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!
Omu’s stew brings the whole neighborhood to her door. Thick red stew to be exact. The most delicious stew anyone has ever tasted to be more precise.
The community trickles in throughout the day enticed by the most delicious smell, and each time Omu hears a knock she gives! Bowls upon bowls head out her door for the entire day. At the end of the day as Omu goes to grab a bowl for herself it’s all gone. As soon as her heart starts to sink, she hears another knock – everyone has shown back up at her home. Not to take, but to give!
I have fallen in love with this story about giving, community, and togetherness. It is about the gifts that we give others, and when we need it most, how others pour into us. Oh, and the book is BEAUTIFUL too! In case you are wondering – Omu is pronounced AHH-moo and is the Igbo term for “queen”. In the story (and for the author Oge Mora) it means Grandmother.
I created this FREE worksheet bundle and want to show you how I have been using it in sessions with young people! These worksheets are a great fit for Tele-Play, in office sessions, for school based services, or nearly anywhere else you may do therapy! It is great for kids to strengthen their sense of connection, self esteem, sense of contribution to others, and identify how to get needs met!
So this first set can be used in SO many ways. Usually I have a client start and work from the “Filling Up Our Bowls” sheet. They label the big bowl in the middle as themselves. From here they can cut out and paste (or draw their own) bowls of people they pour into – parents, grandparents, guardians, friends, teachers, and YES even their therapists! These bowls are placed around their bowl and I encourage clients to choose color that represents the person they are pouring into. Maybe blue for their brother? OR green for their best friend?
Next to each bowl coach the child to write the way they pour into this person. It could be inside the bowl, around the bowl, coming up like steam – anywhere will do! Could it be that they share their humor, compassion, tech skills, or love for sports? YES!
Then using the same color as the bowl of the person they are focusing on, write with that color inside the child's bowl of how that person pours into them. With the example above, using blue, how does their brother pour into and support them? Is it by always being there to talk? Sharing? Suggesting fun things to do together? AND in green for their best friend, does that person give them compliments, help them with homework, or show compassion?
Sometimes it may make sense to just work off of the “Whose Bowl Do You Fill” worksheet and identify the way the child gives to others. This can be tricky if the child only has a couple of people they believe they pour into OR has more bowls than are created. However, we are play therapists so we adapt – turn it over and create more bowls OR cut a smaller worksheet out of the larger one!
This next worksheet, "Recipe of ME!" can be used in tandem or in place of the first set. Omu draws the entire community in with her delicious smelling, thick, red stew! This worksheet is used to increase self esteem and identify what draws others to the young person you are working with.
For the literal children you could coach them to write words and characteristics that others like and appreciate about them. In metaphor you could have the child draw the ingredients in their version of “thick red stew”. On the outside you could create a recipe card of what each of the ingredients means – do the carrots mean kindness? Are the onions like empathy? Does the salt mean a little sass or humor?
Click HERE to get the free downloadable worksheet bundle! I would SO encourage you to buy this book - it's $15.00 right now on Amazon. Prefer smaller book stores? Find a list of independent Black owned bookstores HERE!
What other activities do you use to help with self esteem, connection, and relationships? Drop a comment below!
PS Want to know why I am so book obsessed lately? I've been living, breathing, and playing with books getting ready for my new bibliotherapy training - check it out HERE !
Sometimes feelings get…all tangled up. This can be confusing and sometimes we need help untangling them and sorting them all out. Enter “The Color Monster” by Anna Llenas! This book is AMAZING and as I talk about here and here bibliotherapy is such a wonderful practice that is so adaptable to provide as a therapeutic approach in all sorts of settings – office, in home, at school, and of course Tele-Play!
This book is a wonderful story about a “Color Monster” who is full of mixed up colors and emotions. A little girl takes the monster by the hand and gently helps the Color Monster untangle and separate out all of these feelings and put them into jars.
The level of compassion in this book is SO wonderful. One of my favorite things to tell young people is that feelings aren’t good or bad – they are just our bodies way of letting us know what is going on in the world around us! For a lot of the littles (and teens too) that we work with there can be a lot of judgement that comes with anger and a portion of the therapeutic work can go towards decreasing shame about this real, normal, human emotion. This makes sense as to why my most favorite line in the book is “Sometimes, you want to take out your anger on others. But I’ll be nice to you, Color Monster, and your anger will disappear!”. My heart just melts on this page!
The book also emphasizes being able to feel and honor whatever feeling comes up and tell us that it is OK to feel all of these feelings, it is okay to listen to our bodies, and it is okay to cry! So powerful, especially for young people who often get flooded and want to repress feelings.
Another thing that is just fantastic about this book is the use of metaphor. It compares anger to a fire you might want to stomp out, sadness to a rainy day, and calm like leaves swaying in the wind. If you are doing any sort of metaphor work with kids this is a GREAT book to get the wheels turning!
When I am reading this with young people after I will pause, ask them what they noticed, and most of the time go into a Cognitive Behavioral Play Therapy activity about feeling identification and levels! I have included a free download of these worksheets HERE! I had so much fun creating these printables and thank goodness for all the Amazon packages I have been getting lately - there was no shortage of cardboard for this project!
So, after we read the book I have them select colors (up to eight - but let's be honest you could add more boxes and print a duplicate of the feelings jar page if you needed more) and color code and write in what feelings came up for them today or in the week using The Color Monster Check In download. The book identifies five feelings of happy, sad, angry, fearful, and calm, but I wanted to make sure if other feelings came up there would be space for them so I included eight.
One thing to notice is how the feelings are being drawn. As opposed to a color your heart activity (where the feelings are separate) the Color Monster’s feelings can be mixed up. Are some feelings darker (like pressed down harder when drawing) and what feeling are more prevalent? Do some feelings have just one line and are there obvious feelings that are missing? Do the feelings spill out of the color monster and onto the rest of the page? These are all great things to notice and process along with how it feels in their bodies when the feelings are mixed up, any thoughts that might come up for the Color Monster, and the choices the monster may make when feeling all mixed up! Oh, it is also a fantastic externalizing technique!
The next sheet is all about taking time to separate out and honor each feeling. With the My Feeling Jar worksheet you can clearly identify each feeling experienced and how much of each feeling. You can go deeper with young people and identify triggers, how they felt it in their bodies, warning signs of these feelings, and choices that might be helpful vs unhelpful to honor what is going on for them over the week.
This exercise is also a great tracking technique. If you engage in this activity with clients periodically how does their Color Monster change over time? What about levels or ranges of feelings? Does their emotional literacy increase where they could initially name three feelings, but now it’s five?
Now, although this activity is for younger children, teens also have tangled up emotions too! The teen version of this? This fantastic Tangled Ball of Emotions Download you can snag HERE from Sources of Strength. I have been using this drawing activity for a prompt of how teens feel currently and having them fill out a second for how they desire to feel. From that point we can spring board off into processing how to get from here to there!
Here’s hoping this activity brings you and your clients some superpowers to help untangle those messy, chaotic, and confusing feelings!
“Giraffes can’t dance you silly fool, oh Gerald you’re so weird.”
I literally have this book memorized. I could recite it in my sleep – no joke. Not only because I use it all the dang time in my therapy sessions, but my son also happens to love it too! AND what’s not to like – an underdog truly coming into his own to become the BEST dancer anyone in the jungle has ever seen!
Ok, let me back up a minute. You all know how much I love bibliotherapy, and if you haven’t read Giraffes Can’t Dance scoot yourself to the nearest bookstore, pop it in your Amazon cart, or to be honest you can see it right now on youtube! In this book, Gerald the giraffe learns that animals in the jungle can be unkind and downright mean, but with the help of a cricket, confident thinking, and his own special song he can do anything he puts his mind to - including dance!
This book has it all – self-esteem, bullying, growth mindset, self-talk, connection and support. It is also ah-mazing for Cognitive Behavioral Play Therapy. There are so many opportunities to go through the cognitive triangle and connect thoughts, feelings, and actions. It is also filled with regulation skills and highlights Gerald’s self-talk. You can clearly see the pattern when Gerald makes statements that he is “such a clot” and how they connect with him feeling sad, giving up, and going home.
Giraffes Can’t Dance also highlights the importance of helpers – a small cricket steps in and serves Gerald some serious wisdom allowing him to find his rhythm and a song that is just for him. You can see the shift in Gerald’s mood as he exclaims “I AM DANCING”! He is also incredibly gracious and doesn’t even dish out as much as an “I told you so” to any of the jungle animals – he just finishes with a bow. Gerald is one class act.
My favorite companion activities for this book include a “Find Your Song” activity. You have young people identify a song that is just for them – the music they move through life to. You can play the song in session, notice what feelings and thoughts come up, or have them focus on a specific powerful self-statement.
This book is also a great tool for EMDR as it helps identify feelings, thoughts, and cognitions. You can get curious about where Gerald may feel sensations in his body and what pictures may be going through his head as well as giving Gerald a Subjective Units of Distress rating. This primes young people to head into phase 3 of EMDR desensitization and reprocessing and gives them language and examples when asking about TICES. You can also use the “Find Your Song” activity if you are trained in EMDR with slow bilateral stimulation for the development of a resource.
I have also developed a worksheet pack that I use with young people including a Giraffes CAN Dance growth mindset worksheet that helps young people evaluate things they thought they couldn’t do but actually could as well as things they can’t do YET! For young people who feel isolated or alone you can grab the “Who Are Your Crickets” worksheet to help them identify their community and team. I have also used this for big transitions in life such as from elementary school to middle school or out of intensive outpatient treatment into a less restrictive setting. The last worksheet in the packet, "Who Are You A Cricket To" can be used for social skills. You can help young people identify how they show up for others and encourage others. You can grab your free downloadable worksheet pack HERE!
This is such an amazing book that I have used it different ways and different times with the same client. Maybe one time to talk about confidence and finding a client’s song and again for a transition time when she needed to get clear about who was on her team.
I know this book is so dynamic – drop a comment with other ways you have used this book in your practice!
PS - why YES that is a giant piece of tape on my book! This is one of the original books I purchased as a play therapist with a tiny budget. It came from a little website called half.com where I was used to buying some of my college text books. This copy is from the New York Library!
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.