New to Therapy? Helping Your Child Adapt

Children don’t face the exact same stressors as adults – “grown-up” challenges such as managing credit card debt, raising a family, working through marital issues, and navigating job challenges haven’t yet become part of their life experience.  But the feelings those stressors cause – fear, anxiety, sadness, and uncertainty about the future – have no age limit.  Growing up is not easy and, no matter the age, life is full of challenges that bring along a myriad of emotions to sort through.

Because of this, children may need extra support in overcoming their challenges and working through their emotions.  And sometimes the way to provide this support is through play therapy.  Play therapy isn’t just for a child whose family has had a loss or divorce.  It isn’t just for a child struggling in school, with peers, with impulse control, or self-esteem issues.  Play therapy is really for all children because it is an opportunity for any child to learn about themselves- their emotions, their thoughts, their behaviors.  Play therapy is a way to help children discover who they are – who can’t benefit from that?

As a parent, you may have decided that you want your child to have a play therapy experience, but maybe you aren’t sure how to talk to your child about it.  You may be on board thinking, “let’s go to therapy”; yet they think, “let’s go to the toy store.” So, how do you encourage your child to warm to the idea? The following tips will get you started:

Be positive: Giving your child the opportunity to explore themselves, discover themselves, and be themselves is a gift. As a parent, if you can hold this perspective around therapy rather than painting it as punishment or even a medicine to cure something that is implied to be broken, your child will inadvertently feel the privilege and be more open to the decision.

Be truthful: There are a few factors making truthfulness highly important. First, children know when you’re hiding something and signs of incongruence in the environment register as a threat to our body’s nervous system. Insincerity stokes the fires of the imagination – they’re going to therapy, but the secrecy makes them assume they’re going somewhere awful.  Secondly, openness invites security and helps your child understand that the therapist is on their side. Honesty and authenticity are the best policies for a reason.  It is often helpful to tell your child that they will be spending their own special time with someone who loves to help kids and loves to play with them.

Don’t minimize your child’s concerns: Therapy elicits a variety of emotions – some kids may be scared, some may be hesitant, some may be resistant, some may be indifferent, and some may be excited. Whatever emotion your child is experiencing, acknowledge it. Even if you know therapy isn’t scary, your child may not be as convinced: the fear or apprehension they feel is very real and it needs to be seen, heard, and accepted.

Give your children control: Most things in life are out of a child’s control (heck, most things are out of a parent’s control!), but providing your kid with a sense of power also provides them with a sense of safety. Helping your child understand that during the session they are in charge is very helpful (you will have to make sure that this is in line with the style of play therapy you are seeking out before you tell them this).  They get to decide what to play with and how they would like to spend their time while in the session.  This provides them with a choice and allows them to feel less trapped.

Tell them what therapy involves: The brain is an extraordinarily complex organ that, ironically, wants things to be simple. It likes to know what lies ahead – this is true for the young and the old. Our nervous systems perceive the unknown as a threat, therefore predictability is key. Kids who aren’t sure what therapy involves are more likely to resist the playroom. Their brains are designed to resist, essentially saying, “I don’t know what to expect. No thanks, I’ll pass.” Explain the process and help them acclimate.  Asking your child’s therapist how they would like you to explain the therapy to your child is a very important part of the intake process.

Remind them of the endgame: Many parents seek professional help because their child is unhappy or exhibiting behaviors suggestive of a struggle. Reminding your kid of the endgame helps them see why therapy is necessary. And this doesn’t mean finding your child’s happily ever after. Rather, it’s helping the child learn acceptance, learn to self-soothe in times of pain and challenge, and grow as an individual. It’s about introducing the child to their authentic self and allowing them to know and love who they are.

For more information about play therapy or to learn about our services, please contact us.

 

End of School Blues? Helping Your Child Accept Change

By Lisa Dion, LPC, RPT-S

The end of the school year is an exciting time for kids – no more teachers, no more tests, no more learning about the Wild West. But not every child jumps for joy as they rush from the hallways into the arms of freedom. Some have mixed emotions: they’re glad and sad all at once.

This is often most prevalent in children who are on the brink of big changes – they’re leaving elementary school to go to middle school, they’re leaving middle school to go to high school, or they’re graduating altogether. It also shows up when children realize that there will be no more sitting next to their best friend at lunch and no more getting to play with their pals at recess.  It shows up when they have to let go of their favorite teacher.  It’s under these circumstances that things may rapidly turn, going from “school’s out for summer” to “school’s out…. bummer.”

Ending are hard for most people, kids included.  And along with the goodbyes comes a handful of emotions and behaviors!  Parents may find themselves scratching their heads thinking, “Why isn’t my child excited that school’s over?” or “Why is my child acting out – they don’t have homework, they get to sleep in, what is going on?”

So, how do you help your child close one chapter and start another? How do you help them say goodbye to the places they know and hello to the places they’ll go?

First, keep in mind that some children run headfirst towards change: your child might be so excited for what comes next that they’ll practically sing the “So Long, Farewell” song from the Sound of Music as they run down the school’s steps for the last time. If they do, relish in their excitement.

But, if your kid is a little hesitant, experiencing a hard time with finality, or acting out now that freedom has set in, consider the following:

Let them feel their feelings: Change elicits a lot – sad tears, happy tears, fears, and cheers. While you might be inclined to speak only of the positive, be careful not to minimize how your child truly feels. Doing this may make them assume their feelings are incorrect, and that can lead them to ignore their emotions altogether.

Create a memory map: A memory map is anything that takes your child back to the moments they’re longing for. You can create a map by putting together a scrapbook – pictures of teachers or friends or that cool mural inside the gymnasium. If your child is older, consider scrapping the scrapbook for something more technical – a video collage, for instance.

Set a routine: Routines offer comfort to many people. Your kid may find that a routine provides them with the security they seek – it makes the unknown known by telling the child what to expect. This doesn’t mean your routine needs to be entirely rigid, but guidelines surrounding chores, outdoor activities, and television may help your son or daughter adapt. And once kids adapt, many of them thrive.

Plan playdates: When a child leaves school, it’s natural for them to miss their teachers or classes or inanimate objects – your kid may miss their desk or the vending machine that always gave them two candy bars when they only paid for one. Still, what most truly miss are their friends. That’s why planning playdates can soften the pain change brings. Make it a point to set up regular friend-fests!

Find out what you can about the upcoming year: Your son or daughter is moving to a new grade (and maybe a new school) – this is scary because, as mentioned above, it involves the great unknown (which, to kids, is really the “not-so-great” unknown). You can reduce their fears by learning what’s on the horizon. Find out who their teacher will be and get their class schedule. You may even take your child on a school tour, walking the hallways with them as they acclimate to their new surroundings.

Change is a constant in life – as a parent, you already know this. You know it’s an inevitability, up there with growing old and missing socks. Children learn this too – time marches on. Help them march on as well by acknowledging their feelings (the good, the bad, and the mad), creating a predictable routine in the interim summer months, and explaining the future. Kids, like all of us, can better accept when they know what to expect.

For more information about play therapy or to learn about our services, please contact us.

 

 Five Out-of-the-Box Ways to Connect With Your Child 

By Lisa Dion, LPC, RPT-S

We know our children – we raise them, we love them, we struggle with them, we grow with them. But, as the years go by, things change. From tiny fingers wiggling underneath bathroom doors to the slamming sound of bedroom doors, parenthood is nothing is not inconsistent.

The connection also changes as children become more independent. This isn’t a bad thing: it’s what we want – for our kids to spread their wings and fly. Besides, just because the connection changes, that doesn’t mean it weakens.

Yet, sometimes, the fostering of that connection requires a little creativity (and effort on our part). If you’re looking for some out-of-the-box activities to do with your child, consider one of the following:

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The Long Goodbyes: Giving Children Permission to Feel During Loss

By Lisa Dion, LPC, RPT-S

Change surrounds us. The leaves fall from trees, animals go extinct, birthdays come and go, people leave and people die.  Saying goodbye is part of our daily lives and yet we don’t always allow ourselves to really acknowledge the feelings that can come with these changes.

Recently, a school administrator approached me because she wanted help talking to her students as one of their teachers had just died.  I asked her what she was inclined to say and she told me that she wanted to acknowledge the loss and inform her kids that they may see teachers sad and possibly teary-eyed.  She also wanted to give the students permission to feel sad too.

After she finished explaining to me what she wanted to share, which was incredibly compassionate and full of heart, I asked, “What if a child doesn’t feel sad?”  She looked at me for a second a bit puzzled.

“What if a child is feeling relief or anger or confusion or nothing at all?  How will those feelings be addressed?” I continued.  Being an incredibly wise administrator, she understood what I was trying to tell her.

The rest of our discussion was an exploration of how to give children permission to feel the “full range” of feelings that might arise as a result of loss.

The truth is goodbyes aren’t a one-emotion-fits-all experience – they often come with mixed emotions. On one hand, they represent the conclusion of an experience with someone who is not coming back or at least going away temporarily. For some, this can cause sadness, anger, and regret.

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Learning Bracelets and the Importance of Movement in the Classroom

By Lisa Dion, LPC, RPT-S

“Mom, I am struggling because I can’t concentrate in class!”

This is something most children have said at some point – maybe they feel that science is boring, math is too hard, or history is so last year. But, while it’s a common utterance, it’s also one that speaks volumes.

Every time I hear a child express some version of this, a part of me feels incredibly sad inside – sad and curious.  Almost immediately, my brain wonders just how much the child is allowed to regulate/take care of their body during school.

Children need to move – they’re made to climb, to run, to jump, to skip. And this is by design: moving helps them learn.  When a child moves, the brain better integrates the data that it is taking in.  Movement is brain food – the mind needs it to thrive.

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Body Image & How You Can Help Your Child Develop a Healthy Relationship with Food

Parents & Caregivers: Positive Body Image Starts at Home!

By Chelsea Hester

In a world that is populated with diets, food advertisements, and models of only certain shapes and colors, children of all ages are being bombarded by external messages about who they ‘should’ be and what they ‘should’ look like daily. These messages, if not countered by a supportive home environment, can put unnecessary pressure on children to be someone they are not. Childhood is a time for exploration, discovery and authentic expression. Unfortunately, this process can be stifled when a child feels inadequate or as if there is a standard they must meet, specifically in regards to their body shape or food preferences. Over time such pressure can put children at a predisposition for depression, anxiety, disruptive behavior, isolation or eating disorders… just to name a few. Having negative self-esteem makes life harder on many levels.

As a parent, there are small shifts you can make at home to help your children feel safe and loved for being who they are. Although acceptance would ideally happen on all levels–body, mind, and spirit–these tips are centered on helping your children feel comfortable in their bodies and creating a healthy relationship with food.

  1. As a parent, place your attention where you want your children to place their attention. Try to focus on your child’s strengths and inner qualities, rather than his/her outer appearance. Rather than offering compliments based on temporary conditions, try naming the qualities in your child that are unwavering and start on the inside.

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