I don't know what your current relationship with Tele-Play is or who needs to hear this but, we need to find gratitude in our Tele-Play practice. Some play therapists LOVE it - they have found a platform that works well in serving their clients and feels like it is a better fit for their lives. I definitely know the commute of Tele-Play has its perks! Others are burnt out and completely over it! Wherever you land, like I said HERE, I think Tele-Play is here to stay, at least in some form.
I like to think about gratitude as one of the antidotes to burnout. An article published by the Greater Good Science Center from UC Berkley has linked workplace gratitude to "more positive emotions, less stress and fewer health complaints, a greater sense that we can achieve our goals, fewer sick days, and higher satisfaction with our jobs and our coworkers." Doesn't that sound like something we could all use?
I would encourage you to sit down and create a list of things you are grateful for within Tele-Play. Really dive in and consider what that looks like for you. Okay, I'll go first.
I am grateful for clients who are vulnerable enough to allow me to enter their lives in a new way. To allow me to be present in their homes when life isn't always perfect, neat or picked up. I am grateful that allowing me into this space has actually lowered defenses and allowed them to be more comfortable than in our office setting. I am grateful that I get to see dogs, cats, and exotic pets, their favorite toys, and the space they feel most comfortable. This is a side of young people we don't often get to see.
I am grateful for the ability to allow clients to keep therapy commitments when life happens. When families go to the cabin, to stay with grandparents, or have relocated I am able to continue to support them in their mental health journey. There are less barriers to logging on to services and even if someone forgets usually a quick phone call leaves us minutes away from our session instead of the 20-30+ minute process to get out the door and into session. I am grateful that when I relocated there were some clients that could have the choice to keep their therapy consistent.
I am grateful for the lessons I have learned that less can be more. Without the security of my play room and variety of carefully selected toys I can still do meaningful therapeutic work. I am grateful that Tele-Play has allowed me to get clear about what I need, what my clients may need, and that beautiful therapeutic work and healing can be done with a small selection of toys, like I talk about HERE and HERE.
I am grateful, in a practical sense, that Tele-Play has allowed me to keep my practice alive and continue to serve those struggling on my caseload. AND children are getting better, progressing on their goals, healing, and are able to terminate, just like my in office practice. In COVID-19 the only other option would be to cease therapy all together OR expose myself and clients to significant safety risks before having all the appropriate information. Both of those are undesirable to say the least.
Lastly I am grateful to have witnessed resilience - within myself and the teams in both of my practices. It was amazing to watch therapists get clear, form plans, and execute what has been (for me) likely one of the most significant, chaotic, and scary transitions of my career. Within 48 hours to go from seeing clients in office, business as usual (with more sanitizing and cleaning), to a full telehealth operation with forms sent out, orientation info given, and clients re-scheduled was amazing. I am also grateful to see the resilience within myself. If I can practice Tele-Play therapy in less than a 5 foot by 5 foot space I can literally do therapy anywhere. This re-frame of having done hard things in my practice will carry with me my entire career.
Now, It's your turn. What are you grateful for in Tele-Play? Drop a comment below!
The impact of family bonding activities are enormous. Spending time together as a family, okay to be more clear enjoyable time, has so many benefits for both children and their families! These benefits include a stronger emotional bond between parents and/or caregivers and their children, improved communication, improved performance in school, and decreased behavioral problems, according to an article HERE from South University. Other benefits according to THIS article include include higher levels of self esteem, reduction of stress, development of conflict resolution skills, increased adaptability, and strengthened resilience.
I also am very interested in Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and how they play a role in the lives of children that present in our offices. I don't know about you, but when it comes to ACEs I can feel pretty out of control and a bit helpless. Although therapy can support children and families, provide a healing environment, and attempt to buffer further ACEs, therapy cannot change the ACEs that have happened or inevitably are happening or will happen.
BUT did you know that research is showing that positive childhood experiences can mitigate the effects of ACEs? Research shows that higher numbers of positive experiences in childhood were associated with 72% lower odds of having depression or poor mental health as an adult.
Positive childhood experiences were defined as being able to "talk with their family about their feelings, felt that their families stood by them during difficult times, had at least two nonparent adults who took genuine interest in them, whether they felt safe and protected by an adult in their home, felt supported by friends and felt a sense of belonging in high school, and participated in their community" according to NPR. The experiences in the everyday - not things like winning the spelling bee, getting all A's, or making the game winning shot.
Okay - now that is something I can get behind! As therapists there is definitely work we can do to foster these positive experiences as well as increased bonding in relationships. I don't know about you, but this is something that nearly every client I work with could benefit from! I also know that when I introduce up family bonding time in session it usually brings up overwhelm with parents and caregivers. But when? But how? We are already doing so much!
I like to meet families where they are at and often brainstorm what free or low cost activities they could incorporate into their schedule. I also get serious in session to set a specific time and date that they are committing to engaging in the activity. This dramatically increases follow through vs saying something like "sometime in the next week make sure you do this activity."
I created a free download HERE that you can share with families to help get them unstuck and see what's possible with things they likely have around the house OR make things they are doing anyway a fun activity and a departure from the everyday. I share 12 of the most flexible family activities to take the overwhelm out of figuring out just what to DO together.
Below are some of my favorites for meal time - I mean the family has to eat am I right? Check out these activities below!
Family Meal Night
Family meal night is one of the most classic ways families can come together and bond. However, THIS family meal night is completely different!
Coming Together: Family Course Meal:
First create a list of courses you would like for your meal. This list can include items like appetizer, salad, entrée, side dish (can have multiple), drink, and dessert. Cut out each of these items and put them in a cup. Each member of the family takes turns drawing until each member has at least one course. Families can also decide to limit the amount of courses to the amount of family members so each member only has one. Then, it is up to each family member to research, plan, and make (all on their own) the recipe. You may have an age limit that the challenge is for 3 or 4 and up, have the little ones be in charge of picking the beverage, setting the table, or some other sort of age appropriate task.
For the older children you need to make sure that they can achieve all steps in the recipe safely. Maybe this means they need supervision sliding the dish in or out of the oven or some help with the knives – BUT have you seen Master Chef Junior? Most kids can do more than we give them credit for. This also means that your 6 year old’s “main course” might be sandwiches that she can make herself or your 5 year old’s side dish might be frozen French fries from the store he pops in the oven.
The thing to note as parents or guardians is to support your child in creating something independently (as possible) that they are proud of. Maybe the fries are a bit, umm, crispy. That is fine (as long as the kitchen isn't on fire) it is the process and the bonding that is the most important part!
You can choose to have a theme for your meal like picnic, Italian, finger foods, etc. OR have everyone pick anything that might be on the table. An addition to this is that each family member needs to give one compliment about each course.
Battle of the Recipes:
Families break off into two or more teams. Together as a family a recipe is chosen – it could be tacos, lasagna, curry, cake – any sort of recipe. Then, each team researches what they feel the best recipe will be, make a list of ingredients and get shopping.
Families may decide to have one team go one day/meal and the next team goes the other or to have both meals at the same time. Then, it’s time to cook, bake, and/or prepare. Each team works together to prepare their meal and then it’s time to sit down at the table for the tasting or just plain chowing down! After the meal each family member rates each meal (using the score cards in the download) on categories such as preparation, taste, temperature, etc. At the end scores are totaled up and a winner is announced!
Unique challenges to add could be staying under a certain dollar limit for a meal OR adding a time limit that the meal needs to be created. You could also require the use of a specific ingredient. Winners may get something (maybe a family Battle Of The Recipes trophy or medal – get some inspiration HERE) or just bragging rights until the next battle!
I love these two ideas for families bonding over food, also being mindful that food may be a stressor for families such as with members who struggle with disordered eating or where mealtime is a struggle for other reasons. It is always good to be mindful of issues like these to brainstorm what activities may or may not be a good fit for certain families.
However, the families that are appropriate for these activities have reported so much enjoyment and FUN had with one another. Like true highlight of their week! It is the fantastic pivot of making something that can at times be mundane and routine a bonding moment with lasting memories.
Download the worksheet bundle HERE!
Check out the free download HERE that you can pass to the families you are working with to get them thinking about and excited about family bonding time! It can take the pressure off of parents having to do the research and spend hours scouring Pinterest or google to find the right activity. Oh, and maybe you want to use some of these ideas for your family too! I know some of these are in the rotation at my house right now!!
Drop a comment below about a favorite bonding activity you recommend to families!
Healing happens in relationships. Right brain to right brain. With all the hustle and bustle of everyday life it can be a challenge to stop, take a breath, and enjoy one another. There is so much pressure for parents and caregivers to have a clean house, get dinner on the table, cart kids where they need to go, and regulate themselves that there is often little time left over for anything else.
The importance of family bonding time, just enjoying one another, is why I often try to meet parents and caregivers where they are at to help support them in creating this quality time with children. Relationships also happen in the tiny miniature moments in the every day...all those little moments add up to big, meaningful, and strong relationships.
Okay but back to the everyday stuff - you know, the practices, play dates, grocery shopping, meals on the table....when exactly is there time for bonding? Families are busy enough as it is! I know I often hear this in my practice and experience it in my own life. I wanted to share some of the little ways parents and caregivers can find meaningful connection with their children while doing life.
First what we know is that a habit is easier to create when you pair it with an existing habit. Hope is not a strategy. I promise if families (ahhhem adults) are not planning for connection time they will not be able to show up as the best version of themselves that they would like to be in their relationships with their children.
So, what does that mean for families? Find a time where you are naturally in the same space as your child and add on a connection habit. Some favorite times include on the drive to school, the drive home, at dinner time, or right as a child is going to bed.
It is best when connecting a parent or guardian's main priority is their child. No listening to the important story on the radio or the news OR scrolling your phone AND trying to connect at the same time. One of the biggest complaints from parents is how young people are glued to media. Well....sometimes young people say the same thing about parents and guardians too. However, one of the benefits of connecting in the car, is that sometimes watching the road can be just enough of a distraction to make young people's defenses come down and really open up.
So some basics, although I feel it is important to note, are those classic connecting skills. The ones we learn as therapists and can teach to parents and guardians. You know, eye contact, paraphrasing, identifying feelings, having empathy, making sure your nonverbals as communicating understanding, asking open ended questions.
Okay, now that parents and guardians have the time down for when they will connect, some basic connection skills, WHAT the heck do they do to create connection? Most of the time the question of "how was your day?" falls flat with a "good" and a shrug. Or worse yet - the sigh and eye roll.
Below is a list of my favorite questions, comments, and rituals to create connection in those little moments of everyday:
I hope you have some new ideas to share with the parents, guardians, and families that you work with! What are your favorite connecting questions? Drop a comment below!
One of the things that I love about Tele-Play therapy is the creativeness that comes out of necessity! One of the many activities I have been enjoying doing with telemental-health is playing card games virtually as a Cognitive Behavioral Play Therapy activity for my sessions and admittedly I have really settled in to playing the "old fashioned" way - with real cards.
What you need for this activity is to each have the same set of cards or same game at each location. I have been surprised to find that most families have UNO (one of my faves) but nearly everyone has a regular plain old deck of cards. Now, mind you, they might have creative or ummmm interesting designs on the back – and it has become one of my favorite parts to check out and compare designs.
When you are playing cards virtually, instead of laying the card you are playing face up on the discard pile, you hold it up to the screen on your turn until the next person "plays" their card. Then, when the next person has their turn they hold up the card to the screen while you select your next play. Pretty low tech, but works extremely well!
I developed the game "Strengths and Struggles" (or you could call it strengths and stumbles....sunshine and struggles, really anything) based on the game of Crazy 8's. Not sure how to play? Here are the instructions - straight from Bicycle Cards! I also don't keep score at the end I just start a new round.
So here is where the therapy part comes in - every time you change the symbol you need to say something according to the "therapy rules". If you change from red to black you need to say a strength you have and if you change from black to red you need to say a struggle or a stumble.
Let's define strength and struggle a bit deeper. A strength can be a trait, characteristic, choice they made that benefited themselves or others, a choice they made that was hard but they did it anyway, and on and on! Maybe they cleaned their room all on their own! Maybe they let their sibling sit in the front seat even though it was really their turn. And just maybe they worked really hard and completed that art project or story they were working on!
A struggle or a stumble is a time where they didn't make a choice that worked for themselves or someone else. This could be a time they didn't do a chore and lied about it, a time they got frustrated at their sibling and yelled, or a time when had anxiety thoughts going over and over in their head and weren't able to reach for a skill. The great thing about struggles and stumbles are they are GREAT opportunities to learn and getting up is part of the journey.
Now, here's the thing. YOU as the therapist also have to follow the therapy rules on your turn. This is an excellent opportunity for modeling! You want to make sure that your examples are kid friendly. You miiiight not want to use things that are too adult or will go right over a child's head like taxes or mortgage payments. You also might want to soften things a bit. If you got angry in the car about being cut off and started yelling (like really loud), you would definitely not detail the whole incident. Keep the focus on the child and what they might benefit from hearing. You might soften to feeling angry and not using your skills of deep breathing as a stumble. Most kids can relate to that!
For some, you may need to brainstorm a list of things you might say for successes and struggles to avoid the blank stare look and confusion when it is your turn. That totally misses the point of validation, normalization, and modeling that can come with this activity!
There are so many great moments to introduce skills, challenge cognitive distortions, normalize, and provide psychoeducation (among other things) with this activity! AND you can flex it, bend it, and get creative! Sometimes children develop the best set of unique "therapy rules" - so it is definitely an adaptable approach!
What are your favorite "therapy rules" for therapeutic games? Let me know in the comments below!
I'm Ann Meehan, an LPCC, RPT-S, and EMDR Consultant. I help other therapists grow in their passions as play therapists, trauma therapists,and child and adolescent therapists.