Category Archives for "Uncategorized"

Feb 26

Raising Bi-Cultural Children

By Jen Taylor | Kids 5-12 , Parenting Tips , Teens 13 and Over , Uncategorized

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.

Second Generation Parents Wanting To Raise 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.

Struggle Of Second Generation Parents

     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.”

Here are three tips for second-generation immigrants raising bi-cultural children:


  1. Allow them to choose what parts of each culture to embrace:

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. 

  1. Be flexible regarding what to enforce:

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.)

  1. Expose them to your culture of origin… and others:

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.

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 19

Foster Parent Struggles

By Jen Taylor | Parenting Tips , Uncategorized

My first guest blogger is Theresa Frasier. She highlights the struggles and realities of a foster parent and Play Therapist. Enjoy!

Six months ago I had a powerful experience that confirmed some beliefs that I hold dear in my role as a therapist, professor and mother and foster parent.

I am a mother with a few taglines- foster mother, adoptive mother and biological mother. Also, once people get to know me, they learn that I am fiercely protective of my children; all my children. I would like to share the details of this powerful experience but in doing so it would be obvious what child I was discussing and the professional who impacted our family’s sense of safety for at least three months. So I will only share examples which represent themes.

Foster Parents and Play Therapy

In any Play Therapy training program there are a variety of topics covered including models and history, techniques, and special populations. We also teach and learn about ethics and best practices to include topics such as informed consent, confidentiality, counter transference and the list should dig deeper. Some therapists work primarily with children or teens and some also work with families. I love to work with families and my expertise is foster /adoptive families, mostly because I have walked the walk of providing care with kids who have complex trauma experiences and I believe in my heart that if we can empower families to learn how to become the parents their children need them to be- then our Play Therapy interventions and the powers of play can impact the child more quickly.

These experiences have taught me the most about working as part of a multi-disciplinary team and the importance of respecting all members of the team.

When my role in these teams is as a direct care provider, foster parent- mom, they haven’t always been positive experiences. They instead have been experiences where I was talked to disrespectfully, judged or mistaken for someone who would accept being talked down to. These professionals appeared to do so with intention and routine. The power imbalance was clearly felt.

It first happened in a foundational Play Therapy training where the trainer stated that many foster parents aren’t invested in being in the therapy process. It was also inferred that foster parents give up or give in on difficult kids. What wasn’t added to the conversation was that children/teens with complex needs are placed with foster parents to test out how they can be managed with little additional resources and only after four or five placement breakdowns do powers to be search out expensive albeit more intensive programs that were usually believed to be required in the first place.

Foster Parenting Isn’t Just A Full- Time Job

Foster parents are often depicted in media as money seeking uneducated people. Their daily per diem can be broken down to (at the most) $2 a hour. Fostering isn’t like a job that you clock into at a certain time but we have to acknowledge that it is hard work and though foster parents are viewing children as at least temporary family members, the system can’t always view this resource as people providing this most valuable resource with little to no supports.

There are many foster parents who have primary designations such as Child and Youth Care Practitioners, Nurses, Social Workers, Psychologists or Teachers. They may have to stay at home if they have foster children with lots of specialist appointments or school issues, all in addition to the many meetings that are scheduled regularly. Many foster families have one parent who works outside of the home and one parent who needs to be available for all of the weekly meetings with collaterals.

A foster parent may feel like it is their calling or purpose. For some it is spiritual or religious but for others it may be a sacred process. It is absolutely wonderful to see a child blossom, learn to read, or be able to shower finally with the door shut. These steps can be steps in healing from their trauma. Some therapists get this but I have experienced others who make unbelievable assumptions, or don’t engage foster parents in information sharing, or make appointments without considering the impact on other members of the family. We had one worker who constantly treated our family like babysitters, and uber drivers and would remind us that all of her decisions were in the child’s best interest. Our response wanted to be- “if it negatively impacts the family then it isn’t in the child’s best interest”. To add insult to injury, this child welfare worker emailed us without warning to communicate that “today” was her last day and requested us to say goodbye on her behalf to the child. This was not in the child’s best interest.

We have had teachers and principals try to intimidate us by threatening to contact the local child protection agency because we wouldn’t accept a difficult child home without legislated paperwork. We have had a dental receptionist state that we are being neglectful if we don’t bring the child for a check- up on a day that is chosen by an out of town clinic even though that time conflicts with being home when other children are finished school and if we aren’t home then we are neglecting their needs. Every worker looks at “their “ child as being important with no consideration for other children or family members.

We are informed and aware of both legislation and policy. When we share this information, we are sometimes described as being difficult. If my partner switched wives four times in a year he would be described as unstable but we have had four workers in a year for a child.

Fostering Therapists

There is an imbalance of power when we are therapists. We have to check our privilege sometimes and not make assumptions. We have to try to treat the direct care workers as the most important members of the team. They in fact are doing the most work and may be the most longstanding “clinician” in the child’s life with the littlest of sleep, resources, and the high cost to their marriage or relationships with other children.

There are foster parents that do not appear committed and do not appear to make decisions that align with those of other team members. However, I challenge all Play Therapists to develop a relationship with caregivers acknowledging that 18 others may have come before you (so just like with the children) they may need some time to develop trust and safety. There are foster parents who are not working therapeutically. All foster parents and all therapists need to be held accountable.


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.


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.
Sep 02

What are the "Must Have" Toys for a New Play Therapist?

By Jen Taylor | Uncategorized

Questions about “must have” toys get asked so many times by clinicians new to the field of play therapy.  And, the answers can vary widely.  I’ve given parents some of my favorite toys in the past.

Landreth’s “Must Have” Toy Categories:

The foundation for play therapy training for a lot of clinicians is Dr. Garry Landreth and Chid Centered Play Therapy.  He advises that play therapists include several toys from each of three categories.  Note that this list does not include everything that would fit into each category (they are just examples) and also that you do need everything on any list

Real Life

  • Play kitchens and play food
  • Doctor kits and band-aids
  • Dolls and Dollhouses
  • Animals, Cars, Trucks, People
  • Cash Register and Play Money


  • Art supplies
  • Paint
  • Play-doh
  • Dress Up
  • Puppets and Puppet Theater

Aggressive/Emotional Release

  • Toy guns 
  • Foam swords
  • Rubber knives
  • Rope
  • Soldiers
  • Aggressive puppets or figures (sharks, dinosaur, alligator, etc)

Directive Play Therapists “Must Have” Toys

When doing  more structured or directive play therapy interventions, you usually need things like:

“Must Have” Elements of a Play Therapy Space

It can be quite easy to find excellent toys everywhere you go.  And Dr. Landreth reminds us all to beware of the urge to get everything.  He says in his book, The Art of the Relationship, “Toys should be selected, not collected.”  

And I created this infographic to summarize my thoughts on creating the perfect play therapy space that you might find helpful.

Reframing The Question

But, I just recently heard it explained in a wonderful way by a colleague, Dr. Jessica Stone, who responded to this very question during a discussion board about the Play Therapy Summit.   She gave me permission to share it with you:

Hi all, I like to take an approach of collecting gems along my way in this field. I am not sure I could identify the one thing my office couldn’t live without. It is complex. Is that my personal favorite thing? Or my client’s? Or the majority of my clients? What comprises a favorite thing?

I believe what we have in our offices needs to be a balance of 1) what is congruent with who we are, what we believe, what our theoretical foundation is, what our space allows comfortably, etc. and 2) what speaks our client’s language, what helps our clients speak, what speaks to our clients, what allows them to experience feeling heard, seen, important, and understood.

I like to take a gem from Maria Montessori and think of the tools in my office as a way of scaffolding within the office. There are items that fit where they are in this moment, items that help them move forward, and items that work when they need to regress a bit.

Sometimes these tools aren’t our preferred or favorite. Sometimes they are. As I look around my office in response to your question I think about the clients who use the majority of the tools in my office on any given day but I also think about that one client, the one who found the tool that meant the most to them and they used it in the most amazing way – whatever that meant for them – Jessica Stone, Ph.D., RPT-S”

As I was packing up my office to move out of the state this week, I found Dr Stone’s words especially helpful.  I usually play loud music when doing tasks like this, but this time, I held each of the toys and remembered the children that used them and how they used them.  It was a mix of joy and sadness as I reflected on all of those shared moments in this specific playroom.

Final Thoughts:

In the end, I would recommend selecting a few items from each of Dr. Landreth’s categories and then considering Dr. Stone’s advice about seeing the value of all the different toys in the playroom. But, know that whatever you have is enough.  As long as you are in the room,  focusing on the relationship with the child and responding in an authentic manner.



Jun 25

Is Therapy Actually Working? Tracking Progress With Three Simple Questions

By Jen Taylor | Kids 5-12 , Parenting Tips , Uncategorized

Tracking progress in therapy can seem to be a difficult task. Children who are brought to therapy for some sort of behavior problem (like not following directions, hitting people or disrupting class) often continue to exhibit these behaviors even after therapy has started.

Baseline Measurements:

In order to truly track progress, you really need to have an accurate baseline.

Baseline is a way to refer to behaviors BEFORE therapy started.

If your therapist gets a good indication of your child’s baseline behaviors, then you can avoid this frustrating weekly check in conversation.

It will probably sound like this:

Weekly  Check-In on Progress

Therapist: How are things going with Johnny?

Parent: Oh, about the same. 

You might repeat that week after week for months.

So, if that is how it feels in your life, I would encourage you to ask a different question.

Three different questions, actually.

In fact, tracking progress in therapy (or even in gymnastics, or spelling or anything else) becomes much easier when you focus on three key areas.

Therapist Secret Tracking Measures Revealed

The three areas that will help you tell if your child is actually making progress in therapy are:

  • Frequency
  • Intensity
  • Duration

Tracking Progress: Frequency

One key way to determine progress is to look at the FREQUENCY of behaviors.

How many times does the behavior occur in a day or a week or a month?

If this is a negative behavior like hitting, then you would want the behavior to go DOWN.

If it is a positive behavior like saying thank you, then you would want the frequency to go UP.

So, when a parent comes in a says, “Johnny is still hitting” that is a true statement and as a parent, you might be frustrated.

But if the FREQUENCY of hitting went down from 3 times per day to even twice a day, then he is making progress! And over the course of therapy, it should continue to go down in frequency to just maybe once in a month.  And then to zero.

If you want to start exercising five days a week and you usually work out zero days per week, then increasing the frequency to even once per week is progress! Just because you haven’t hit the goal, that doesn’t mean that you are not working!

Tracking Progress:  Intensity

The second measure of progress in therapy is to look at the INTENSITY of behaviors.

How strong is the behavior?

This is usually done with some type of rating scale.  Again, if this is a negative behavior, you want the intensity to go DOWN. If it is a positive behavior, you want the intensity to go UP.

So, you might look at the intensity of a meltdown and rate it on a scale of 1-10.  10 being the most intense ever and 1 being very mild.  If Johnny’s tantrums are typically an 8 or 9 and now they are about a 5 or 6, then he is making progress.

Again, as the parent, you are still probably annoyed (or exhausted) from dealing with the tantrums, but the truth is that your child is slowly acquiring a new skill.  So, that is good.

Tracking Progress: Duration

A third way to measure progress is to look at the DURATION of a behavior.

How long does the behavior last?

Remember the pattern, negative behaviors should go DOWN in duration and positive behaviors should go UP.

If you have a child that is having meltdowns, were they usually 30 minutes and now they are only ten? That is progress.

As a parent, dealing with a five minute tantrum is much easier than dealing with a 45 minute meltdown.

Putting All Three Together

For some behaviors, you might be looking at only one of those three areas.  But for many behaviors, you can track all three and hopefully notice a trend across the board.

Final Thoughts:

So, before you give up on therapy and say “this isn’t working” I would encourage you to really think about the baseline behaviors.

Where did you start from? And what is the frequency, intensity and duration of a behavior that you are working on now?

And don’t try to change everything at once.  Start with ONE or TWO (at most) behaviors.  If you start to see a change in those three areas, then you are seeing progress.  Keep working!

Feb 26

My Favorite Play Therapy Tools: Books and Games To Add To Your Playroom

By Jen Taylor | Play Therapy Interventions , Professionals , Uncategorized

People are always asking me for play therapy tools and resources. Last week, I had the pleasure of presenting a continuing education topic on play therapy and trauma to a group of school counselors. As part of that presentation, a few of my favorite play therapy tools kept coming up.  So, I thought I would put them together into a handy dandy list.

All copyrights to the authors/creators.  Photos are of my personal copies of each item mainly to show you that I really do have it and use it. 

Play Therapy Tools: Books About Parenting

The Out of Sync Child Has Fun $10.84 on Amazon


Why I Love It: This book was designed for children with sensory processing disorder, but it is good for all ages.  It talks about why children need to move and be in touch with all five senses as part of their learning.  I love it because it has tons of specific activities that you can do with your children. Example: put a piece of masking tape on your child’s wrist (sticky side out) and go on a nature walk. Let them collect leaves and other items to stick to the tape and make a nature themed bracelet. 

In Sync Activity Cards $20.53 on Amazon

Why I Love It: Simpler than the book, these laminated cards have exercises that you can do in session to get kids moving.  You can pick a few to practice sensory related brain breaks or to use as relaxation prompts.  Example: Sit in a chair and push your bottom off the seat with your arm muscles, hold and then relax back down. 

The Whole-Brain Child Workbook $19.08 on Amazon

Why I Love It:  Any book by Dr. Daniel Siegel  is a fantastic resource. (No Drama Discipline, The Whole Brained Child), but this one is the best because it walks parents through specific tasks and things to learn.  Example: how to engage the “upstairs/downstairs” brain to manage meltdowns. 

Books to Read With Kids

The Mother Bridge of Love $7.99 at Barefoot Books

Why I Love It: This book combines a well thought out discussion about the love of each mother involved in an adoption (birth mother and adoptive mother). With the main character from China, it also helps support children from international adoptions.  All children in my private practice that are in foster care or who have been adopted report that they love how it talks about the love of each of their mothers.

Emily’s Tiger $7.99 at Barefoot Books

Why I Love it: A simple and fun book about anger, this book is great for talking about the ways our bodies change when anger takes over.  It inspired one of my clients to write her own book about anger during a therapy session.  The illustrations are fun and kids really understand the metaphor of an angry tiger.

The Boy Who Grew Flowers $8.99 at Barefoot Books

Why I Love It: This is a great little book about being different and finding ways to accept yourself first.  While not just about learning to fit in, it really talks about how to be yourself and allow others to be attracted to the authentic you.  I love that message and the way it prompts a discussion of accepting our own inner weirdness.

Therapy Games

Hoot Owl Hoot $17.99 at Barefoot Books

Why I Love It: This cooperative board game means that everyone either wins together or loses together.  But, it also teaches about strategy, planning ahead and the consequences of your decision.  And it’s not that easy.  I like playing with kids and seeing how many tries it takes for them to figure out the best strategy.  Kids who don’t win the game come back the next week eager to give it another shot. Example: Is it better to get one owl around at a time the fastest or keep all six owls close together?

Would You Rather $15.99 on Amazon

Why I Love it:  This is not your typical therapy game about feelings.  Best in groups, it requires you to come to a consensus with other players.  This promotes discussions about pros and cons and also helps with conflict resolution.  It appeals to older kids and especially to boys because some of the questions are just plan gross.  Example: would you rather have bird poop land in your mouth or in your eye? 

Flip Flop Faces Emotions in Motion  $30.00 at Discovery Toys

Why I Love It: This game requires you to use colored bean bags to flip over matching bowls with feelings faces.  There are so many options here for all ages.  From a simple matching game to a (pretty) difficult competitive game, the opportunities to make faces and talk about those related feelings are endless.  And the fact that it’s not as easy as it looks makes it appealing to older kids as well. Example: Flip the mad face bowl, make an angry face and tell me about something that makes you mad. 


AND…my new all time favorite is….

The Thought Kit For Kids $44.00 on Ana Gomez’s website

Why I Love It:  For those trained in EMDR (a trauma therapy), you will love how these flashcards help kids identify both negative and positive cognitions.  It will make your EMDR processing sessions 100x better.  For those of you not trained in EMDR or for those who are wondering what the heck EMDR even is… this kit is great for you too.  It has a bunch of negative thoughts that are common in all people and you can use it to learn about your client (especially teenagers) and all the terrible things that they believe about themselves. Examples: It is my fault, I should have done something, I am ugly. 

Final Thoughts:

There are endless resources about tools that you can use in therapy with kids.  In the end, I stick to a mainly non-directive approach.  That means that I allow a child to lead the session.  If they specifically ask, “What’s this?” then I will explain how these games/books are typically used.  If they continue to show interest, then we will use it.  If not, then I don’t push it.  If a child seems stuck in a certain area, I might offer, “I have a tool that sometimes works for kids.”  Again, if they agree, then we test it out.  If they are not interested, then I let it go.

**Note, these links are for informational purposes only and to aid in your shopping experience.  I receive no financial rewards if you purchase any of the items in this post. However, the three kids books that I mention were kindly donated to me by my friend and Barefoot Books rep, Brittany Mackey).

Have you used any of these tools in your work with children? What is your favorite tool in your toolbox?

Feb 05

What To Say (and what NOT to say) About Your Child’s Artwork

By Jen Taylor | Kids 5-12 , Play Therapy Interventions , Uncategorized

Does your child enjoy making artwork? Beginning as early as age one or two, most children enjoy scribbling with crayons. While most parents fear the mess, children really love using brushes and paint. These creations are the beginning stages of the creative process. And it is one that we would like to enhance as much as possible.

Young children are proud of their creations. They enjoy the process and are usually satisfied with the results. As children age, their fine motor skills improve and so does the quality of their artwork. Shapes and designs actually start to look recognizable. Children start to make designs intentionally.

While, this makes reviewing artwork easier, it also sets parents up in a trap to stifle creativity in their children. And somewhere between age 7 and high school, many kids transition from loving art to avoiding it because “I’m not good at art.”

What Do You Usually Say When Your Child Shows You Artwork?

Kids make a lot of art in my office. I would say 95% of the time, if a child shows a parent their creation, the parent will say one of three things:

  1. It’s beautiful!
  2. I love it!
  3. Good Job!

Sometimes, it comes out as this big run on sentence

Ooh, good job, it’s so pretty, I love it.”

Which is usually followed by, “Okay, let’s go” or sometimes, “What is it?”

What’s wrong with that?

Well, the intention is good. Praise children for their work, right? Tell them how great they are, right? Even if you have no idea what it is? It’s not that you are doing the WRONG’s just that there is a way to discuss artwork that is more helpful.

So, what’s wrong with the praise of artwork?

What’s wrong with “It’s beautiful”?

Well, what if it isn’t beautiful? It might not be beautiful to the child. She might not be happy with the result OR it might not feel like you genuinely think it is beautiful.

More importantly, is it required to be beautiful? That’s a pretty high standard when you think about it. Maybe it was an experiment in a new technique. Possibly, it was an expression of the more un-beautiful feelings that humans have. Maybe it was just fun.

What’s wrong with “I love it”?

This one is tougher. You might love it. Your child will probably ask you if you love it. The play therapy response is, “Tell me how you feel about it.” Again, this goes back to the idea that the child may or may not be proud of this particular painting. But, to foster real creative expression, the art is done to help you feel good about yourself-not just to please others.

We want children to do things because they feel proud of their own work, not just because it makes you(the parent) happy. In fact, knowing that you LOVE rainbows will encourage a child to draw nothing but rainbows. Maybe they really wanted to draw dinosaurs, but kids generally want to PLEASE the people that they care about. And so, without even knowing it, you have pushed your child to draw things that you love instead of drawing what they love.

What is wrong with “Good Job”?

Praising the outcome focuses on results. Art is about the process. Again, does it have to be “good” on some scale of artistic goodness? The process of creating is what unleashes the confidence to continue to try new things.

It is the same as saying “good job for making an A on your spelling test” instead of “you really studied a lot this week for that test and it paid off.” When you focus on the process, you help children learn that mistakes are natural, okay, and expected. But, that the process of overcoming hardship is critical. Learn more reasons not to say good job here.

Oh My- So What Am I Supposed To Say About Artwork?

You can memorize my Top Five Most Helpful Responses to Your Child’s Art by remembering the word ARTSY.

When all else fails, be ARTSY in your responses by talking about:

A          ARRANGEMENT: Talk about how the picture is arranged on the page. “You used the entire paper” or “You decided to draw only in the middle.”

R          REFLECT BACK: Talk about how the child feels about the picture. Always reflect back their feelings, especially if they ask for your opinion. You could say, “I’m more curious what you think about this picture” or “You seem really happy/unhappy with how it turned out.”

T          THOUGHT: Talk about the effort that went into the picture. “You put a lot of thought into this one.” If you don’t think that they put much effort into it, you might say instead, “this one came so easily, you didn’t even have to think about it much.”

S          SUMMARIZE:  Summarize the picture by talking about what you see. Similar to talking about the composition, talk about the colors used or the way it was produced. “You used a lot of colors.” “You used some crayons and also some markers.” Actually take a minute to enjoy the picture (even it is just a scribble) for what it is and talk about the process of making art.

Y          Say YES! Because you are the parent, your opinion will often still matter to the child, so don’t be afraid to say you love it! Your child is likely to continue to want to know what you think about the picture.

Find something specific and authentic to comment on. “Yes, I like HOW you had an idea and brought it to life.” “Yes, I like that you told me that you ‘messed up’ but then you turned it into something else.” “Yes, I noticed that you were really focused on the details of this building/tree/person, etc.”

Watch This Demonstration: Hear Me Talk About My Child’s Art

Still struggling with how to talk to your child about their artwork? Watch this short video where I demonstrate talking about artwork using my own child’s creations from last week.


Final Thoughts:

I will admit that I am NOT an artist. Somewhere along the line, I also fell into the “I’m not good at art” mode of thinking. I don’t particularly enjoy painting, drawing or making things. However, I do think that I am a creative person. I like to see ideas come to life. I write, I renovated a house, I enjoy fashion.

The bottom line, is that I do have a sense that my creativity has value. And I believe that is the essence of the artistic spirit.

Pablo Picasso (imagine what HIS mom said about his art!) is often quoted as saying,

Every child is an artist. The problem is how he remains an artist as he grows up.”

Your child doesn’t have to be the next Picasso. But, you can help nurture their ability to feel like their creative spirit is valuable just because it is an expression of them!


What do you do with all this artwork?

Realistically, I save a few here and there for the scrapbook, but discreetly, throw the rest away while my child is not looking. Let’s keep it real!

Although, I have seen some companies that will turn artwork into clothing, stuffed animals or books, I have not actually gone that far (yet).

Definitely save a few…they are only little for a little while!

Jan 23

I’m Bored: How To Respond When Your Child Can’t Entertain Himself

By Jen Taylor | Professionals , Teens 13 and Over , Uncategorized

What can you do when your child complains of being bored? Well, it’s January-we are all bored! It’s cold and rainy here this week and the opportunities for outside recreation are limited to say the least. Despite the piles of new toys from the holidays, kids quickly resort back to feeling bored at home. For those parents struggling with how to help your child alleviate boredom, here are some ideas that I have heard from my clients over the years:

Typical Parental Responses To A Bored Child:

  1. Every time a child says they are bored, assign them a chore (picked by the parent) to do.
  2. Have the child make a list of things they like to do. When they are bored, have them pick something off the list.
  3. Provide the child with suggestions of things they can do when they are bored. Try to convince the child to do any of them until they forget that they were complaining.
  4. Provide them with some sort of electronic distraction (watch a move, play on the iPad, etc).

Why These Boredom Busters Fail

Sounds like a great list of ideas, right? Well, parents consistently report back that despite all of their effort, these ideas fail miserably over and over again. (except maybe the electronics, but that isn’t really a solution). Why do parents fail?

Because children frequently reject ideas that come from other people.

In fact, a 2010 study conducted at Cornell University actually proved that even when people ASK for creative ideas, they typically reject them. There are two things happening here, according to the Cornell researchers:

1). New ideas trigger uncertainty and that creates a bit of anxiety in most people

2). Even when presented with good evidence for a new idea, people are not usually motivated to use that information.

So, when a child complains of being bored and a parent tries to entice them with a list of creative, new or novel ideas the child will ACTIVELY reject those solutions. And it’s not because they are being oppositional (although, technically they are).

It’s because our brains are wired to reject creative ideas even when we ask for them.

So, what do we do?

We need to learn to let them be bored.

Better yet, encourage it!


You heard me.

One of the reasons that children struggle with boredom so much these days is that they are over scheduled. We are running from structured activity to structured activity from the time schools lets out until bedtime. Or, we have devices that play songs, movies or games during all of the periods that we are supposed to be “waiting.” Nope…we are never bored. There is always something going on. So, just like anything else, kids don’t know what to do when they are bored.

Kids Get Bored in Therapy

Despite all the cool stuff I have in my play therapy office, kids get bored of coming to therapy. They come in and complain that they have played with everything or that I should get new stuff. “I’m bored. What are we going to do?”

My response. Quiet. Then usually some variation of

You can’t find anything that you want to do. You have decided it’s boring. It’s okay to be bored in this room. And if you choose, you can decide to get un-bored.”

(Yes, unbored is the technical term I use in therapy. And also a real word, in case you were questioning).

They usually look at me like I’m crazy. They often sit for a while in disbelief that I am not jumping in with an activity. And then, low and behold…they find something to do.

They start building with blocks or they draw or they ask me to play a game or they play in the sand or start a battle between dinosaurs and soldiers. They do something.

And they stop complaining of being bored.

And then I say,

Looks like you found something to do.”

The Science of Boredom

You see, boredom is critical for brain development. For those of you who like to nerd out (like me) on psychological explanations and neuroscience stuff, this article from Health Guidance does a good job of describing the science of boredom without being too much vocabulary mumbo-jumbo.   Let me give you the shortened version of it:

  • Those who are prone to boredom are also most at risk for other serious problems like depression and drug addiction
  • Those with chronic boredom have fewer dopamine (reward center) receptors in the brain. Translation: they require MORE stimulation to become “un-bored”
  • During periods of boredom, areas of the brain related to hypothetical thinking actually work harder.
  • During periods of boredom, new and novel ideas and experiments are born.
  • New and novel events actually trigger the birth of NEW brain cells  which encourages brain plasticity (or the ability to solve problems faster/better).

Encouraging Boredom

So, since we now know that offering new and novel ideas will likely be met with rejection,

but allowing boredom actually encourages children to come up with their own ideas,

which fuels the birth of new brain cells…

Therefore, you are actually making your kids smarter by allowing them to be bored. Think of it as a gift.

Your child says, “I’m bored” and you can respond with,

“Cool, I will help you get some new brain cells to help with that problem.”

Boredom At Work In My House

We had a long and rainy three day weekend this month. We were totally bored. Have I mentioned the three toddlers that run around my house?

Well, we are a pretty “on the go” family and this past weekend, we basically just hung out at home. This lead to some new and novel ideas and inventions in our house.

Specifically, my kids came up with this new and novel use of their Tonka trucks. Didn’t you know that they make excellent race cars?

To be clear, they were pushing each other around first and having so much fun that we had to join in!


And, not to be outdone by a bunch of toddlers…my incredibly bored husband took it to a whole new level. Yes, that’s him on a Hoverboard pulling a toddler train that includes my daughter on her bike and my twin boys in their dump trucks.

It took us a few tries to figure out how to tie them together (you can almost see the new brain cells forming, right).

You can’t make this stuff up.




Final Thoughts On Boredom

  1. It’s good to be bored. It promotes good brain development and creativity.
  2. Your ideas for reducing boredom are going to be rejected, so don’t even bother trying.
  3. Kids come up with cool stuff when they are bored.
  4. It’s okay to join in sometimes and get unbored together!

Please, let me know what kind of fun you have the next time your kids (or you) are completely and utterly bored!


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