Category Archives for "Play Therapy"

Oct 11

I attended the National APT Play Therapy Conference for the first time…this is what it was like for me

By Jen Taylor | Play Therapy , Professionals

Phoenix, AZ APT Conference

 My Love for the Annual Play Therapy Conference (in GIF's)

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...

Continue reading
Aug 03

Finding a Play Therapy Supervisor- Part 1

By Kristyn Buchanan | Play Therapy , Professionals

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!


Part One

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!

The Investigation

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.

Decision Time!

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.



Feb 16

So You Want to Be A Play Therapist?

By Jen Taylor | Play Therapy , Professionals , Uncategorized

Let’s welcome my next guest blogger is Kamini Verma as she dives into becoming play therapist! 

Common Hurdles In Becoming A Registered Play Therapist

When I decided I wanted to officially take the leap to become a registered play therapist I found many resources that outlined the steps I needed to take. I especially found the Association for Play Therapy (APT) website helpful, as well as a few blogs that offered a breakdown of each step to see if registration was even plausible. I hunkered down, reviewing my graduate course load to make sure I met all the requirements. Then I started to attend trainings and conferences, identified clients that would benefit from play therapy, networked, and began the search for a registered play therapy supervisor. Then I hit a lull. What do I do now? How do I utilize my agency’s space to validly implement the play therapy interventions I now have at my fingertips? What do I do without any resources to create or fill a playroom? All of these elements are daunting at first. Here is how I am dealing with each of these barriers.

To Become Registered or Not?

I did not attend an undergraduate school or graduate school that offered a dual degree and certification in play therapy. As a working student, if the class was not in the evening I could not take it, thus I missed the play therapy classes that were only offered during the day. I like working with kids and find play therapy to be the best clinical model there is for this population. Once I connected my own practice style with the theory I was off and running! Registration builds my network and connections with professionals, as well as expands my knowledge base to ensure fidelity to the variety of modalities.  

Limited Budget

As I have met other play therapists in private practice and school settings it is apparent we all have the same hurdle. Justifying the expense of toys in an already limited budget or finding the means to furnish the playroom from our own income. As Pinterest is my best friend, I was thrilled to find lists of toys and storage options that could be found at the local Dollar Store. I was frustrated to learn that not all dollar stores across the state, or even in my own town, carried the same items. Finding what I was looking for often required many trips and “travel” to smaller towns that may offer more supplies in their local store. I have found my best resource to be the support of my friends and family. Once, I posted a plea on Facebook and was met with offers to post in online Mommy Groups, as well as search through their own children’s outgrown toys to help me fill my space. I also posted lists in public recreation centers or schools hoping I could be added to someone’s donation list. Of course, I perused Goodwill and local consignment stores for items.

Limited Space

I have been able to identify with school play therapists over limited space options. My office does not quite meet the Garry Landreth specifications as outlined in Play Therapy: The Art of the Relationship so working with my agency administration to find the best options was the first step. School settings, or even leasing your own office space, can put up the same barrier due to lack of space or budget to rent a big enough space. I am learning to be creative with my space and storage solutions. Toys are visible but organized or folded away. It is like having a portable play therapy kit in an office setting! To create this, I found the most help in researching portable play kits, which you can create yourself or purchase from various retailers.

Administration Unfamiliar with Play Therapy

I work for an agency that offers many medical services, one of which is behavioral health counseling. They are supportive of their clinicians exploring a variety of modalities and utilizing them in sessions, but everything has to be reviewed under the requirements of various regulatory boards and grantors. This is especially difficult when the people making these decisions are not familiar with play therapy and the existing research behind the various theoretical approaches. It can often look like we are “just playing with kids.” I started with the evidence based practice statement on the APT website to show the method behind the madness. I harkened back to my graduate school days and created a research based proposal using Garry Landreth’s teachings and publications. When the administration was able to see the foundation of the modality we were able to have a more open dialogue of how to offer play therapy in the existing setting. Still, I needed to define why play therapy was a helpful modality…

Therapeutic Play vs. Play Therapy

If you work with kids your sessions typically involve playing with them. You do not have to be a registered play therapist to use play in your practice, but I have found understanding the theory behind the actions to enhance my practice exponentially. I am not “just playing” with kids. I am giving them the words to express their thoughts, feelings, and life story within a relationship. Using play as a therapeutic tool can teach many life lessons regarding specific techniques. Play therapy helps the child find their own way to self-regulation and emotional balance within their current developmental and cognitive level. This article by Garry Landreth and Sue Bratton summed the thoughts I had in my mind, giving proof that there is research to what my gut was telling me to do in sessions.

Next Steps

Now I have the supplies. I have been creative with my space. The administration is on board. I created informed consent among my client base. Who knew I would have so many steps before I even started supervision? My next steps are to find the right supervisor to guide me. I hope that you’ll stay tuned for my journey!

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.

Feb 11

Working with Gifted Children in Play Therapy: Part 1

By Jen Taylor | Children 0-5 , Kids 5-12 , Play Therapy , Professionals , Teens 13 and Over , Uncategorized

Our next guest blogger is Dr. Jessica Stone who dives into the world of working with gifted children.

     I have quite a few gifted clients.  I am unsure how they find me; is it word of mouth within the community? Is it my listing on the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page, ?  May be the presentations I have given on gifted children? Is it the advocation I provide for gifted students in my school district?  I am really not certain.  What I do know is that I am immensely interested in helping gifted individuals and I have personal and professional experience in this arena.  

     There are a lot of different topics to cover when speaking about gifted people.  The wonderful thing about a blog is that information can be imparted in a quick, informal manner which will hopefully spark thought, share important information, and provide avenues to pursue further explorations.  A limitation is that a blog is short with around 1,000 words.  Apparently, I am quite verbose, because I could really go on, and on, and on…  What I will do to make sure we cover a few topics adequately is to break it up into a series.  If you have topics you would like to be covered, please leave a comment and I will work to include it in a future blog.  

A little about my belief system

     Fundamentally, philosophically, and theoretically I believe strongly in using a client’s language and interests in our therapeutic sessions.  This language can include the actual spoken language, vernacular, cadence, etc., but can also include their interests such as music, books, games, and toys.  Historically I have spoken with therapists about using songs and Pokémon cards/characters in therapeutic ways.  More currently, I speak with therapists about using board games and digital tool interests in therapeutic ways.  The language of children is somewhat fluid.  It is important that we as play therapists “go with the flow” of the fluidity.  When a client has particular types of needs, it is important for therapists to incorporate them into the therapy whether they are strengths or areas which need assistance.   

How did I become interested in working with and understanding gifted clients?

     Working with gifted clients fits for me in multiple ways.  I was designated as gifted as a child.  Even writing that makes me cringe a little bit.  What did I just divulge?  How will it be interpreted? What will people now expect of me? Do they think I am bragging? I went through stages as a child where I was proud of myself, where I was ashamed; stages where I didn’t want to be different, and where I was happy to be different… There are pros and cons associated with being gifted.  Ultimately, I have landed in a place where I both like and dislike some aspects of this thing called gifted, but it is who and how I am.  The bigger question now is, “how can I help children who might struggle with this gifted ‘thing’?”

When one of my children was about 16 months old I was cooking dinner at the stove and he was building with Duplo Legos behind me.  He had one of those buckets of the blocks so there were plenty to choose from.  We were chatting periodically while I cooked and he built.  Suddenly he said, “look mommy”.  When I turned around I almost fell over.  He had built a structure which reminded me of the Eiffel Tower and it was perfectly symmetrical in shape and in color.  I took pictures.  I was fascinated, proud, and frightened… very, very frightened.  I thought: “What on earth am I going to do with him?  How will I know what his needs will be and how will I assist him in getting them met?”  Since then I have had multiple children identified in my family, and each of them are quite different in personality, abilities, and needs.  

The older my children became, the more I began to understand the variability, stigmas, and challenges associated with being gifted.  I started to think that if I am struggling with this – a person who was classified as gifted, a psychologist, and a mom – then others must be also struggling.  How could I use my experience and knowledge to be helpful?  I began to research, observe, and listen to people of gifted families.  I began to work with gifted children therapeutically.  In some ways, it was the same process as with other children.  In some ways, it was different.  I believe those differences are important for the therapist to understand.  

What does it mean to be gifted?: A beginning

It is fascinating that the very word “gifted” sparks a flurry of emotions. Quite a few people in gifted families feel as though they will be negatively judged if the term is used in conjunction with a family member or themselves.  Using the term can seem like a person is bragging or that they feel their child is superior in some way.  Perhaps this is true in rare circumstances, but overall families are using it to indicate that their child has particular needs.  

It is my very strong belief that if we picture the normal bell curve (below) and look at the portions to the left of the -1 and to the right of the 1 standard deviation (SD) delineations, we can see that these are two very important ends of the spectrum.  The portion to the left of the -1 SD indicates the portion of the population who have special needs associated with a lower intelligence quotient. The further left you move, the more significantly the difficulties effects the person and support system.  I believe the 1SD portion to the 3SD portion to the right of the curve, the gifted population, also indicates those who have special needs and the further one moves to right, the more significantly the IQ level effects the person and the support system.  It is simply the other end of the spectrum.  The needs are significant and addressing them effects multiple aspects of their academic, emotional, and social development.

I will let you chew on all this for a bit while I write up the next installment… to be continued.



Dr. Jessica Stone

Dr. Stone is a Licensed Psychologist and RPT-S who works in a private practice in Fruita, CO. She has been providing psychological services to children, teens, adults, families, and prospective parents since 1994.  Dr. Stone has been involved with the Association for Play Therapy in numerous capacities since 1993, including serving as CALAPT Branch President. She has presented nationally and internationally, and has been published in the fields of psychology and play therapy. She is the co-founder of the Virtual Sandtray App and VR  

Jan 17


By Jen Taylor | Children 0-5 , Kids 5-12 , Play Therapy , Play Therapy Interventions , Professionals , Trauma

That is the name of Holly Willard’s coloring book and the subject of her course Sexual Abuse Treatment Methods Using Play Therapy from the 2017 Play Therapy Summit.

Holly takes this topic very seriously and it is obvious during her heartfelt presentation that sexual abuse prevention is one of her passions.

And that’s because she knows the statistics.  You probably do to:

  • 1 in 4 girls will be sexually abused
  • 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused
  • 75% percent of perpetrators are well known to the child

I even created a nifty little graphic to remind everyone of those numbers.

For Those Who Love Resources

If you are a fan of directive play therapy interventions and techniques, then Holly’s course Sexual Abuse Treatment Methods Using Play Therapy is right up your alley.

I have not counted them all but I know there are at least a dozen different resources and play therapy techniques included in her course.

Her coloring book, You Are Amazing, is just one page after another of directive interventions.  But she is not just promoting her book.  She is genuinely promoting relationship enhancing techniques that also build self esteem and resiliency.

And she knows of tons of resources.

My absolute favorite are these Superhero finger tatoos that she uses from Amazon (no affiliate links here…just sharing).

You get more tatoos than capes, so Holly recommends using construction paper for capes to stretch the value.

She uses them to talk about all the characteristics about the child that make them super.

It’s a cool way to build the self-esteem and talk about the special powers they have.

See 5 More Resources from her course in the  Facebook  group today.

It’s still all about the relationship

Holly shares so many directive play therapy strategies in her course, but at the end of they day, she really wants people to remember that what they are doing is enough.

You can have all sorts of cool books.

There are dozens more cool techniques that you can use.

But, she reminds us that many of these play-based interventions came FROM children DURING sessions.  It was through a child’s ability to be vulnerable in sessions that many directive play therapy interventions were created.

And Holly (and I) want you to remember that you are doing good work.

And as Holly says,


Jan 13

Happy New Year!

By Jen Taylor | Play Therapy , Professionals , Uncategorized

Hey everyone! Welcome to 2018! You may  have noticed that you have not been getting the weekly emails anymore.  Since moving to Hawaii, I have really dropped the ball on that one.  But luckily, I have found some really great colleagues who are going to step up and give you even BETTER content.

I am excited to have some guest bloggers for the upcoming year. They are all mental health professionals with expertise in working with children under five, school age kids, teens, parents or mental health professionals.

Check out the list of amazing authors we will be posting weekly.  You should start to receive your regular  blog posts again very soon.  Thanks!

Theresa Frasier

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.


 Dr. Jessica Stone
Dr. Stone is a Licensed Psychologist and RPT-S who works in a private practice in Fruita, CO. She has been providing psychological services to children, teens, adults, families, and prospective parents since 1994.  Dr. Stone has been involved with the Association for Play Therapy in numerous capacities since 1993, including serving as CALAPT Branch President. She has presented nationally and internationally, and has been published in the fields of psychology and play therapy. She is the co-founder of the Virtual Sandtray App and VR

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.

Kim Martinez

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”.


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,


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.

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.

Adrienne Jeffries, MSW, LCSW-A

Mrs. Jeffries has worked with adults and children, helping them navigate their mental health concerns, symptoms and traumas.  She is finishing her licensure hours in Elizabeth City, NC to be fully licensed in September 2018. Adrienne is a military wife and mom to a toddler, preschooler, and 3 dogs, who just accepted a counseling position in a local school system. In her spare time she enjoys all forms of creativity, learning, reading, and spending time with her family.

Alyssa Caldbeck, LISW, RPT

Alyssa Caldbeck is a Licensed Independent Social Worker and aRegistered Play Therapist. She specializes in attachment, trauma, and adoption concerns in children and adolescents of all ages.  Alyssa is an EMDR Certified Therapist and Consultant in Training with Ana Gomez. She has completed specific adoption mental health competency training (Training for Adoption Competency) with the Center for Adoption Support and Education.
Apr 02

Should Your Playroom Include Aggressive Toys Like Play Guns?

By Jen Taylor | Play Therapy , Play Therapy Interventions , Professionals

Play therapists widely regard the use of aggressive toys, including toys guns, as an essential element to the playroom. However, many parents are hesitant to allow their children to play with toy guns. Nearly all schools have banned the use of toys guns (or even pretend shooting) completely.

Over the years, I have had some toy guns (not realistic looking ones, though) and other times I have taken them out.  As a therapist, the use of toys guns is not essential, but the use of aggressive toys, is vital.

What is an Aggressive Toy?

Aggressive toys are anything that a child can use to get out pent up anger or hostility.  These toys can be used to role play fights or battles, good guy/bad guy situation, or other trauma re-enactments.

Examples of aggressive toys include:

  • Non-realistic toy guns
  • Rubber knives
  • Foam swords
  • “Mean” animals like sharks, dinosaurs, alligators, lions, etc.
  • Toy soldiers (two different colors)
  • Handcuffs
  • Rope (I use a jump rope with the handles removed)
  • Bop Bag

What is an Aggressive-Release Toy?

Aggressive-Release Toys are toys that are okay to destroy or break in some way. These toys help redirect actual aggression into a more acceptable alternative.

Examples of aggressive-release toys include:

  • Egg cartons (can be crushed)
  • Bubble wrap (can be popped)
  • Paper (can be ripped up)
  • Popsicle sticks (can be snapped or jabbed into clay)
  • Wet paper towels (can be thrown against wall outside or on easel)
  • Clay or Play-doh (can be pounded)

Why Are Aggressive Toys Useful In Therapy?

Expressing Anger

Children need a safe opportunity to express feelings of anger.  In the play therapy environment, children can use aggressive toys to play out things that are happening with people in their lives. BUT…when it is done with an animal instead of a doll person, it feels safer to the child.  It is the same feeling/movements/thoughts but it doesn’t feel as real.

Relieving Physical Tension

Also, when using aggressive release toys, children get to move their bodies in a way that helps relieve the physical tension that anger brings.  Pounding clay, stomping egg cartons, or swinging foam swords helps move the body in ways that release tension and the accompanying noise that the movement makes also helps reduce tension.

Learning Boundaries

Finally, aggressive play helps teach children boundaries.  In rough/aggressive play, children learn how hard to swing without actually hurting the therapist, or how fast to move without falling down.  They learn how to “take a break” if someone needs to rest and how to start back up again.  I have witnessed siblings learn how to set rules for “fair fights” using foam swords and how to negotiate cheating.

My kids sword fighting

Do Aggressive Toys Create Aggressive Children?

It depends on what research you read.  A few studies have shown that aggression may increase temporarily after playing with aggressive toys.  This DOES seem to be more true when you are talking about playing violent video games (different story there). But, long-term, there is no reliable evidence that toy guns create more aggressive kids.

In fact, the opposite holds more true.  If a child has an appropriate place to express and display anger, then they are less likely to use anger with their peers (or parents).  Telling children, “Don’t get mad” is not nearly as helpful as teaching them what to do when they are mad to diffuse it.  The use of aggressive release toys helps teach children what to do with their angry in a way that will not get them in trouble.

Children Will Find Creative Ways To Express Aggression

In fact, many therapists find that children will turn neutral toys like blocks or their fingers into guns, knives, or bombs in order to communicate their needs with whatever is available.  The expression often goes:

If a child needs a gun to represent something going on in their life, they will find something and turn it into a gun (either in shape or with the noises that they make) to communicate that need.”

What To Do If You Are Uncomfortable With Toy Guns?

  1. Set limits.  It might be that toy guns are only for target practice. “Guns are not for shooting at people.”  When I have any toy guns in my office, I NEVER shoot at children.  I have let them shoot at me, but I would not shoot back at them.  If they tell me to shoot them, I would act out thinking about it but being so worried that they would die or I would go to jail or some other bad  outcome.  A great play therapist, Lisa Dion, writes more about how to play aggressively with children in her book, Integrating Extremes: Aggression and Death in the Playroom. 
  2. Set different limits for different games.  You might say that you can not shoot at me in general, but then we make a specific limit for Nerf or laser style games where we have defined a goal or specific rules. These games typically have teams, time limits, and rules of engagement.  You discuss them in advance and determine that the shooting ends when the game ends.
  3. Make sure your guns look very fake.  Avoid anything that is at all realistic.  Guns that are bright colors, light up, or make silly noises all classify as fake guns.  Guns that shoot foam balls.
  4. Use the alternative aggressive toys.  If you are still not comfortable with toy guns, use the alternatives.  Foam swords are generally more fun than toy guns anyway.

A Side Note About Gun Safety:

Regardless of your use of toy guns, there is never a bad time to talk with children about what to do if they find a gun while playing.  Just recently, there was an incident here in Memphis where a child picked up a gun and shot his brother accidentally.

There are many factors in that case that have nothing to do with aggressive play or aggressive toys. And yet, the underlying fear is that if we let our children play with aggressive toys, things like this will happen.  So…

  1. Talk about actual gun safety.  Talk with your children about what to do if they ever encountered a gun outside of the playroom and what to do and not do about it.  You can discuss that they should never pick up a gun outside of the playroom and that they should notify an adult right away.
  2. Require gun safety from adults.  It’s okay to ask the parents of your child’s friends if they own any weapons and how/where they have them stored.  Same goes for grandparents or other relatives. Don’t just assume that they are responsible gun owners, make them prove it.  Everyone that I know that has any weapons in their home can easily tell me how they are keeping them safe.

Final Thoughts:

Recently, I polled a group of play therapists and they overwhelmingly reported that they not only had toy guns in their offices, but that they found them to be an essential component of a play therapy space. However, those that did not have toy guns felt that the same benefits were achieved through the use of other aggressive release toys (like ropes, knives and swords) without the complications.


Moreover, representing reality in the playroom is important.  The truth is that many children have parents that work with weapons (law enforcement and military) and others have been exposed to very traumatic events involving drug raids, shootings, or other community violence.

To deny access to those items or experiences seems to somehow convey that those feelings, thoughts or experiences are shameful, wrong, or not important.  The playroom is a place to overcome those feelings and any toys that facilitate that process are okay in my office.

Do you allow your children to play with toy guns?



Feb 19

The Threenager: Why Dealing With Three Year Olds Is So Hard

By Jen Taylor | Children 0-5 , Parenting Tips , Play Therapy

Before I had kids, I would always say that three year olds were my favorite.  They are so cute-no longer babies but not quite big kids.  They look adorable dressed up like miniature adults.  They can talk enough to tell you what they want and need but make these cute little language errors.  Classic gems like my daughter saying, “I had honey dude for lunch.” 



Welcome, the terrible and ferocious fits of a three year old.  The craziness of arguing about cutting up peaches and then her being furious that the now cut up peaches are not whole.  It can literally feel like a constant war zone with a three year old in the house.  Watch out, land mine over socks.  Beware, another one over here about a toy.  More than one kid in the room…danger zone!

Mom’s…it’s YOU (but it’s not your fault)

You’re gonna love this research.  Do you ever feel like your toddler is hell on wheels-but only when you’re around? Leave your toddler with Dad to go to the store and he reports everything is wonderful! Babysitters love your three year old.  Day care says that they are super! Wait, is this really the same child?

Well, researchers investigated this “worse with mom” phenomenon and low and behold, they found that children under ten are 1600% worse with their mothers compared to other caregivers (including amazing Dads). 800% worse in general. But 1600% if under ten. Let that sink in.

Just entering the room is enough to trigger a change in behavior, including asking for food even if they had just eaten!

See, it’s all your fault, Mom! (But, it has nothing to do with you).

100% of the children in the study responded better to a normal tone of voice from ANYONE other than the mother.  100%.  That means when Dads tell you that you need to be more stern and that’s the problem.  WRONG…you actually have to speak like your are “being attacked by large animals” (according to the study) to get the same result as non-Mom’s.

So, that explains why we feel like we are always yelling.

What To Do With A Needy Three Year Old?

  • Don’t get frustrated! Understand that your three year old is biologically wired to respond more “needily” to you.  Also, remind yourself that this is because you are so important to her!
  • Get help! Sometimes, the simplest solutions are the best.  Leave your child with one of the people that have such an easy time with her behavior so that you can get a break.  (Not forever, but for an afternoon).  Usually, getting away is a cure for most things.  If you don’t have a lot of help, offer to switch with other moms, call in some favors, use a local drop off service.  Whatever it takes!
  • Sleep: This one works for both you AND your toddler.  This might also be an age where your child refuses to nap or is fighting bedtime. But, don’t give up. Continue to work on your sleep routine or consider a sleep consultant.  Sleep rules all.  If you are not getting enough sleep, you will never be at your best. Same for your child.
  • Don’t resort to drugs or alcohol: It is tempting to solve your frustration with another bottle of wine.  Having something that will help you relax is key, but drugs and alcohol are going to work against you in the long run.  Yes, a glass of wine at the end of the night is okay. But don’t overdo it.  Dealing with toddlers with a hangover is never fun!
  • Don’t take it personally! Didn’t I say that already? Yes, but you need to hear it twice.  Your child doesn’t hate you. She is not trying to make you miserable.  You are not a bad mom.  This is the unfortunate part of parenting and it will get better.

Some Practical Tips for Dealing with Three Year Olds

First, let me say that NOTHING WORKS ALL THE TIME.  These are tips that will help manage the behavior of toddlers, but tantrums are a part of life.   If you are in the midst of an angry toddler, some things seem to work more frequently than others.


Throughout the course of your day, try to insert feelings words into your conversations with your toddler.  This is especially true with non-verbal kids (start preparing from birth).  You can essentially narrate your child’s experience.  If they scrunch up their face when eating a lemon for the first time, you can reflect, “You were surprised at how sour that was and you didn’t like it.”  If they grunt and sigh when putting on socks, comment back, “You’re getting frustrated that those socks won’t cooperate.”

By putting a feeling word with the emotion at the exact time that the emotion is being felt, you are helping a child learn how to communicate their experience.  In the future, they will be better able to tell you what is wrong using words instead of throwing massive fits.

This is a marathon, not a sprint.  This one is going to help you long term, but might not help much in the moment of the next massive tantrum.


To reduce power struggles with your toddler, offer choices throughout the day.  The basic rules of choices:

  1. Two at a time (apple juice or orange juice?) not (What do want to drink?)
  2. Both must be acceptable to you (apple juice or orange juice?) not (apple juice or Mountain Dew?)
  3. Repeat the original choice a few times (chocolate milk was not a choice…apple juice or orange juice?)
  4. Failure to decide IS a choice.  So, if your child refuses to choose between the two, let them know that you will pick for them.  (Last chance or I get to pick) and then (you can decide to drink the apple juice or not drink it). Choices are empowering.   You can use this language instead of bribes.


I can not say enough about the importance of routines and structure for toddlers.  If you do things in the same order and at the same time every day, little kids thrive.  Notice, I did not say “about the same time.” I mean, LITERALLY, at the same time every day.  I know, that seems impossible.

Bedtime is at 7pm EVERY DAY.  Not around 7. Not 7:15 one day and 7:30 the next and 6:55 another day.

Bedtime is at 7pm. Period.  Change your life for the sake of the schedule.

(Note: bedtime might be at 8pm or whatever works in your family. It doesn’t matter as much WHAT the routine is, more so that you stick to it).

The same is true for what you do before bedtime (or any other part of the day).  Get repetitive.  Now, I know that there are some families that say this is overkill. Great, don’t solve a problem that doesn’t exist. But, if you are having struggles with your toddler…examine your routines (or lack there of) and start there.


Once you have a great routine, you can use transition warnings to remind toddlers that a new activity is coming.  5 more minutes and it’s time to get in the bath.  1 more minute and it’s bath time.  Time for your bath.

Again, the key is to be consistent and don’t lose track of time.  If you give a 5 minute warning and then answer a phone call and talk for 20 minutes, you lose! You are trying to teach children what 5 minutes FEELS like.  They can only learn it if you actually use the warning consistently with the clock.

Don’t give in for extra time here! Stick to it.

*Note, you can also do a countdown.  10 more swings and then it’s time to go.  2 more swings and then it’s time to go.  Last swing! Okay, it’s time to go. (AND THEN GO!)



In the midst of a tantrum, most people will use some version of time out.  Time out is a great tactic.  Go to your room, sit in this chair, stand in the corner…doesn’t matter.  The typical rule is one minute of time out per age of the child. So, three year olds would stay in time out for 3 minutes.


Instead, use time out to teach regulation (therapy code for “get it together”). The second that your child has stopped crying, let them out of time out.  You want to reinforce the regulation (calm) and not require a young child to continue sitting in time out “to think about what they have done.”

“When you are done crying, you can come play!”  


If you have a child that is hurting himself or one that refuses to stay in time out, then try time in.  This is essentially a way for you to hold your child so that they get the benefit of physical contact to help them regulate.  You might need to use some muscles to keep them in your lap (or next to you). But the option is to come sit with me until you are ready to play.

Some people think this is rewarding bad behavior. NOPE! This is teaching children a skill.  They can’t use it alone in time out until they learn it.  Hold them, rock them, breathe deeply and practice calming down together.  Again, when they stop crying, immediately offer the option to get back to whatever they were doing.


I know it seems counter-intuitive but when your child is being the most oppositional, she might just need to play.  With you! I remember one day that my toddlers would not stop running in the house. They were driving me crazy and every time I tried to discipline them for their out of control behavior, it just got worse.  Finally, I jumped on the Hover board and starting chasing them around with Frankenstein arms and a big lion roar.  They ran and giggled and yelled, “get me, get me!”  Not only did it completely wear them out in about ten minutes, but it totally changed my attitude as well.

And finally, WALK AWAY

Sometimes, the best option is to simply walk away.  The tantrum is the tantrum.  No amount of “you’re so frustrated right now” is going to work.  You don’t have the energy to keep putting her in time out and your child bites if you try to hold her in time in.

Sometimes, the best option is to take away the audience! If your child is not a danger to herself or others, you can just let this little firecracker fizzle out.   “You can be mad right here.”  Even if that right here is in the middle of the aisle at Target. (Note… in public, you can not actually walk far away). But do something else, check your phone, pretend to compare calories on the boxes.   Ignore the behavior for a few minutes and see what happens.

Again, the key is pay attention to the second that your child stops crying.  At the exact second (as much as possible), make eye contact contact, praise the behavior, offer physical contact (hug/high five, etc) and then reinforce the next choice/boundary/schedule.

Final Thoughts

Again, I can’t stress enough that nothing works all the time.  The two biggest emotional milestones for young children are “Autonomy vs. Shame” and “Initiative vs. Guilt.”   They are learning how to exert their will and how to have purpose in their lives. This is a big task and one that will have major bumps. Also note that the more headstrong, independent, or seemingly intelligent your child is, the more likely that you will bump heads from time to time.  And alternatively, a child with special needs, speech delays or medical problems is dealing with extra challenges and may test your patience as well.

The bottom line is that there are some things that you can do to reduce tantrums in three year olds, but the goal is not zero.  That is unrealistic and impossible.

And, when they are not throwing a massive fit…take their pictures, record them singing and dancing. After all, three is still my favorite age because they are so darn cute.

Things like,


(Need a way to capture all those cute things your toddler says?  I use this free app, “Little Hoots”)  Share your Little Hoots with me!

Nov 22

Play Therapy Termination Activity: The Chain of Intentions

By Jen Taylor | Play Therapy , Play Therapy Interventions , Professionals

Termination of play therapy services can be difficult for the counselor and the child. The relationship formed during the months of therapy is one of the most important aspects of the process. Termination activities differ across settings:  some offices provide certificates and some simply said good bye.

Last month, I discussed the pros and cons of  using a treasure box as a termination for individual sessions. Today, I will share a termination activity that has been quite popular in my office. ‘

The truth is that it is also a goal setting activity. So, you can use it at the beginning and the end of therapy.

It started way back in January 2016….I like to call it the Chain of Intentions.

The Inspiration for This Termination Activity

The Chain of Intentions was inspired by a commercial that I watched about the My Intent Project.  According to their webpage,

We believe there is purpose inside each of us and we want our efforts to encourage people to share more truth and inspiration with each other. We are not a jewelry company – we are an intentions project-My Intent Project

Despite their claim not to be a jewelry company, they do in fact, make jewelry. The customer chooses a word of inspiration to have marked on a disc and uses that as inspiration or motivation in their daily life.

(Note…I have no affiliation with the My Intent project and have received no financial compensation from them…this is purely background).

So, I ordered one with my intention for my play therapy practice for 2016.

My word was FOCUS.


See, I have a habit of saying yes to all opportunities. Those things were taking me away from my core mission which was to use play therapy to help children deal with trauma or other difficulties at home or in school.

I needed to FOCUS.

But, because I could not buy a necklace as a termination gift for each or my clients, I came up with a way to create a chain of intentions with all of the (willing) clients and students that came to my office in 2016.

Chain of Intention Instructions:

  1. I started by tying a very long piece of yarn to the air ducts in my office to form a string that went from one end of my office to the other. You could do this by tying it to a nail or a hook of any kind.
  2. Cut out strips of construction paper by folding in half vertically and then folding in half again. You will get 4 strips for each standard sheet.
  3. Using a marker, I wrote my word FOCUS and made the first circle around the piece of yarn. It was very sad and lonely all by itself.
  4. As children noticed it and started to ask about it, I told them the story about the necklace that I just told you.   Now..even though I said this was a termination activity, it can also be a treatment goal activity.
  5. If a child wanted to create an intention as a treatment plan goal, I allowed them to make a strip with a word about what they wanted to achieve during their therapy visits. Children choose things like listen, happy, create, design, friends.   Make sure that the intention is positive. So no chains that say “Stop, no, don’t.”
  6. I had the child stand on a chair and link their strip onto mine (or the last one up) and then staple it themselves so that their word of intention was visible.
  7. At the end of therapy, the child would either create another strip (or do one for the first time if they were not interested in doing a goal strip) that said what they learned during the therapy. Or sometimes, it was a benefit or just something they wanted to continue working on. Their INTENTION after our services ended. Some wrote happy, friends, joy, connection, success. Again, I had the child write the word, put it up and staple it themselves.
  8. If children were too young to spell, they tried their best. Or they drew a picture. Sometimes, I wrote the word down and they copied it.

Thoughts on Termination

The end result was a way for them to leave something behind. A testament to the power of therapy and the work that was accomplished. A motivation for other children that success was possible. And a vision for their future about what could help guide them after therapy was over.



My goal was to get from one side of the room to the other. It took the entire year. My office is big! But as it grew, it became a fixture in the office and I am excited to take it down and start again. And a little sad to see it go. I am thinking that I can use it as a garland for my office Christmas tree. A symbolic way to honor the work of the year and transition into the intentions for 2017.

2017 Intentions

I’ve been thinking about a word for 2017….the one that keeps popping up is GLOBAL. Stay tuned to see how that develops over the next year.

Please leave me a comment with your one-word intention for 2017!

Nov 07

How To Teach Kids Gratitude Without Sounding Ridiculous

By Jen Taylor | Kids 5-12 , Parenting Tips , Play Therapy

Gratitude is the typical “theme” of November in many ways. But, even writing it here makes me say, ugh! Really, do we have to go around the table and talk about this topic? Groan.

But, I have already had two kids come into my private practice talking about their Christmas gift wish list and it’s barely past Halloween.  Not to mention I have had three parents complain that their children are never happy with what they have and are always “wanting more.”

Being Grateful Actually Makes You Happier

Harvard research shows that people who practice daily activities of giving thanks or showing appreciation for their lives are generally happier. The recommendation is usually to keep a gratitude journal. A gratitude journal is a place where you write down 10 things that you are grateful for each day.

I have found that most people (even when they want to) are usually pretty terrible at actually writing this down. You might think about it, but you usually have difficulty actually writing it down. And, anything extra that must be written down is going to be a total turn off for your school age child.

Beware of Gratitude Activities on Pinterest

I love Pinterest for all sorts of things. In fact, you can follow me on Pinterest for great ideas and inspirational quotes related to play therapy. And if you are looking for zillions of ideas about teaching gratitude to children, you can search gratitude activities on Pinterest and you will get tons of results. And they are so cute!

There are great arts and crafts activities and pretty little art projects about how to incorporate gratitude into your life. I am sure that they are wonderful. But, how many of us has 1000 pins of great ideas and have never tried a single one of them. It’s okay. Don’t feel guilty. You don’t have to put all of the things you are grateful for on the tail feathers of a turkey to practice gratitude.

So, just ask “What are you grateful for?”

Yeah right, that is going to go over about as well as “How was your day?” More than likely if you ask a child what they are grateful for, the answer will be “I don’t know.” Perfect.. now all of your turkey tail feathers are empty and you are frustrated because you have to make suggestions to your child like, “What about your brother playing video games with you?” or “Maybe when your dad took you with him to Home Depot.” Um, sure, whatever, mom!

Gratitude is a state of mind

The truth is that kids don’t really think in terms of the word  “grateful.” They might have a better understanding of what they APPRECIATE, but even then, you are likely to get a vague response.

A Gratitude Exercise In ONE EASY Question-

In organizational leadership conferences, I was trained to ask this one simple question when talking with employees about their jobs. This question is most likely to lead to positive organizational changes and help employees focus on making a difference rather than just complaining. And the truth is that it is a gratitude related question.

Ready for it?


Now….before you go celebrating how easy this is. I will tell you that without fail, 100% of the time that I ask a person, “What is going well?” they will respond with something  negative.

Like, “Oh, I don’t know” followed by something that is NOT going well, “I failed my test today.”  It is a habit. Complaining is a habit. Venting about the bad parts of our day is a habit.

That is the opposite of gratitude. Children are in the habit of coming home and confessing their failures. This is not good for self-esteem.

Make The Question A Habit

Practice asking the question again. Okay…that’s interesting, but I asked what went well today? Tell me something good that happened. Now, this might still be met with a vague, “nothing really” or “I din’t know” but usually I can get kids to say, “I passed my math test” or “we don’t have science homework.” Okay…now we have something to work with.   You are so grateful that you don’t have homework today. Alright! Moving on.

Start Looking For Something Positive To Report

Do this every day and your child will come to expect the question. So, they will be thinking about what is going well earlier in the day so that they have something to tell you. You can un-train the habit of complaining and retrain the habit of thinking more positively. In turn, you will start seeing more positives about your child instead of only focusing on bad parts of the report card or conduct sheet.

Think this is impossible? Read this story about successful children whose mother asked this question every night during dinner and how it shaped their future.

Writer Rita Schiano has been quoted as saying, “Talking about our problems is our greatest addiction. Break the habit. Talk about your joys.” This is the key to teaching children to be more grateful. This is a simple and easy way to incorporate a daily gratitude practice into your family dinners or bedtime routines that sounds more like normal conversation and less like some touchy feely therapy exercise.

Try this out for a week and share your child’s response with me!



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