My Favorite Things: the Meebie Doll

Created by preschooler with anxiety and aggression who claimed to be feeling happy to be at their therapy session.

Meebie Doll

Previously, I shared a post on the Meebie doll by Orkid Toys.

The post was titled “Expressing Emotion and Mending Wounds with Meebie,” and it explained the benefits of using the Meebie Doll during play therapy with children.

However, I’m trying to post more videos for a better view of the items, so I’m adding to my previous post a video of my Meebie doll.

It’s still a popular item in my playroom well after a year has passed!

Check out the video below!

 

 

 

Play Themes and Uses for Jumbo Cardboard Bricks

melissa-and-doug-deluxe-jumbo-cardboard-blocksLast year I purchased the Melissa & Doug Deluxe Jumbo Cardboard Blocks for my son’s superhero-themed birthday party. Inspired from an idea on Pinterest, we created a wall out of the bricks and the children took turns destroying the wall wearing enormous Hulk Smash Fists. The activity was a huge hit, and I’ll always remember that party!

Witnessing how much the kids loved the jumbo bricks, I naturally had to bring them to my play therapy room, and I’m so glad I did! Imaginations took over with the new addition and children incorporated the bricks into their play and processing right away. Read more

10 Effects of Substance Addiction on Children

effects-of-addiction-on-childrenI recently had the honor of attending a fundraiser luncheon for The Council on Alcohol and Drugs in Houston, Texas. Tom Arnold, actor and philanthropist, spoke about his own experiences with personal and family substance addiction. An LPC Intern under my supervision is a child therapist for the children’s counseling program at The Council. Among many other interventions, I have been particularly impressed with their Kid’s Camp. Held a couple of times a year, this camp offers a place for children who have parents affected by substance addiction. Children are given an opportunity to share their stories with others, receive education on substance addiction, and begin healing the emotional wounds their parent’s addiction has left.

Attending the luncheon and hearing from those who have survived and overcome addiction was truly eye opening to the impact that addiction has on families. According to the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, more than 28 million Americans are children of alcoholics. This statistic doesn’t include other addictive substances. When a parent struggles with substance addiction (alcohol, illegal drugs, and prescription drugs), the impact on children crosses all areas of their lives, including social, emotional, and academic. The list below only scratches the surface of this very complex family struggle.

  1. Loss of relationship with parent. A parent who is seeking a high or on a substance high is likely to be emotionally unavailable for their child. Many children describe their mom or dad as “not the same person.” Personality and mood changes in a parent are scary for children and leave them with a feeling of insecurity.
  2. Loss of relationships with other family members and friends. The nature of addiction is that a person damages relationships with loved ones and friends. The child’s aunts and uncles may decide they can no longer expose their own family to the toxic and unpredictable environment and friends of the addicted parent and no longer come around. In addition, the child may stop having friends over because of the potential for embarrassment.
  3. Emotional problems: shame, embarrassment, anger, confusion, and frustration are just a few. Imagine the ongoing struggles the children face when parents argue, show aggression, nearly overdose, lose their jobs, etc. The list goes on, and so do the emotional struggles for a child.
  4. Birth defects. Parents who use alcohol and drugs during pregnancy may pass these chemicals along to the baby. Other detrimental effects include poor diet, dehydration, and lack of sleep and exercise. WebMD summarizes these effects well.
  5. Developmental impairments. Parents under the influence of substance use may invest less time with their babies and young children. Less interaction, meaning less talking and playing, with the child can impair their cognitive, motor, and speech development.
  6. Limited social life. A child’s social opportunities can become strained in many ways. In addition to the broken relationships mentioned above, parents under the influence are not capable of supporting (i.e. scheduling and driving) the child to birthday invitations, sport events, and other activities that are important for building peer relationships.
  7. Stress and related mental and physical health problems. The home may lack the warmth and nurturing the child needs, creating stress, hindering, development, and other physical problems as a result of the stress.
  8. Academic disadvantages. A child may struggle with poor concentration, limited support resources (tutors, supplies, etc.), lack of parental support, and help with homework.
  9. At risk for their own substance abuse problems. Statistics indicate that children of addicted parents are at a greater risk for developing their own substance addiction. This is due to both genetics and environmental reasons including parent modeling, childhood trauma and abuse, and poor coping skills.
  10. Exposure to unsafe environments and people and possible abuse. According to the NACOA:

Most welfare professionals (79.6%) report that substance abuse causes or contributes to at least half of all cases of child maltreatment; 39.7% say it is a factor in over 75% of the cases.

There are many children and families struggling with addiction, and we may not even realize it’s happening in our own social circles. Raising awareness is the first step. Whether you are a family member or friend, be prepared to support and love those involved. The family will need ongoing counseling, programs for addiction, and strength from those around them.

Resources on Addiction:

American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress

NACOA: Children of Addicted Parents Important Facts

Handout: Effects of Substance Abuse on Behavior and Parenting

Sand Art Activities to Help Children Cope with Feelings

sand-art-activities-to-help-children-cope-with-feelingsUnderstanding our feelings, being able to identify our feelings, and sharing our feelings are important for our emotional and psychological wellness.

Happy, sad, angry, proud, afraid…these are all normal feelings. As a psychotherapist and child therapist, I spend most of my day helping others to sort out and cope with these feelings, and as a mom, I take time to teach these skills to my children as well. I’ve posted on the impact of sand play in a child’s life before, but I especially love the idea of using colored sand as a tool for teaching and coping with feelings.

Sand art has been around for quite some time now, as described on Smithsonian.com. I love it because the final creations are beautiful, and each one is different in its own way. I incorporate sand art activities into play therapy sessions, as well as to help my own children learn about and cope with their feelings.

Getting Started — Here’s What You Need:

Ideas for Using Sand Art in Therapy

Happy Feelings Bottle or Bracelet:

  • sand-art-play-therapyIdentify various positive feelings: happy, peaceful, proud, excited, thankful, loved, and looking forward to…
  • For each feeling, choose a color and ask the child to tell you about a person, place, thing, or time that the child feels that positive feeling.
  • The child pours the colored sand into the bottle or bracelet while they talk about their memory or anything they associate with that feeling.
  • Talk to the child about how they can take this bottle with them to help them remember these positive feelings and memories.

Mixed Emotions Bottle:

  • Identify various positive and negative feelings: happy, sad, angry, peaceful, ashamed, proud, excited, lonely, frustrated, loved…
  • For each feeling, choose a color and ask the child to tell you about a person, place, thing, or time that the child associates with that particular feeling.
  • The child pours the colored sand into the bottle while they talk about their memory and association.
  • Processing the bottle: the bottle can be an analogy for how we all have lots of feelings. You can choose to mix the sand colors and describe how feelings often get mixed up and it’s hard to figure out what colors (i.e. feelings) are inside. Use this to reinforce that talking to someone can help them sort out their mixed feelings.

Feeling Loved Bottle:

sand-art-therapyWe have all heard of friendship bracelets, so this idea is an extension of that done with a parent and child. This is especially good for children with separation anxiety or who have to be away from a parent for an extended amount of time.

  • The parent and child each make a bracelet.
  • They choose a few colors and describe something they love about the other. For example, “I love how you hug me tight when we are together and will choose purple to remember that.”
  • Talk with them about how they can wear their bracelet to feel close to one another when they are apart and how they have a special bond.

The image above shows my daughter’s sand bracelet creations (she wanted to make more than one!). I’d love to hear your ideas for using sand art with children.

Therapy, Digital-Age Demands, and Why Our Services are Needed More Than Ever

Therapy photoI was recently forwarded an article by psychiatrist and Weill Cornell faculty member, Anna Fels, titled “Do You Google Your Shrink?.” Fels brought up several points that really connected with me and prompted me to consider the impact of our digital-age demands, and the value therapists offer as a result.

Therapists Are Now “Exposed”

Although myself and many therapists maintain a social media and internet policy, it’s safe to say that most people probably Google their therapists. Some may start out with the intent of learning professional qualifications and following blogs, but if personal information pops up (i.e. social media), it’s natural to want to click and read on.

Knowing clients and colleagues can learn personal information about me, I feel vulnerable and exposed at times. Although they will most likely find pictures of my family and friends, it’s the lack of control that is difficult to accept.

We are taught in training to minimally self-disclose, and only do so when in the best interest of the client. These days, if my cousin happens to tag me in the family reunion photo on Facebook, with fifteen other family members, I have no idea what or who my identity will link to in the vast world wide web. The impact this has on me in personal and professional life is still under consideration. In terms of my blog, I now write less about my personal journey as a mother and focus more on general parenting and therapy topics. Bringing in the right balance of personal perspective with professional boundaries is important for my own privacy, and to consider implications to my therapeutic relationship with clients and how my posts may affect that relationship.

Knowing personal aspects of one’s therapist isn’t necessarily a bad thing

In fact, Anna Fels suggests that knowing their therapist is a human being, just like everyone else, can be liberating for many clients.

“They feel like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” pulling back the curtain to reveal the wizard is a mere mortal. Therapists, it turns out, are just folks like you and me. Their authority is not a given, but something to be earned.”

I definitely find this to be the case in my practice. When clients see me as a person, wife, mother, etc. who is working with them in their journey, it strengthens the trust and feeling of acceptance in the relationship. As long as the information I share with the client is in their best interest and doesn’t cross a boundary for myself, I am willing to share these personal aspects of my life.

Living in our digital age, there is a constant stream of input competing for our attention

I see people on their phones in their cars, waiting rooms, standing in line at the store, and even when out with friends and loved ones. Children watch TV in the car, play on iPads in grocery carts, and attempt to bring their electronic devices into their play therapy sessions. There are endless demands for our attention, and it truly takes an effort to put it all down and be fully present with others.

Fels describes the therapy space so beautifully in her article, identifying therapy as “the ultimate luxury.” And to further paraphrase her, the therapy office is one of the few places left where one has the complete attention of another human being, with no other agenda than to offer a place of refuge, acceptance, and personal growth.

With email at our finger tips and instant social media posts, there are very few moments in our lives when we electronically disconnect and emotionally connect with someone as we do in a therapy session. Even children and adolescents notice their time with me is special because I offer undivided attention and unconditional positive regard. These are needs that social media outlets often steal from growing minds and peer relationships.

Therapy has always offered a special place for people to reflect and connect, but now with overwhelming input from online sources, our role as therapists is even more valuable, and in many ways, more transparent. Now, more than ever, people need a break from the mental traffic and psychological games to purposefully focus on their own thoughts and feelings…and just their own. As a therapist, it’s an honor to fill this need and be a part of people’s personal, inner world.

For further reading, The Couch on the New York Times Opinionator is an online publication about psychotherapists, their patients, and related experiences. Anna Fels is a contributor, along with many other talented individuals in the field. I’ll definitely be reading on!

 

Expressing Emotion and Mending Wounds with Meebie

Ginny Campbell, creator of Meebie

I was happy to finally meet Ginny Campbell, creator of Meebie and very sweet lady.

I recently got a new doll for my play therapy room, the Meebie Play Therapy Doll. I had doubts and it took me about a year after first hearing about it to finally make the purchase. Before placing eyes and hands on the MeebieI imagined it to be a little smaller, and it is such an odd looking doll I wondered if the kids would even be interested.

The truth is that the doll is a great size, and even a little heavy, which I love. It’s purple exterior feels both soft and silky. It’s wonderful! I even have one child patient who now carries Meebie to the exit of my office as far as he possibly can go before handing it back. Fellow play therapists have used this with their own kids, so I’m sure I’ll be getting one for my son and daughter soon.

Below I’ll share some pictures of Meebie after actual sessions. I would love to hear your feedback in the comments section on what you see in these images! Read more

Ideas for Building a Multicultural Play Room

creating a multicultural playroom

Creating a multicultural playroom.

As our world becomes more and more diverse, the importance of creating a space for acceptance and learning of various groups within my play therapy room, and my own children’s play room at home, grows.

Many people think of multiculturalism as consisting of racial and ethnic groups only, but this term also refers to many other characteristics that make up a group or society.

Examples of various cultures include:

  • Race and ethnicity
  • Religious and spiritual beliefs and values
  • Generation and age ranges
  • Geographical regions (Midwest; the South; France, etc.)
  • Professional industry (play therapists, legal field, Hollywood, etc.)
  • Hobbies and interests (comic book fans, video gamers, long distance runners, fashionistas, etc.)
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Sexual identity
  • Marital (married, single, divorced, widowed, etc.)
  • Types of families (blended, divorced, foster, etc.)
  • Gender

Below are some suggestions for art materials and toys that will help build your multicultural playroom. Please share if you know of other options!

Read more

Fun Activity for Sizing Up Problems and Feelings

my book full of feelingsLearning to be aware of our emotional responses to challenges and problems in life is one of the most important skills we can teach ourselves and our children. I have read My Book Full of Feelings with children for years and often do related activities on the dry erase board. I recently made it into a felt board activity, which I share with you below.

The Concept:

If we can become aware of our emotions, and the intensity of those emotions, toward a certain event, then we will learn to respond appropriately.

Example: A child decides to buy his lunch at school one day because they are serving his favorite meal. When he gets to lunch, he learns that the meal for the day has been changed. The child becomes enraged and claims he feels like he wants to physically harm the lunch and school staff for doing this to him. He spends most of his afternoon in the principal’s office, and his parents are contacted regarding the incident. What is the appropriate response to the situation?

Steps to Process and Complete this Activity:

  1. I have the children (and even teens and adults) determine appropriate responses and feelings for scenarios in each category (small, medium, or big deal).
  2. I then present various scenarios and have them place them into one of the categories. I use made-up scenarios, as well as scenarios that have actually happened in this person’s life.
  3. We review and discuss where the scenarios were placed in the triangle. Often, I find that clients with anger or anxiety problems will have “forgetting their lunch” and “pet dies” in the same category. This is often enlightening for them to see their “automatic” placement of the scenario.
  4. We discuss and review any scenarios that really happened to them and whether their response was appropriate at the time.

 Making a Felt Board “Size of Problem” Activity Kit Gathering Supplies

Supplies:

Steps:

Step 1: Trace a triangle shape onto the large felt piece.

Step 2: Cut out the triangle shape.

Step 3: Using stickers, foam letters, or colored markers, divide your triangle into 3 parts. Label the parts as “Small,” “Medium,” and “Big” from top to bottom as shown below. Sizing Up Problems and Feelings Step 4: Print a list of scenarios that can be categorized as a small, medium, or big problems. Attach the printout onto one of your 8.5″ x 11″ felt sheets with spray adhesive. You can view the scenarios I used, which are geared towards children and teens, or come up with your own.

Step 5: Cut out the scenarios after they are adhered to the felt. As you can see in the image below, they are attached to the felt so they can be placed on the felt triangle. I also cut out a bunch of blank ones to write customized scenarios as needed. Sizing Up Problems and Feelings Hopefully you will find this concept and activity as helpful as I do. If you have a different approach or helpful addition, please share!

Common Concerns of Children, Teens, and Parents (that I hear in therapy)

common-concerns-of-chidlren-and-teensAs a child and family therapist, I listen to people’s deepest worries and problems almost every day. While no two individuals or circumstances are exactly the same, there are patterns I recognize from  various age groups of clients. Below are the most common concerns of children, teens, and parents, as they are presented to me in therapy. Read more

Friday Wrap Up for June 13, 2014

friday-wrap-upDSM-V: Implications for Children and Adolescents

This is a great article on Liana Lowenstein’s site this week that shares important changes that child therapists need to be aware of in the latest DSM. I find I am still learning every day!

Family Mail by Let’s Explore

I have actually done this before, just slightly differently. I was seeing sisters in therapy who were not getting along. The were fighting and hitting most of the time and communication was extremely difficult. Each girl created a mail box and attached it to the wall outside of their bedroom door. They were able to pass mail back and forth when they wanted to say something to each other. We set some rules up first, such as no name calling in the letters. The girls found this to be a very helpful alternative to the difficult task of face-to-face communication. Read more