It is the week after Labor Day, which for Minnesota means that it is back to school time. AND that Halloween is right around the corner. Seriously, there was a frost advisory last night. Stores don't lose much time and in between the back to school supplies you will start to see the spooky, scary, Halloween decor pop up! You can almost hear the creepy organ music in the background.
I believe that as a Play Therapist you have to learn to be a savvy seasonal shopper to take advantage of all the seasonal deals and offerings as you continue to select items for your play room to create a rich play experience for the children you see. For some of these items I know I will only be able to find them in store (and at a reasonable price) seasonally. Most of the time for me this means browsing the seasonal sections, the dollar spot, and the Dollar Store/Dollar Tree, and man, did this season deliver!
So, some pro tips I want to share with you are that not all Dollar Stores are created equal. Sometimes one will have a huge selection of items, and the next will have just a few. There is also some items that will be offered at one store, but not the next. AND the frustrating part is if you order online you need to purchase a minimum number and a lot of items are not offered online. The other tip is that sometimes, placement just doesn’t make sense. Two of these items I found back on an end cap by the freezer section, not at all by the seasonal display. Don’t give up, keep looking!
Okay, so let’s dive in to some of my favorites from this season. All of these items came from the Dollar Tree and one was created. The bones came in a 10 pack (5 large, 5 small), the skulls were an 8 pack, and the skeletons were actually a part of skeleton garland. Once you cut those little guys free you had a set of 4 miniatures. Also, if you don't already have this is the PERFECT time to pick up some spiders and creepie crawlies!
So….that’s 22 minis for a whopping $3.00 – pretty cool huh? These were really great and affordable for me as I am putting together my Play Therapy kits. If you don’t need all these minis for your play room or sand tray then I suggest you get a mini buddy or have a mini exchange. A mini buddy is a Play Therapist that LOVES to select and gather items for their play room where you can split the cost of multi-packs of items between two or more therapists. A mini exchange is where each therapist brings a similar priced piece/pieces of a set and you swap, walking away with new items for your Play Room!
The last item is those mini grave stones. I’m going to be really honest… I love these ones HERE, but couldn’t quite get myself to commit for the kits I am creating and wanted to keep it as low budget as possible. Enter the 500 Popsicle sticks I have currently in my stash. They cut SUPER easily with regular scissors and I decided to make them in various heights. This is like the simplest version of writing on them directly with a fine tipped sharpie marker. If you have time the sky could be the limit with painting or creating designs!
Don’t worry, I’ll be adding those beeeautiful stones from Amazon to my collection eventually, but it’s all about pace!
So why is it important to grab these little minis while you can? I mean, besides the fact that they are So. Much. Fun. Death and dying miniatures (especially if you do sand tray) play an essential and crucial role in helping children express their inner most thoughts and feelings in the tray and in the Playroom. If I reflect on how my current collection of death and dying objects are used there is a lot of pain, meaning making, closure, empowerment, and processing that is done. Wheeww heavy stuff right?
What are your favorite deals for this fall and Halloween season? Where are you shopping? Drop a comment below!
The challenge: fit an entire play room into a small kit and make it cost effective enough where you can afford to create multiple different kits. This has been on my mind since the start of summer, where I ebbed and flowed between safety, in office vs. virtual, and having the right tools to effectively do my job.
Here is a peek at a fraction of how I am coming along with this challenge and what I am incluidng in these kits! As I am assembling these kits I am LOVING opening the package and so far, everything fits *fingers crossed*. So why play therapy kits?
I talked HERE about children’s imagination and creativity in toy selection, BUT I was starting to wonder that for kids that are doing Tele-Play 100% of their sessions, if there was something unique, special, and magical about toys specifically selected by a play therapist. Toys that are unfamiliar and toys that they do not have any history with.
Now, the families that I work with have been absolute CHAMPIONS for selecting toys by Garry Landreth from this list available HERE from the University of North Texas. However, over time the toys have begun to get a bit scattered or sometimes there are important figures or object the child just didn’t have.
I’m going to be really honest. When everything shut down, I transitioned my toys and materials home, set up my garage office, and began to prepare my clients for all virtual sessions. I thought “yea, I can do this for three or for weeks”. HA. HAHAHAH. Thank goodness that was my thinking because I think if I understood what was to come the overwhelm would have left me paralyzed. I now look at this thinking as a humorous gift.
I also want to emphasize that there is no one right way when you are thinking about continuing your work as a therapist who serves children.
For me, the best thing that I can do for my clients is to continue virtual for the foreseeable future. I do not have any outdoor space at my office (6th floor!) AND with being a Minnesotan – winter is coming. I have also pondered the experience of play therapy with distance and a mask and am unsure if I will stay regulated enough if a client has told me about a large gathering they attended or being back in a classroom to be attuned and regulated as they need me to be. And as for me, ethically I have pondered that if I come into contact with someone who is being tested (which has happened for me or someone coming through our office, and inevitably will keep happening) do I then transition to virtual sessions until the results come back? What will that transition be like for my clients?
And others…well other therapists out there are mandated by agencies or schools to be back in person OR they have made the choice that in person is what is best for the treatment of their clients. With this option comes the cleaning, sanitizing, outdoor sessions, masks (and the hunt for the perfect mask that is clear and doesn’t fog!) and other safety measures like researching UV light sanitizing. Ugh.
Enter the Play Therapy Kit. As I have started the process of building play therapy kits, my intention is to send them out to some of my clients who need more or who have struggled with play with the toys they have in their own collections. Also when taking on new clients I want the transition to play therapy to be seamless so some of the kits will go to new young people on my caseload. I have been sharing some of my projects for the transition around the blog with my nearly free (with free printable) compact play kitchen HERE and low cost options for sand trays for sand tray kits HERE!
I actually think play therapy kits are an awesome solution for both virtual and in office! The goal for the Play Therapy Kit is to have a comprehensive “play room” in a very small and portable kit so you can either send them to families OR have them in your office for children to use. In office (or if you are between multiple offices or schools) you would either assign a child to a specific kit and have that child be the only one to play with that kit (I'm going to number mine) OR have only one kit used per client per day and sanitize them all at the end of the day. For example if you had 5 play therapy clients scheduled for the day then each would select a different kit (all with identical items) and then that kit would be put aside to be sanitized at the end of the day.
Play Therapy Kit Pros:
The biggest pro for me (with sending kits to kids) has been making sure they have a comprehensive set of toys to access for our sessions. Some of the most impactful and meaningful work virtually has come when I had children create and play with modified sand trays, like I talk about HERE. These kits would help young people do Sand Tray work, if needed, AND open up the world to things that they may not have available at home. I also have wondered if play therapy is different with toys they have never seen before and have no prior emotional connection to.
I also felt like for virtual play, these kits offered significantly more containment ability (snapping lids). Lots of my families stored sand trays open, toys in tote bags, etc. and the ending of the play therapy session just didn’t quite feel like the process of in office. And by “containment ability” I was definitely more interested in visual and emotional containment rather than the actually cleaning up of toys for practical reasons, but for both it is a big pro!
Another pro with the kits (for in office) is that it lessens the burden on cleaning between clients. For me when I was in office before things shut down, I cleaned and sanitized between sessions. Even thought I had a designated “used toy” tote to place items rather than back on the shelf, I felt that practice was limiting. I had young people who would dig through my miniatures (of course I couldn’t track the exact things they touched) and then I would have to sanitize ALL the contents of several bins. *face palm* Inevitably they would forget the rules and put things back on shelves, and I found myself constantly reminding or limit setting. This seemed restrictive to the permissiveness play therapy is supposed to offer. It also left a really strong odor of cleaning supplies in between sessions.
I also found when we only took out several objects at a time it felt restricting to the permissiveness of play therapy as well. With kits the limits seem significantly clearer – we can play with anything we want to in your play therapy kit! AND since the kits are comprehensive it doesn’t feel like they are limited to the types of things that they may play.
Another pro is that these kits are small enough where they can be easily stored by parents in home and don’t take a significant amount of muscle to take out, carry, or transport. If you are going between offices these would fit nice in a tote bag or a rolling suitcase. If you are transporting between office be sure to Zip Lock Bag your sand…trust me on this one.
Play Therapy Kit Cons:
The first con is that to get a comprehensive kit they can be spendy, even when you are cutting costs and creating the most cost effective kits possible. After all the dust settled I was around $60 - $70 per kit, which is a small tiny fraction of what it takes to create a standard play room. However, with 8 kits that I have created (with this round) it was a pretty big chunk of change. AND anticipating they would be used at least for the next 6 ish months, likely more if you count the transition back to office, it seemed like a solid investment for my practice. You could absolutely decrease the number of kits made and then you would only need to sanitize one time per day or in the middle of the day, rather than between every client.
Other cons include the time to create and make these kits. I have spent TONS of hours scoring the internet, at Target, and the Dollar Store, to get ideas, cost compare, and purchase all of the supplies. Within the next weeks I will be sharing my entire source list – SO hopefully it makes it easier for you! However, you still will put a large amount of time in, especially if you are making the play stove kits. So. Many. Circles.
Another downfall is storage. A pro for portable and at home, but if they are all stored in your office, these kits will need space and you may need to rearrange your regular toys to make room. You may also need to remove certain toys or all other toys, as to not have to put excessive limits on what can be touched and what can’t.
Now, there are some things that won’t fit in the little kits. Think pool noodles (some of my favorites!). When I go back into office I am anticipating developing a small selection of toys (including the pool noodles) that can be touched by any child but are really easy to sanitize between sessions. Meebie might go into this category (with fabric sanitizer of course). However, depending on how these kits roll out, I may do individual pool noodles that sit on the shelves with the toy kits!
Lastly, if you are virtual the other con to this is getting the play room from you, to your client. A great option is pick up at the office location (mine is still open with admin for therapist that choose to be in person or do virtual from the office). The second way is shipping the kits, however that can definitely get costly to ship even one play therapy kit.
Play Therapy Kits won’t be for everyone – but maybe they will be right for you!
Hopefully this introduction to the play therapy kit has got your brain going about whether this would be a good fit for your play therapy practice as we keep playing on in this pandemic! Have you already created kits of your own? Drop a comment or link to your favorite toys that are MUST for inclusion!
A Sand Tray Therapist’s dilemma in 2020…if I am returning to office how do I both keep my clients safe AND provide the optimal tools for emotional expression, processing, and healing? I can’t tell you how many times that this has gone through my mind.
For some therapists they are leaving the sand all together and finding alternative ways to engage with clients. I can’t tell you how much this makes my heart hurt as I know there is so much POWER in the sand. Check out my articles HERE for creative ways to use sand tray for virtual sessions.
BUT this isn’t about virtual, this is about the real life in office work of Sand Tray. Let’s focus! For some they are sanitizing between clients like this three part video series HERE, HERE, and HERE, or using UV lights or wands to disinfect. A billion years ago when I was in office at the cusp of everything shutting down, that was me. The disinfecting spray between clients that is. I can tell you – it is truly exhausting and leaves your sand a bit wet and less than idea if you have back to back clients who want to work with the sand. Who can relate?
Enter a third option: individual sand tray kits! I am a bit sand tray obsessed, so I actually have a stockpile of these AHHH-mazing square storage totes (the ezy Karton Storage Container 6.3QT to be exact) for $2.00 at Target. TWO DOLLARS! Okay, now you can understand why I grabbed 15 or so ish of these when they were still on the shelves. But alas they are out of stock everywhere I have goggled.
SO when the topic of how to navigate returning to in person sessions (now or in the future) came up in one of my group consults I wanted to create a round up of all the different ways to play (inexpensively of course) in the sand tray with individual sand tray kits. I also LOVE this idea for sending kits home for children to engage with and am in the process of creating take home "loaner" sand trays.
With this concept you could either have a mini-sand tray for each client that only they use or touch, or several kits that get sanitized at the end of each day. Either way this seems like the happy marriage between safety and technique! The cons to this approach is that the tray will likely be smaller than your large tray but the pros are that clients will get to touch, feel, and create with real sand.
Okay so here goes!
The Extreme Budget
The first option I wanted to roll out is the cheapest option at $3.33 per tray. These trays are actually 14” plant saucers (found HERE) with sturdy plastic. These are a great economical option but they only come in clear plastic and not blue. It also has a smaller lip at 1.4 inches, so be prepared for the spillage!
On the theme of plant saucers the Classic Saucer HERE is both blue, sturdier plastic AND has a larger lip at 2.13 inches! It also comes in economical at $5.99 per tray. If bigger is your game, these saucers HERE are larger at 14 inches and have a 2 inch depth. These ones come in a four pack at $21.99, so around $5.50 they are also a less expensive option. The cons are the color is more earth/terracotta tone and not blue.
The other mention-able rounds are the 13” blue activity tray HERE from Constructive Play Things (1 ½ inches deep) at $7.99 and the 13” (1.4 inches deep) Carlisle Bar Tray HERE at $8.61. The last one is the most expensive round, however all of the above have varying shades of blue, so it might be personal taste and style!
One of the most economical and larger trays I found is actually a serving tray coming in at 15” x 10” and 1.5 inch depth. The serving tray, found HERE, is a beautiful blue and is $16.99 for a three pack, coming in at around $5.66 per tray! As the forth least expensive tray it is definitely a fantastic option if you want the classic square feel of a tray.
The Nice And Deep
This one found at Walmart HERE is $14.44 for a 4 pack of varying shades of blue and is only around 3.61 per tray, which is pretty darn cost effective. This tray is 11.75 inches by 16 inches and 5.25 inches deep. This one is by far the deepest and could be a great fit if you serve littles that might need a bit deeper of a tray for containment!
The Double Decker
This option HERE is pretty unique in the fact that the bottom can serve as a try and the top can hold miniatures. It is really a compact option if you are like me and have a larger variety of miniatures that might go in the tray. The downside to this tray is that it is clear and not blue on the bottom. At $36.62 for a four pack is a bit more expensive at $9.16 per tray. It measures in at 14.38 inches by 10.75 inches per tray and is in total 7.63 inches deep, so about 3.8 inches deep for each tray.
I have saved the best for last! This one is hands down my favorite (and I actually own five of these too *slight blush*). I LOVE to use them for family trays or when I do a progressive tray series, so these have been in my collection for quite some time. I have no doubt if these are the trays for you that they will become a valuable tool long after the need for separate trays.
The Really Useful Box tray from Office Max is a really great size at 14 ½ inches by 10 ¼ inches and at 3 ¼ inches deep it can hold sand in the tray pretty well. Did I also mention this tray has a snap on lid? At $8.99 with an additional 20% off coupon offer going on now it is a low enough price to add a bunch to your cart without breaking the bank. Miniatures can be stored inside to make an efficient and stackable kit. Its blue color is also a plus!
If you are looking for a bit better of a deal, check out these similarly sized Sterilite Totes at $39.99 for 6, coming in at $6.67 per tote. The downside is that they are clear, however you could put a blue sheet of paper underneath to give it the blue color.
And there you have it - 10 great options for creating individual sand tray kits! Here’s to (safely) not leaving the sand behind! At the end of the day you need to do what you feel is safe (including agency, CDC, state, etc. guidelines) BUT I wanted to offer another option for keeping true to the sand as well as safety!
P.S. This sand tray is one I whipped up this morning. Interpret as you see fit!
Do you have any products that you love for mini sand trays? Drop a comment and the link below!
Bubbles are SO FUN. A bit of magic, whimsy, and excitement all rolled into one. It also feels a bit like breaking the rules to blow bubbles inside BUT we can do almost anything in the play room, including blowing bubbles!
Oh, and they are super cheap too! Check out these ones HERE from Amazon. At only $0.17 per bubble they are SO affordable for Tele-Play, individual play therapy kits (probably for outside use during these COVID times), your general play room supplies bin, or treasure chests! These are the ones I order for trainings and it is truly magical to look out over a conference room into a sea of bubbles! Pro tip for bubbles and Tele-Play, don't blow them directly into the camera - your picture might get real blurry for a bit.
Okay so without further ado here are my top three favorite Cognitive Behavioral Play Therapy activities with bubbles:
Bubble Feelings Psychoeducation:
This activity is one of my favorites for starting out and learning about the experience of our feelings. In metaphor we discuss and notice how feelings can be like blowing bubbles. Some are big and some are tiny. Some come out fast, some come out slow, and some get stuck. Sometimes a lot of them come out all at the same time but sometimes it is just one. Other times feelings can get stuck together like one, two three, or more bubbles! Here I usually pause and give examples of feelings that might be stuck together. Some might even be confusing - like when you are happy but a bit sad at the same time!
Other ways feelings are like bubbles is that sometimes some stick around for a while (like the bubble that just floats in the air) OR some leave our bodies quite quickly (like the bubbles that drop immediately to the ground). And sometimes....feelings and bubbles POP! I like to pause to talk about all the ways that feelings can "pop" like crying, screaming, angry faces, having negative thoughts about ourselves, saying unkind words, being unsafe or out of control with their bodies, etc. You know, all the ways! And young people usually have some great ideas about what it means for their bubble to pop! You can also use this to process warning signs of when their bubble is just about to pop!
The other thing with feelings and bubbles...is that bubbles always pop! What we know about feelings, is that they come and go. They aren't permanent states and just because we might have one GIANT feeling bubble, it isn't going to stick around forever!
For some young people you can give an example or two and they will hop right in with ideas of how the bubbles you are blowing are like feelings. For other young people you might need to give a ton of examples and then reverse roles and have them be the "teacher". I love when young people come up with their own ideas to add to the list of metaphors that I usually suggest. You can also use this language, like having feelings "pop", to talk about moments of dysregulation in future sessions!
This one is pretty self explanatory, but here goes. One of the most important emotional regulation activities for young people, well anyone really, is deep breathing. If we want to get really technical when we are in a sympathetic nervous system state (flight/fight) usually associated with anxiety deep breathing lowers heart rate, stimulates the vagus nerve, and allows us to come back into a ventral vagal (ie more regulated) state. It is here that we are able to engage in our prefrontal cortex to access both the emotional and logical sides of our brain, which engages in more critical thinking and logical reasoning. Wheeww...it's just really important - okay? P.S. to regulate from a parasympathetic nervous system state we engage in a different kind of breathing.
Now I don't know about you but the superpowers of deep breaths are some of the hardest skills to get young people to buy in to. Some young people have a hard time believing that something we are engaging in every second of the day can be used in an intentional way (slow long deep breaths with the exhale twice as long as the inhale) to help with regulation. Some will say it "didn't work". When I ask for a demonstration sometimes it looks like a fast shallow inhale with a quick burst of air to empty the lungs, all within a second or two. Yes, this absolutely would not have helped with nervous system regulation. From here we can talk about the body, become detectives, and get clear about exactly WHAT kind of breathing leads to a calmer more regulated state.
I will also use a metaphor about practice being KEY. We definitely do not show up after one dance lesson for the recital or one hockey practice for the big game. Practice really does make perfect.
Okay, so the key to practice is to make it exciting and engaging. Enter bubbles. I like to explain that we want to "extend the exhale" to past when the bubbles may all be blown. You can make up SO many fun games such as who can blow the most bubbles, the biggest bubble, or breathe for the longest exhale. The great news is these are so fantastic to send home for extra practice! I also will let young people know that their parents are in charge of where they practice - outside, in the bathroom, anywhere in the house!
Popping Maladaptive or Irrational Thoughts:
This activity I usually use as an activity after I have engaged in playful psychoeducation about the cognitive triangle and engaged in identifying and shifting maladaptive thoughts and creating rational alternative thoughts. When all of this has happened this play therapy activity can help bring it all together!
First we want to focus on those BIG bubbles. For the next step you can do this spontaneously OR pull from an art activity or brainstorming sheet. For each bubble identify a maladpative or irrational thought. Using any move the young person would like - pop that bubble! Maybe it is a karate chop? A simple finger poke? Death by a sword? Anything is fine!
After the young person pops the bubble they can either say a rational alternative thought as a replacement, a calming self statement, or identify a regulating behavior they can engage in when having that thought.
And there you have it - three ways to use bubbles in play therapy!! What other ways do you incorporate bubbles into your practice with young people? Drop a comment below!
So here is what I know as summer is coming to a close. The thought that I had for fall is a distant dream, the thought of “well by fall this will all be back to normal”. Turns out - I was completely wrong. It seems like some of the changes may be sticking around for waaayyy longer than any of us thought.
I also know that there is absolutely nothing uniform about how we all are approaching fall and the return to school. Even in my small community things are widely varying from school to school. Some are going hybrid, some all back, and others completely distant.
What I also know is that Minnesota recently enacted a mask mandate statewide that will impact children going back to school. All of it is tough. Staying home. Wearing masks. Distance learning. Going back to school. Every. Single. Bit. I also know, we can do hard things.
I was searching for something to help make meaning for children that were going back to school and would need to wear masks. Aaannd you know I am always down for a good metaphor so here goes!
Okay, so I LOVE the movie Finding Nemo. Trauma, adventure, healing, danger, reunification, growth…it has it all! One of the scenes that I keep coming back to is the scene near the end of the movie where Nemo is just reunited with his father after a whole movie of searching and the big nets come down from above and Dory is scooped up in the finishing net. WHAT! WHAT?!? This is the dramatic tension that only Pixar and Disney can produce.
Okay, so what happens next *spoiler alert*. Nemo uses the problem solving skills learned from the dentist’s office tank to rescue Dory. He says “swim down”, because he knows that working together will help not only Dory, but everyone. All together they swim down breaking the net arm off the boat (I’m sure it has a technical name but I don’t know what it is) and the net is set free! All the fish go spilling back into the ocean. Sweet freedom! See all the action for yourself HERE!
So you might be asking….what does this all have to do with masks? Great question! Sometimes it feels like COVID-19, social distancing, masks, sheltering in place, and a complete disruption of life as we know it miiiiiight feel like the distress and restriction of being in a net, trapped, not going where you want to go, and doing the things that you might like to do. Okay - am I the only one who got a little emotional watching that clip in the midst of COVID-19?
AND we also know that the way to get through this is together. Everyone playing their part – scientists, policy makers, and yes even young people who are wearing masks at school and out and about. This can launch into a good discussion of what “being in the net” feels like for them as well as all the key players. For those artistic kids you can launch into some really great metaphor drawing. Also, problem solving what skills the child has (like Nemo) to get through this! This conversation can help young people feel a part of something. Also – any time we can introduce metaphor or video clips to session, I’M IN!
What metaphors are you using to talk to your young people about wearing masks? How are you talking about this with your clients? Drop a comment below to share!
How does a play stove for under $1.00 sound? Pretty awesome right? Have no fear, with this FREE play therapy kitchen printable HERE and this $0.99 tote from Target you are on your way! Imagine the sizzling sound of food cooking on the stove and the beeps and clicks as all the buttons are pressed. Oh the sound effects of play!
There are so many essentials that are needed in a playroom and if you are playing on the go, stocking more than one play room, or creating individual play therapy kits for clients your budget can get out of hand pretty quickly. This low cost printable kitchen set up might be just what your play room needs!
What I also like about these DIY kitchen sets is they also double as food storage or other toy storage when you are not playing and the inside can be used as an oven...or whatever the child would like it to be! Isn't that the deal with Child Centered Play Therapy?
One pro tip would be to make sure that you put a layer of packing tape over the entire surface so the sliding pots and pans and sweet little fingers don't tear up your stove. But, the great news is if they do, you just print another copy and tape that puppy right back on!
This free printable comes with three full sheets of play kitchen cutouts in different sizes and shapes to fit whatever container or tote is going to become your new kitchen!
Oh, and if you are worried about whether kids will actually get into something that is a little DIY - my son (who was happy to be mommies helper) absolutely LOVED it, dug out his pots and play food, and complete with sound effects got right to it!
Want to know more about setting up a playroom? Check out this training HERE!
Grab the FREE Play Therapy Kitchen Download HERE!
What are your favorite free or low cost play therapy toys? Drop a comment below!
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.