Last year I purchased the Melissa & Doug Deluxe Jumbo Cardboard Blocks (40 pc) for my son’s super hero 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 like the ones shown below. 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. (See images of themes below). Read more
I 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 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 story with others, receive education on substance addiction, and begin healing their 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 life, including social, emotional, and academic. The list below only scratches the surface of this very complex family struggle.
- 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 to me that their mom or dad are “not the same person.” Personality and mood changes in a parent are scary for children and leave them with a feeling of insecurity.
- Loss of relationships with other family members and friends. The nature of the 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 to the toxic and unpredictable environment and friends of the parent no longer come around. In addition, the child may stop having friends over because of the potential for embarrassment.
- Emotional problems: shame, embarrassment, anger, confusion, frustration are just a few. Imagine the ongoing struggles the children face when parents argue, show aggression, nearly overdose, lose their job, etc. The list goes on, and so do the emotional struggles for a child in the middle.
- Birth defects. Parents who use alcohol and drugs during pregnancy may pass these chemicals along to the baby, in addition to poor diet, hydration, sleep, and exercise. WebMD summarizes these effects well.
- 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.
- Limited social life. A child’s social opportunities can become strained in many ways. In addition to the broken relationships as mentioned above, parents under the influence are not capable of supporting (ie scheduling and driving) the child’s birthday invitations, sporting games, and making other arrangements for building peer relationships.
- 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.
- Academic disadvantages. A child may struggle poor concentration, limited support resources (tutors, supplies), lack of parent support and help with homework.
- At risk for 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.
- 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. 13
I believe 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:
Understanding feelings, being able to identify our feelings, and sharing our feelings are important for a person’s 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. Read more
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 Meebie, I 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 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 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
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 (mid-West; South Texas; Paris, France, etc.)
- Profession/employment 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.)
Below are some suggestions for art materials and toys to look for to help build your multiclultural play room. Please share if you know of other options!
Learning 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 (below) 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 be aware of our emotions, and the intensity of those emotions, towards 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. Appropriate response to the situation?
Steps to Process and Complete this Activity:
1. I have the children (an 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 it 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.
As 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
This is a great article on Liana Lowenstein’s site this week that shares important changes child therapists need to be aware of in the latest DSM. I find I am still learning every day!
I have actually done this before, just slightly different. 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 similar to what you see in the picture to the right and attached it on the wall outside of their bedroom door. They were able to pass mail back and forth when they wanted to say something to their sister. We set some rules up first, such as no name calling on the letters. The girls found this to be a very helpful alternative to the difficult task of face-to-face communication. Read more
As therapists, our work with clients begins on our very first encounter with them. We aim to establish positive rapport, professionalism, and expectations for the therapeutic process. I am always looking for ways to accomplish these goals in my therapy practice. Most of this is done through direct engagement with a client and a therapeutic environment, but I always love to find new ideas to develop a unique and successful practice.
Coming to therapy for the first time can be a nervous experience for any client. In an effort to welcome kids and their parents to play therapy, I send home welcome bags after their first session. I include some items that are typically included in a calm-down basket, as well as information for parents.
Benefits of a Welcome Bag:
- Helps establish a positive therapeutic rapport.
- Provide psycho-educational materials to parents.
- Communicate my commitment to their emotional well being.
- Help spread the word about play therapy.
- Market play therapy services.