even Want in A Supervisor?
As I began my search, I looked locally and for those who shared my clinical interests. Initially, I thought the path of least resistance was the best option for me. I was looking for someone close by and with the exact same interests as me. The first person I reached out to was clearly not interested in me as a person who wanted to learn, focusing more on how I could accommodate their needs, modality of supervision and pricing. I wanted to be mentored by someone who saw the value I already had and wanted to join me in expanding my skills with the certification. Secondly, I had to consider my work schedule and budget. Understandably, not many supervisors want to work evenings and weekends, unless that is already their practice schedule! I also realized I was in a bit of a unique situation given the set-up of my workplace; so, I sought someone who had knowledge of initiating play therapy practice where it did not exist, as well as someone who had experience being creative in how they built their playroom. Thirdly, I personally wanted to connect with someone in person as it felt more familiar.
Now that I had my checklist, it was time to start the search!
Find a registry of play therapy supervisors. Per usual, the APT website is the first stop. You could also look at your local university to connect with professors or find a professional organization. Likely, your area has a local chapter of play therapists who have the certification and those who use play in their practices. Go to their website and peruse their directory. This is what I did.
Unfortunately, you may run into a few issues. There may not be a website or it is not up to date. If you run into this problem, stop and take a breath! The site is likely run by a local practitioner, like you, who is trying to balance their professional and personal life. Just start calling who you can find. If they cannot help you, they will likely know who can!
Implementing the Findings
Okay, I admit it. I did not call the supervisors I found listed. I am an introvert. Cold calling scares me. Networking is not my forte. Well, I am lucky! My state’s play therapy chapter conference is held in my town. What better place to connect with other play therapists and play therapy supervisors? While at the conference I visited each chapter’s recruitment table, chatted with my table mates at lunch (while sweating bullets from pushing out of my comfort zone), and looked at the conference registry log to find supervisors. This allowed me to feel out the “vibe” of each supervisor, learn about their practice technique, and explore how they hold supervision.
Developing the Relationship
Joining with another person to mentor you is a special relationship. You should be trusted by your supervisor to move forward on your path of learning. You must trust your supervisor to know what they are talking about as you will be using it as a cornerstone of your practice! Accepting and giving feedback to each other is essential, and often hard to take in. If you do not feel connected to each other neither of you will be open to learning from each other and being challenged. Many supervisors I encountered asked for a phone or in person consultation to explore if the two of us would be a fit. I found this to invaluable to forming the connection and ensuring we could meet each other’s needs.
I had gathered the data, made the connections, and identified my needs. Now, it was time to decide and connect with the supervisor I felt was the best fit for me. Stay tuned for how it all played out in Part Two!
Kamini Verma, LCSW
Ms. Verma is a therapist in Texas that is passionate about assisting children and their families through periods of healing, development and growth. She has 10+ years of experience working with children, adolescents and their families on topics related to healing from trauma and abuse, crisis intervention, creating home stability, adoption, attachment, grief and loss, mindfulness and questions of sexuality. Kamini is a Trust Based Relational Intervention ® Certified Educator. She enjoys crafting, cookie decorating and spending time with loved ones in between pursuing her Registered Play Therapist certification.
Welcome back our guest blogger Marly Hinestroza, as she discusses about tragic media headlines, the effects on children, and how you as a parent can help!
On 01/13/18, at 8:00 am HST, I was trying to entertain eight 9 year old girls who had just woken up from a birthday-sleepover party for my daughter, when I received an alarm on my phone that read “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” Many people have shared what it was like to be in Hawaii during this “mistake” and I echo many of the sentiments of fear, anger, confusion and sadness so I won’t go into that (Coping with Hawaii’s Ballistic Missile False Alarm). Luckily, my fight or flight instinct kicked in and fight prevailed so I managed to get my daughter, her friends, my 18 month old and 2 year old lab into the laundry room with as many provisions as I had ready for hurricane season, because who prepares for incoming missiles? Right…
Barely a month later, on 2/14/18 as I’m ordering lunch with a friend, the headline start to roll across the screen – “Mass shooting in Florida High School.” So my heart drops and I think “what must those kids be going through? Those parents? What if it was my kids? Why is this happening?!”
There is so much going on in the world and it is close to impossible to shut all the “noise” out and keep it away from our children. Whether they are on social media or not, news spread like wildfire and children are talking about it. News stories are coming up in sessions with school age children and teens who have “heard that” or “read this on Facebook.” News stories are also coming up in sessions with parents who are struggling with how to talk to their children about how bleak the world seems to be some days.
Shortly after the shooting my daughter’s elementary school sent out a letter in an attempt to reassure parents that they have drills to prepare for the unfortunate. I asked my nine year old if she’s done the drills, tried to gage if she understands why and tried to ensure she knows what to do even though just the thought of it makes me sick. Then she told me something that chilled me; she told me that a teacher asked her if her light up shoes (which she loves and wears almost daily) have an on/off button and that when they have a drill she has to turn them off because she won’t want the bad guy to see her… Later on I saw a viral post on FB about light up shoes and I cried the tears I didn’t allow myself to shed when talking to her.
At this point I realized that I myself don’t quite feel prepared to talk to my children about the tragedies in the world, which some days seems to be daily occurrences. I don’t want to address any of it with my nine year old, and does my 18 month old even need anything from me in the days following a tragedy that is being covered on every media channel, social media app and seemingly everyone around me? The answer is YES. Yes, no matter the age our children have needs that we must meet during times of national and international tragedies. There are many articles on this topic and at times the sheer amount of information available can be overwhelming, however, there are some common themes when talking to children about tragedies in the world:
Start where the child is. From infants to adolescents our children speak to us both with their words and with their actions so no matter their age it is important that we listen to them.
-Infants and toddlers may be responding to you and how you are coping with the stress, listen to the cues they are giving you.
If you notice these signs in the days following a national or international tragedy that is being broadcasted widely take a moment to assess how you are responding to it. Limit your exposure to it as much as possible, especially when interacting with your infant or toddler and take care of yourself. The NCTSN provides a comprehensive list of signs to look out for.
School age children are also looking at you and how you are responding to the events but they are likely to also be receiving information from other such as teachers, peers, older siblings or even TV and social media. Listen to what your child knows already and correct misinformation as well as provide facts in simple, clear and concise age appropriate terms. If they have an explanation that implies they understand something has happened, that it is over and those able to help have done so (police, EMTs etc.) and they are safe either because it happened in a place far away or because they have been reassured their school and caregivers will protect them then don’t take away their sense of safety. This is the explanation they need to feel safe and although we know that unfortunately tragedies can happen nearly anywhere and at any time, we don’t want to burden our children with that knowledge.
-Adolescents may be even more exposed to tragic news as it is more common for them to be on social media, however they probably still have many questions and misinformation about what has happened. An adolescent may not know how far away or close an event is to them, they may wonder why it has happened and what is being done about it and have misconceptions about what can actually be done. As with younger children, gently correct misinformation by offering facts in simple and clear language. Remember that they are getting information from many sources and whatever gaps they have are being filled in by their imagination and what they are piecing together. It is also important to listen to them in whatever way they choose to present the information, whether they tell you what they know and how they are feeling or using friends as examples. Don’t remove the mask by saying “I bet you’re feeling that way too.” Or “Sarah doesn’t know what she’s talking about.” The American Academy of Pediatrics has a website called Healthy Children where you can find articles including phrases to say and what not to say for natural or man-made tragedies and loss.
No matter the age, be open to having the conversation – it is better that they get the information from you than from others. In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting in CT I listened to an interview with Dr. Benjamin Shain, MD and he was asked by the interviewer when to talk to children about these tragedies, are there times to avoid such as before bed? His response was no, if children are talking about it, it is best to address it then and provide clear and concise answers. Ultimately, no matter the age, they are looking at you for how to navigate these very overwhelming situations and they need to feel safe and reassured.
When in doubt, my new internal mantra has been “I don’t got all the answers, so tell me who does. All I really know is that we really need love!” – Landon McNamara (great song with Island vibes and a powerful message). Yes there are horrific things going on and somedays it feels very overwhelming but one thing we can do is GIVE LOVE. So no, it won’t be easy to have these conversations with our children and as much as we wish we didn’t have to, we need to. We need to listen to them, allow them to express themselves and help them feel safe.
Marly A. Hinestroza-Gaviria, LCSW
Ms. Hinestroza-Gaviria is a Resilience Trainer for FOCUS Hawaii working with military families and couples. Marly has worked as a certified Multidimensional Family Therapist with adolescents and their families dealing with adolescent high-risk behaviors and/or substance abuse. She has experience working with children from infancy to adolescence and their families providing assessments, individual and family therapeutic interventions, service coordination and crisis intervention. Marly earned her Master of Social Work degree from Rutgers University in New Jersey.
Let’s welcome back one of our guest bloggers, Kim Martinez, as she dives into the topic of children with anxiety.
When your child has anxiety, it can very stressful as a parent. Many parents ask me what they can do at home to support what I am working on with their child in their counseling session. I believe that it is most important to not offer advice but to listen when they are sharing their feelings- with no judgment.
Anxiety is the body’s way of dealing with the need to fight, flight or freeze. The child struggling with anxiety is not trying to worry and feel anxious, they are trying to cope with their body’s need to deal with the “tiger” it thinks it is about to be attacked by. The body doesn’t know the difference between an actual tiger and the fear of being laughed at if you answer a question wrong in class. The body responds the same way to the two different fears.
When a child is anxious, they feel their heart racing; their palms sweating and they feel like they are disappointing themselves and others due to the way they are “acting”.
Making sure you are managing your own anxiety is key to a calm household. Children learn by watching and parents are the greatest models for appropriate behavior. Spending time relaxing after a hard day and letting your child know that is how you handle a hard day at work helps them to understand healthy coping skills.
Lynne Kenney, PsyD and Wendy Young, LMSW, BCD write in “Bloom, 50 Things to Say, Think and Do with Anxious, Angry and Over-the-top Kids” that the keys to lowering morning stress are consistency, routine, family needs system, parents teaching how-to’s, getting out of your emotional brain, collaborating with teachers, parents responding to their own childhood chaos, and consistent eating and sleeping routines.
-Keep things consistent with rules and expectations
-Write down and keep visible the morning routine
-Family needs system is the actual way a family believes things should be done such as how a bathroom is cleaned
-Parents should teach the children the best way to accomplish a task for independence
-The parent or child may need help regulating their emotions in the morning so they can think clearly
-Work with the teacher if your child is struggling with homework so the mornings don’t have an added stressor
-Get help for your own past/childhood traumas or issues so you can parent with less stress
-Have consistent eating and sleeping routines so everyone’s brains are working the best they can
Credit: Liana Lowenstein’s “Creative CBT Interventions for Children with Anxiety”
1-Cognitive behavioral style therapy may be used
2-Parents will actively participate in collaboration with the therapist
3-Games and art based techniques will be utilized in the playroom
4-Parents coaching children between sessions to use what they have learned
5-Understanding that progress takes time and does not happen on a timeline
6-Lifelong coping skills will be taught
7-Relaxation techniques will be taught
8-Treatment goals will be created specific to your child
Recognize that anxiety is real. If a child feels that a parent is belittling or denying the existence of their anxiety, they will try to hide it or minimize it, which will cause the anxiety to grow. Check with your pediatrician for a respected children’s play therapist near you.
Ms. Martinez is a child and family counselor in Tampa, Florida. She specializes in anxiety, ADHD and divorce/step family issues using art, play, sand tray and creativity in counseling. Kim believes in helping families, children and adults find their “True North”.
Check out her website at www.yourtruenorthcounseling.com
Welcome back to our guest blogger Sharon Montcalm, M.Ed., LPC, CSC!
Looking back, I always smile with a shake of my head when “the move of 2015” comes up in conversation. My family, we are not movers. We stay put. Well, we stay put until life comes along and then we move. And honestly, as far as moving goes, it really seemed to be going really well until we decided to go as a family to see a movie in our new city. During the summer of 2015 a fantastic movie detailing the inner workings of our thoughts and most of all our “emotions” was filling theaters; so that’s the one we picked (I picked). Off we went, to see our very own moving story play out on the big screen before our eyes, my child leaned over at one point to me saying, “This is our life. I don’t like it. It’s not entertaining to me.” Ouch.
Much like the family in the famous flick, most families making these summer moves will go through emotions that run the gamut from excitement, to anger, to sadness and hopefully at some point resolution sets in as the new becomes the familiar and the known. It’s not easy. It’s messy. Moving is on every list of life’s greatest stressors for a reason: it’s just painfully stressful for everyone in the family. And for those left behind.There will be tears along with laughter, so grab the tissue and hold on for the ride.
After talking with the kids about the move, (yes, parents we get to break the news) then start including the children in gathering information about the new destination. Especially, to help answer the following question, “Where will I go to school?” which goes along with “What about my friends” and “Where am I going to live?”. These three questions could each easily fill a whole article or book, but the focus here is on getting started in a new school after a move.
Kids today are consumers of information. It’s at their fingertips all day long. Let them help you with gathering information to answer the question, “Where will I go to school?”. They can pull school ratings/rankings off of GreatSchools: School Ratings & Reviews for Public & Private Schools or the state’s department of education may also have a search for information on the schools within the state. Give them some assignments to look over websites, facebook pages and twitter feed from schools of interest to the family. Schools definitely know that families do research, so the amount of information available on school websites is growing rapidly. I pulled the “school report cards” for the middle schools in the community we were moving to and gave those reports to my son. He looked those over, looked at the websites and then we did drive arounds to the different campuses.
After narrowing down possible schools, have your child go through and get your signed up for all of the social media pages that schools now use daily. Yes, like the facebook page, get on twitter (no, I didn’t do this one…) and try to figure out instagram. Now, your student may be too cool to use these particular social media apps, but schools are trying to use technology to improve communication, build community and let the world know that there’s good stuff happening in the halls.These social media outlets are a parents best friend to getting a look at what’s going on at the school.
Next, start gathering the required enrollment documentation prior to the end of the current school year. States and school districts have required documentation for a student to enroll in the the school. Go to the school, the district or state education department website to look over the documents required for enrollment.
Let your current school know that your family will be moving over the summer. This is huge in helping the flow of records move from one school to another more smoothly. Many schools will have your fill out a withdrawal form to officially withdraw from that campus which you can then take to the new school upon enrollment.This form lets the new school know that business has been taken care of with library books being returned, no charges in the cafeteria and all school equipment was returned to its proper place.
Now, get all of that moving stuff done in the next 8-10 weeks before the new school year starts. Throw a farewell party. Make those last minute visits to favorite spots in your old town. Cry. Laugh. And yes, expect the unexpected because you are moving with kids. Ask for help.This is the time to call for reinforcements for emotional support along the way. Most of all, find some fun this summer.
It’s August, most of the boxes are unpacked and there’s a buzz in the air that school is starting soon according to local retailers.
I encourage parents to ride this wave of newness with their children. Listen when they talk about missing friends, missing their old school, and missing just about everything that was their life. Hug them when they cry. It’s okay to let them know that you are making adjustments to this new place, too. Stay positive. And hopefully, with each passing day the new becomes the now which becomes the known. After all, we are such creatures of habit.
Sharon Montcalm, LPC, CSC
Ms Montcalm is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Certified School Counselor and Owner of Kid Time Counseling in Denton ,TX where she happily serves kids, families and educators. Sharon spent sixteen years working as a public school counselor experiencing school days with students ages 4 to 18. It takes time to be a kid. www.kidtimecounseling.com
Let’s welcome back our guest blogger Theresa Fraser as she interviews an accomplished adolescent and how her mother’s profession has impacted her outlook on life!
I had the pleasure of interviewing the daughter of a colleague. I need to add that this colleague and I have been distance friends for over 7 years and our common passion began with sandtray therapy. We live in two different countries and only met face to face a month ago when we both had the pleasure of presenting together at the Expressive Arts Summit in NYC. We were on Broadway together but it felt like we had spent lots of time together before.
Over the years we have talked about our children and mused that there has not been much written nor presented on the view of the clinician from their child’s perspective. Some might think that the life of a play therapist’s child is full of fun and the powers of play. Many of the children that I have talked to agree that they have parents who are fun but also that they have parents whom help them to see the world in a different way.
I interviewed Gabby Van Hollander. She is a lively young adult in high school in the state of Pennsylvania. She is an amazing photographer. She is well spoken and confident and she presented as being at ease as soon as we began our phone interview. She talked about her college choices and her hope that she will get an acceptance package from her first choice soon.
I then asked her about other activities. Not only is she successful in school but has been part of a community group entitled: buildOn. This non-profit group (https://www.buildon.org/) believes that “education is a basic right and recognizes that children who live in poverty are the least likely to attend school,” (https://www.buildon.org/about/the-education-crisis/). Ms. Van Hollander has traveled with a youth team to Haiti to assist in building schools. She is currently fundraising to participate in a similar trip to Nicaragua (https://act.buildon.org/fundraiser/1180845?is_new=true). Additionally, she is engaged in weekend events such as helping the homeless, often packaging and delivering foods for a local Jewish Relief Agency, park clean ups, as well as helping out at other community events, etc. Helping others is a lifetime value.
We then talked about issues that may be impacting her peers currently. Ms. Van Hollander attends an AP school, which has undergraduate courses that are managed by the College Board. Students complete the curriculum, take an exam and then obtain dual high school/college credit. Ms. Van Hollander identified that she is aware how stressed some of her peers are. They feel pressure to be successful in all that is required to get into college however, given it is their final year, Ms. Van Hollander indicated that she believes peers are recognizing that in their final year they need to have some fun too.
It was clear that Ms. Van Hollander could identify teachers that were able to help students regulate their emotions, practice mindfulness and balance their responsibilities to ensure that they were taking time for self-care not just in their final year but also as self care strategies. I asked Ms. Van Hollander if she notices when peers are struggling. She was able to reflect on this before answering that she recognizes when those around her may be having a hard time. Not surprisingly, she often recognizes this when others (including adults) don’t.
I then asked if she finds sometimes that it is hard to stop thinking of the vulnerable after she has been supportive. She was able to identify that it depends on how personally she is involved with them. However she is able to:
These are wise words for a 18 year old and healthy practices that sometimes emerging play therapy students need to be reminded of.
This interview helped me to reflect on what in our conversation resonated with the verbalized experiences of my own children. It isn’t always easy to have a parent that is a psychotherapist /play therapist. Dinnertime conversations can include topics such as informed consent and oppression. I am blessed with nine children. Each with their own history and experiences (some more complex than others). Ms. Van Hollander reminded me of three of our children who are intuitively supportive and insightful with others – irrespective of age. They are the ones that their friends gravitate towards when they need to process emotional issues. They recognize energy when they walk into a room and they stand up for those who sometimes need voice. These children however, are vulnerable to the same ills that we as clinicians are. They almost through osmosis pick up on intuition/ energy and play skills. It is my belief that a seasoned Play Therapist not only practice evidenced based interventions in the play therapy room but also lives these outside of the play therapy room. There is energy to the Therapeutic powers of play and kids know it when they see it.
I challenge you to think about these following questions:
How has being a Play Therapist impacted your parenting?
We consciously teach our children interactional and relational skills but they also inherit skills (almost through osmosis) or is it indirect teaching? Many children of therapists are skilled at picking up on situations and feelings. Therefore, as their parents, we need to be intentional about how we teach them to also protect themselves emotionally.
Lastly, Ms. Van Hollander verbalized something my children have often said. Their parents are fun. They have cool offices and bring fun play tools home often. We just also have to remember to play more with our children, even though we may have done it all day at that place called an office. You don’t want your child asking you as one of mine did one day, “ When do I get to be the client- Mommy?”.
For me, I hope that one day I get to meet Ms. Van Hollander face to face. Maybe, (like when I met her mom) it will also be on Broadway.
PS. If anyone has the interest in supporting a young woman in raising money for the Nicaragua buildOn trip, the link that follows is helpful. https://act.buildon.org/fundraiser/1180845?is_new=true
Ms. Frasier is a Play Therapist Supervisor in Canada who wears many hats. She is well known for her work with folks who experience complex trauma and grief and loss. She is launching a web based sandtray training in early 2018. www.changingsteps.caContinue reading
Welcome Alyssa Caldbeck as our guest blogger this week as she explores navigating a child’s difficult emotions.
Parenting is the most challenging job you’ll ever have. Weathering the storms of your child’s vast and varied emotions can feel like tricky territory. Experts on the subject of emotional intelligence say that it is best taught at home within the family. Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Daniel Goleman have written extensively based on research about the relationship between children and parents with regard to emotional intelligence in their book Raising Emotional Child The Heart of Parenting. They have found that when parents serve as an emotion coach for their children, those children adapt to difficult circumstances more readily.
Unlike intellectual intelligence which can be measured and is pre-determined potential for absorbing, recalling and utilizing information, emotional intelligence is learned. Emotional Intelligence is defined as the ability to recognize emotion, identify and name emotion, to manage those emotions in a way that is adaptive and to feel empathy for others. Emotional intelligence requires particular brain activity largely occurring in the front part of the brain (prefrontal cortex) which is headquarters for executive functioning skills. Young children are only beginning to develop the upper part of their brain. They don’t have all the pathways created in their brain to control themselves yet. Children are more likely to develop better coping mechanisms if parents help children learn how to identify their emotions. Additional aspects of helping children learn to handle their emotions effectively include assisting children in healthy emotional expression and teaching them to have empathy for others.
The term emotion coach is used in reference to a parenting technique where the parent helps their child understand their (the child’s) emotions. When parents engage in emotional coaching, their children learn how to react to emotions in healthy ways and more about how emotions work.
Being an emotion coach with your child starts with you recognizing their emotions. Here are some steps you can take to be your child’s emotion coach and help your child handle their emotions.
1.Raise your own level of emotional awareness.
Practice noticing and naming your feelings rather than allowing your emotions to drive your actions.
Aim to land in the middle of these parenting styles where you exercise authority when your child’s safety is at risk or healthy boundaries need to be set.
Take responsibility for your own feelings and actions. Know when it’s time to take a break. Practice deep breathing or another method to help you return to calm. When a human being’s limbic brain (that’s the headquarters for emotions, reactions and memory) becomes “flooded” the pre-frontal cortex (where reasoning and executive functioning occurs) goes offline temporarily . It’s best to give yourself some time and allow your limbic part of the brain to cool off and settle down. This will give you a better chance of returning to rational and reasonable thinking when responding to your child.
Allow your child to observe you identifying whatever emotions you experience. Give them chances to witness you making it a point to calm yourself before acting or speaking further. Once you are calm, return and explain how you are now ready to use your words and make decisions.
An example would be “I can see you are beginning to feel frustrated that you can’t get the top of your PlayDough container. You really want to get it off. It seems to be stuck.” When your child has an experience of feeling heard and seen it helps them to begin to formulate their own ability to identify what they are feeling and why. Young children do not have words or the ability for abstract thinking (understanding why they are having their feelings). They do have an ability to learn new words that they can associate with the emotional experiences they are having. This helps the development of their executive functioning skills.
It is understandable and common for you to have your own intense emotions when your child is experiencing big emotions. This is often when parents get to the point of disciplining a child for having these types of feelings. Trying to diminish big feelings by issuing consequences or punishment can actually create more of an emotional response. Your child may have emotions about the consequences issued and still be left with the emotion(s) they were feeling that got them in trouble. Teaching the child more appropriate ways of handling their feelings is missed when parents focus solely on punishments for emotional reactions.
When you see feelings starting such as sadness or frustration speak to your child before their brain becomes fully flooded. Within that window you can wonder aloud about what might be going on.. An example would be, “I wonder how we could work together to get that lid off the PlayDough container.” You can join with your child to find possible solutions after you’ve reflected what you notice they are feeling. “If we think about it together we can find a way to get it open.” Emphasizing the “we” lets your child know they are not alone in dealing with their feelings and you are there to help them. Meeting the emotion being expressed before shifting into problem solving will help improve the outcome. Daniel Siegel’s video Connecting to Calm explains this more. He offers useful written information in this reference sheet.
This is not the same thing as piling on the praise. Praise is when you as an extrinsic force decide your child is “good” or worthy of your approval. Delight and encouragement are when you reflect the child’s intrinsic qualities. Purposeful delight is when you notice your child’s effort, creativity, persistence, patience, joy and reflect with your own felt sense of celebratory noticing aloud. An example might be to smile and with an excited voice say, “Wow! Look at all the work you have done on this puzzle! You’ve been trying to find all the pieces and it looks like you’re almost there. You’ve kept trying and you almost have the whole puzzle together!”
Be with your child and allow them to express themselves. Let them get their feelings out while keeping them safe. Limit the talking you do with your child and avoid asking why they are acting this way. Children, even young toddlers can often have their own process when adults don’t interfere with this ability. What can happen is as adults we get impatient or focused on moving on from this experience or want it to end.
Despite a temper tantrum or intense emotional response feeling like it last forever this has shown to not be the case. When a person is emotionally triggered research has indicated it takes less than 90 seconds for the chemical surge to take hold and leave the bloodstream. The intensity related to the initial flooding of the emotions can peak and dissipate within this timeframe. Any response after 90 seconds is related to the person not letting go of the emotion or continued input feeding the same emotional loop (external input such as an adult talking to child, other sensory input or stimuli).
The key to keeping emotional responses within this timeframe is to feel the feelings, acknowledge them, and let them pass. This can be explained to children when they are in a calm state. It can be taught as imagining the emotion as a wave coming in and out or on the emotion moving away by floating on a cloud. Adults can practice the same strategies to not let their emotions linger.
A child’s emotions are not always logical and may seem to come out of nowhere. However, a child’s feelings are very real to them. Adults are not happy all the time. The truth is we don’t always handle our feelings the best. Children are not little versions of adults. It is not realistic to expect a child to always handle their emotions when we as adults struggle with this too. Children need to be able to have an array of feelings (positive, negative, big feelings) and it be OK.
As a parent, you are the main influence in shaping your child’s abilities to work through the natural emotions of childhood. By working to help them develop emotional intelligence you are empowering and supporting the development of an intrinsic sense of worth and value. You set the tone and example for whether it is possible to experience emotions and get through these feelings without letting the feelings overtake and drive actions and responses. Starting this process and teaching early gives children the ability to build on having the success of handling their emotions effectively.
Rather than feeling like this is one more feat you have to tackle as a parent simply find daily opportunities to label, model, and practice emotions. This can be done by identifying emotions in everyday situations. Have an open discussion of what the emotion being displayed is and what could be done to handle the emotion in an appropriate way.
Embarking on the journey of serving as your child’s emotion coach can be an important step you take for yourself, your family and your child’s development.
Alyssa Caldbeck, LISW, RPT
Let’s welcome our latest guest blogger, Leanna Rae, as she begins a series of articles on early signs of sensory and motor immaturity and early intervention!
Learning is much more than classrooms and tests. Children start at a young age exploring their environment through their senses (sensory learning) and working to understand how to move through and interact with it (motor interaction). The sensory motor interaction is interdependent and essential to all learning.
How a child behaves and physically moves gives us insight into how they process information from the world around them.
Sensory motor movement (sensory perception and motor skills) is the primary vehicle through which we learn and express what we have learned. These “behaviors” mentioned above are signs of an immature neurological (sensory motor) system and indicates that the brain and body are not getting the proper stimulation or connection needed to support learning.
There are foundational physiological skills the body needs to master for the brain to meet the task of higher level thinking. Our ability to move through space (coordination) and organize information and relationships in the world around us (emotional and social intelligence) forms the foundation for successful academic learning. Simply put, without a fully functioning sensory motor system, the brain cannot operate at its best. Your child expends an enormous amount of energy in constructing and filtering a world of objects, sights, sounds, textures, colors, shapes, dimension and directions. When the physiological skills are not in place, daily school activities like siting in a chair, tracking words across the page to read fluently, being able to copy from the whiteboard to paper without losing their thought or information, etc. becomes a conscious effort and learning is compromised.
In life, it is easier to start off on the right path as a young child versus having to make corrections latter in adolescence and adulthood where the cost of energy and time is much greater. Early intervention supports your child’s developing mind and body, creating fluid and harmonious learning. In this series of articles, we will address what interventions and approaches lead to academic achievement, social growth, and emotional maturity.
Leanna Rae, MSSW, RMTi, CPLC
Ms. Rae has over 16 years of experience in the field of social work providing neurodevelopmental tools for children and adults to help with social, emotional and cognitive growth and learning. She is the co-founder and Executive Director at Kid’s Brain Tree Fort Worth, www.kidsbraintree.com.Continue reading
Let’s welcome Sharon Montcalm as this week’s guest blogger who talks of school stress and how to help your children cope!
We have all heard the words at one time or another in life- “Stress is a good thing. It serves a purpose. It helps you get things done.” Well, if you have a child who stresses regularly about school then you may be wondering where is the good in all of this. And what purpose is this serving for my child? And most of all, how in the world do I help my child be okay when school stressors get in the way of having a good day?
Use the ideas below to help your child and yourself develop some healthy ways to understand and deal with school related stress and to know when it’s more than a passing phase.
It’s important to help kids know that all feelings are really okay to feel especially the hard ones like fear, anger, sadness, and frustration. Connecting and validating your child’s feelings allows for a more open pathway to helping the child learn emotional regulation from you, their parent who loves them unconditionally. Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson’s book, The Whole Brain Child gives parents easy to understand brain science based strategies for developing healthy emotionally balanced brains which leads to healthy better balanced daily lives. Sometimes, just sitting with your child during their struggle is what the kid needs the most. Especially, if the child is in full blow meltdown mode, then refrain from using “talk” problem solving strategies until the storm has passed because their ability to to logically process is not available to them until the brain resets from the emotional stressor. Siegel refers to this as connecting right brain to right brain to provide support and understanding of the child’s feelings.
Once there’s a state of calm, move on to simple connection sentences that fit the situation. An example could be, “It makes you mad when math doesn’t make sense,” or, “Subtraction can be confusing,”. Now, it can be hard at times to validate feelings when the stressor makes no sense to us as the parent. For example, the child who is crying and upset because they can’t draw a tree for each season showing what it would look like in that season. Yes, this is a real homework dilemma. So what’s a parent to do? Identify and validate the feelings, make the connection to the right side of the brain that deals with emotions/creativity/experiences because once the right side calms down then it’s ready to play with the left side brain of logic. “This assignment is really hard for you. It’s frustrating that the trees don’t look like you want them to look.Tell me how you would like it to be.” And wait for the child to lead on what to do next.
Once, the emotional flood of the stress inducing crisis subsides it’s important to teach your child different ways of viewing difficulties in school. Set aside a few minutes each day to practice one of these activities to build up confidence and understanding.
Children’s literature is a natural place to find characters who children relate to in familiar situations like school, home and friendships. Now, some of the characters might not be human, but kids really do not care if it’s a happy pig or sad bunny or even a silly dinosaur. Kids are looking for shared common experiences in stories. Listed below are four books that I have found helpful when working with stressed out kids and their parents:
Wilma Jean does worry and stress about everything at school. Julia Cook writes awesome stories for kids, parents and educators to help children develop self-awareness and coping skills. Parent and educator note and tips in the back.
Leo is doing what Leo needs to do, but it’s different than the other animals in his class.This is a classic story of how we all develop at our own speed with support, love and understanding.
Pout-Pout struggles through his first day of school until he finds that help is available. This story is great for practice in turning those negative self talk statements into positive declarations.
I love this book!! Even when we think that we can’t draw a masterpiece, we can still start with a dot and see where it leads. This story focuses on taking the risk, going for it and putting the pencil on the paper even when it’s hard.
Stress by definition is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. The seasonal tree drawing assignment was last month, so why is my child still stressing about science homework? The keys word is circumstances because circumstances can and do change. But what if your child continues to stress out about school situations, expectations, grades, friends, math, reading and pe and music and art class and lunch. Lunch is a huge one because the menu could change which is a problem when you really want pizza, but now the choice is corn dogs. Stress can move into worry and anxiety when it becomes daily, debilitating and life changing for the child and family.
Listed below are recommendations for engaging school personnel and getting help for your child at any time during the school year.
One of the great things about a school year is the cyclical nature of time; there’s always a beginning, middle and end to each academic year. It’s like a giant 9-10 month project that can be broken down into manageable pieces with different experiences, different people and different opportunities all leading to completion. School related stress is one of those experiences that can sometimes occurs during this long project, but it can be addressed, explored and supported. Parents, take heart you are helping finish this project. At times serving as the senior project manager while other times stepping into a more supportive assistant role as your child grows, matures and takes the lead at their own speed. Remember, it takes time to be a kid.
Resources and References
Sharon Montcalm, LPC, CSC
Ms. Montcalm is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Certified School Counselor and Owner of Kid Time Counseling in Denton ,TX where she happily serves kids, families and educators. Sharon spent sixteen years working as a public school counselor experiencing school days with students ages 4 to 18. It takes time to be a kid. www.kidtimecounseling.com
Our next guest blogger is Marly Hinestroza-Gaviria! Let’s welcome her as she introduces us into the ways of keeping heritage while raising bi-cultural children.
Growing up, the soundtrack playing to my adolescent years was the very popular Colombian phrase, “¿si todas se tiran por un puente usted se va a tirar tambien pues?” (Translation: If they all throw themselves off a bridge you’re going to throw yourself off too then?) This seemed to be my mom’s response to everything I ever asked and I hated it. I felt like I couldn’t do what seemed like every American teen my age was doing because that’s not how it was done in Colombia… but we weren’t in Colombia anymore! Not long ago, I uttered the same words to my 9 year old when she asked if she could go to the nail salon with her friend and her friend’s mom. When I said no, she pleaded, “but why, all my friends get to paint their nails any color they want and some even get fake nails at the salon. It’s not fair!” My response was out before my brain caught up and I almost laughed knowing I sounded just like my mom. The urge to laugh didn’t last long once I realized that my 9 year old was not amused and I saw boil up in her the same feelings of unfairness and annoyance that I had felt towards my mom…except now it was directed at me.
Since then I’ve been thinking about the struggle many second generation immigrant parents face (first generation and second generation are terms sometimes used interchangeably to refer to the children of those adults who emigrated from their country). We struggle with wanting our children to develop their own self-identity, fear of the isolating feelings we ourselves experienced as teens and not wanting our children to be labeled or discriminated against. This Youtube short documentary interviews four second generation immigrants now as young adults and they discuss the challenges they faced and how they constructed their identity from both cultures. Despite all the challenges, many of us still do have a deep desire to share our culture of origin with our children, instill pride and raise well-adjusted bi-cultural children.
How then can second-generation immigrant parents raise well-adjusted, bi-cultural children? How can we walk the tight rope between fostering self-identity while instilling our cultural pride, which is a different culture than the one our children are living in? And how can we navigate the cultural clashes that we experienced?
To begin with, take a deep breath…inhale…exhale! As with most parenting conundrums, there are options to be explored and as the expert of your own family you’ll find what works best for you. Keep in mind that our children, third generation, will more than likely not feel as conflicted between the two cultures as we did because they ultimately have a stronger American identity than we did or do. Our children were born here and so were their parents (or at least we have spent over half of our lives here at this point); a University of California study thoroughly explores protective and risk factors for us second generation immigrants and how this impacts us and therefore our children. One protective factor is community, and our children most likely have stronger community ties than we did growing up and will presumably feel comfortable being Americans while still paying homage to another culture. Additionally, we are living in the age of information and there is a great deal of material out there to help us tackle this challenge. One of my favorite sites is Hybrid Parenting, a site that provides resources and information to empower parents in providing “children with an accurate and meaningful understanding of our multicultural world.”
Let your children become excited about the culture by choosing what things they find most exciting – whether it is the food, dress, religion or language! We know that children do best when they are excited about the topic or endeavor (as we adults do as well) so emphasize those areas and expose them to other areas without imposing them. If your children enjoy the foods of your culture look for food festivals, recipes you can make together or explore restaurants that sell your food. You can even make this a fun challenge when you and your family are away on vacation! One of my favorite things is finding Colombian restaurants in other states, I’ve even found one in Hawai’i, Coquito’s Latin Cuisine! Part of allowing your children to choose what parts of each culture to embrace is for you to also become excited about different aspects of the culture. As second generation immigrants, chances are that there are a great deal of things we still don’t know or fully understand about our culture, so have some fun researching and learning along with your child. Your enthusiasm, wonder and awe at learning new things will rub off on them.
As with all things parenting, there will be some non-negotiables; determine what your family’s non-negotiables are and make sure these are clear and consistent. You may now be asking yourself, how do I let my children choose but then turn around have non-negotiables? I know, parenting sometimes makes no sense! We know that children do better when they have structure and limited choices and this applies to many things. This is part of being flexible and giving them some choices while still maintaining that structure and consistency that communicates safety. If your children know that you’re willing to be flexible with some areas, they’ll be more likely to accept your non-negotiables in the process. Also, remember what it was like growing up and being the odd one out because the “cool” things most of your American friends were doing was just not how “it’s done back in Colombia (insert country of origin)?” If you need to take a trip down memory lane, check out this Buzzfeed article that will surely remind you that the struggle was, and still is real. I remember being 13 and desperately wanting to wax my eyebrows and shave my legs because “all my friends are doing it!” My parents were adamant about not allowing this until I was 15 and so I suffered a hairy fate for another two years. I remember classmates poking fun about this and I’ve resolved that although my daughters will not wear make up until they are 15, if facial and body hair is a source of discomfort, I will exercise flexibility to save them from the embarrassment. (You’re welcome Melany and Sofia.)
Ultimately parents want to raise well-rounded and well-adjusted children and one way to achieve this is to expose them to the world at large. Exposing your children to your culture of origin will allow them to broaden their worldviews and increase their ability of perspective taking. Exposing your children to your culture and others will allow them to be more tolerant, to celebrate differences and more importantly to embrace their own differences!
Marly A. Hinestroza-Gaviria, LCSW
Ms. Hinestroza-Gaviria is a Resilience Trainer for FOCUS Hawaii working with military families and couples. Marly has worked as a certified Multidimensional Family Therapist with adolescents and their families dealing with adolescent high-risk behaviors and/or substance abuse. She has experience working with children from infancy to adolescence and their families providing assessments, individual and family therapeutic interventions, service coordination and crisis intervention. Marly earned her Master of Social Work degree from Rutgers University in New Jersey.Continue reading