Thursday, December 30, 2010



I was talking to some friends and family over the holidays about 'consistency' and realized that A, it's a HUGE important concept in regards to kids and B, it's a term not many people are familiar with. I was mostly met with, "what?", "consistent about who?" "I don't understand." So, let me start with a basic definition when it comes to consistency and kids.

When you are consistent, your actions and words are almost always the same. So in regards to children, you say the same thing or perform the same actions before, during or after an activity (routine, etc) and it creates stability. Wow, when I actually type out the definition, it does sound confusing. So let me give you a few examples so you can see how it works wonders for kids.

When you are setting limits or disciplining your kids, consistency is key. When your child acts out, setting the limit, even if they are screaming and crying, is being consistent and not caving in. Say you are at the grocery store and you have told your child they can't have that Snickers bar, but after whining about it and asking 11 times you say "no", but on the 12th time you give in- then that child has learned that on the 12th time of asking, they will get what they want. See, if you had been consistent, as hard as it may be, they will learn quickly not to push mommy's buttons and when she says 'no' the first time, she means it.

Another example I gave my friends this weekend was about when your child is in a daycare, school or babysitting situation. Children need to have their caregiver drop them off at the same time and pick them up at the same time everyday- they need this consistency so they can trust their environment and it can prevent separation anxiety. If you pick them up at different times each day, they get highly anxious and scared. Imagine if you were waiting for a ride or the bus and each day it came 10 minutes late one day, 20 the next and then 15 minutes early the next day- you too wouldn't be too happy with them and definitely would not trust them!

Another example could be if you are moving to a new home and changing schools. Children usually regress when these changes happen, and if you as a parent are consistent in your actions and words, they will adjust much better. Keeping their routines the same as much as possible- they will regress a lot less.

I have worked with a lot of parents who are divorced in the past, and I have told them the best way to help their children through the drop off between households, is to have the same routine each time you drop them off at the other parent's and when you pick them up. For example, when you pick your child up from their dad's house, make sure you are always on time but also choose an activity to do every time afterwards. Such as playing a game like Candyland every time you get home, or take them to the park every time you pick them up.  They will feel so much safer and trust you if they know what to expect and what comes next and adjust to the 'back and forth' much easier.

When children don't have consistency and don't know what to expect or what comes next, it creates a lot of anxiety! Kids need stability like nothing else.  Plus, consistency is key to children behaving well. And we all love it when kids obey us, right?

Any thoughts on how consistency affects you and your children?
Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Best Feelings Toy, Kimochis!

I am so excited that the latest stuffed animal toy is Play Therapy friendly! It's called a Kimochi and they actually come in different animal types: an Octopus, ladybug, cat or the one pictured below, The Cloud.

When my daughter opened her's on Christmas day, most of my family laughed and wondered what in the world I had purchased for my child. So I explained the benefits of it and that I was so excited to have my little girl learn feelings with this new toy. Basically they come in 4 different stuffed animal styles and they have a pocket in front to store the feelings. The Cloud head also moves, so one side is happy and when you twist it, the other side is sad:

The pocket in front is where your animal stores its feelings. Ingenious!  Mine came with 3 different little feelings: Sad, Happy and Mad:

The feelings also have different faces on the other side of them:

The toy company also offers several other different feelings such as frustrated, cranky, brave, silly, left out and curious. And the different animals can signify things as well as: the Octopus is overbearing, the Cat is bossy, the bug is fearful (anxious), and the Cloud is moody. That way, you can purchase an animal that fits more with what behaviors your child displays.

So, you are probably wondering "what the heck do I do with this toy?"  Well, it is one super easy, fun and cute way for children to start learning their feelings.  This toy could be started with a 6 month old and older and can really help the non-verbal child. Just like you can teach your baby sign language, you can ask them what they are feeling and they can quickly show you the appropriate little feeling figure.  And it also teaches older children basic feelings with the matching faces.

One of the main goals of play therapy is expression of feelings- it is as important as learning your 1, 2, 3's and A, B C's. Happy, mad, and sad are the basic feelings that all children need to learn to identify.  Just by telling their mom, dad or other caregiver that they 'feel sad', is an excellent way to start teaching Communication! And we all know how important communication is, especially in a family and a marriage :)

The cloud that we purchased has a pouch where it stores the feelings inside of him, much like a lot of children do, and you can tell your child to release the feeling and not keep it stuffed inside of their tummies. And since it also changes faces, it is considered a good way to show how moods can easily change and how to control them.

So next time you see your child looking sad, mad, etc you can say, "Sally, you look really sad right now." That way they start recognizing their feelings with words and facial expressions.

In teaching your child appropriate expression of feelings, for instance, you can start praising your child for expressing positive and negative feelings. You can encourage your child by saying, "Sam, it was sure helpful when you told me you were mad by using your words and face instead of hitting your brother, you must be very proud of yourself!"

I can't wait to start using this! If you are interested in purchasing, I just happened to see them on, at HEB Central Market, and even the exclusive Barney's New York or you can go to the company website directly:

Have any of you purchased this toy and had any experiences with your children? Would love to hear how you've used it with your little ones!
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mom Empathy

Why is it that after you have children, you have a much harder time watching the news and any movie or TV show that involves children getting hurt?  I am sitting here watching some old Christmas movie I have seen a million times, and I am tearing up at the part where one of the children gets in an accident! Why did I not choke up as much at this part before I had a child?

I call this 'Mom Empathy'. They define empathy as putting yourself in one's shoes as if they were your own. Not 'if they were your own' but 'as if.' If they were your own, then that would be identification. So basically you are to imagine being that person, how they would feel, and what it would be like to be them.

I swear your empathy grows from molehills to mountains after you have kids!  You start imagining what you would do if the child that was kidnapped on the news was your child and then you start worrying, and then you're in meltdown mode by they time the news reporter talks about the outcome. You start cursing yourself for not having changed the channel, and now these thoughts are going to be stuck in your head all day!

One of the the things that drew me to the child counseling profession in the first place, was my understanding of children and my empathy and compassion towards them.  I always had such a strong heart for children and wanted to do what I could as a counselor to help them. With my hard cases of abused children, it took being strong and desensitizing yourself from the situation but still having empathy for the child.

And the same goes for after having children in my profession. It takes removing yourself from the 'drama' and meeting the child where they are at in their life. Basically it means not comparing the situation to your own child which takes practice, believe me:) I have to turn on counselor/professional mode and turn off the 'mom mode.'  I guess I have to start taking my own advice, "Don't take your work home with you, and don't take your home with you to work.'

If you are a parent reading this, have any of you melted into tears at shows you used to not even wince at before you had children? Does watching the local news send you running to your child and hugging them to death ?
Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Play Therapy Toy Gifts

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Okay, so being a play therapist I completely dropped the ball on posting about my favorite toys we use that you can purchase for your child at home! What was I thinking waiting until the last minute to post these?  Well, I guess that is the typical holiday thing to do, wait to the last minute! These are my top four, although there are so many it was hard to narrow it down.

If I was to chose my absolute favorite toy that I use in the playroom, it would have to be the generic doll house from Ryan's Room brand. It is gender neutral so boys and girls can play in it equally, (and boys won't feel like a girl playing with it ). I love how it really fosters creativity so a child can pretend the walls are pink or brown and that one of the rooms one day is the living room and the next could be a kitchen. Here is the cheapest link I have found at Amazon.

Or you can chose their smaller version and purchase all of the fun accessories at this link here:

I love how they have different races of doll sets like African American:

Or an Asian family:

And the accessories are really cute!

I also love the Bag of Air (Bobo) that we use in the play room. Kids can pretend it is anything or anyone they want and either are nurturing or aggressive towards it. I think they need one lifesize for adults too:) There's nothing like coming home after a hard day at work and just kicking it to take out your frustrations! You can purchase one here.

I also love using puppets in the playroom because children can act out anything with them. I usually like to have some aggressive type puppets like alligators showing teeth, and then some soft nurturing ones like little lambs or cats. This website has a lot to choose from:

Then if you want to add a real stage to your puppets and be able to act out in imaginative play, your children can put on a puppet show:

And lastly, I just love a good set of wooden blocks. There are endless ways that children can build and express themselves with blocks. This is the original site that started the block revolution by Caroline Pratt.

These are my top favorites out there, although I could go on and on about all of the other toys we use. The ones above are just your basic core items that I believe every playroom should have at home and in a professional play therapy room.

Have any of you used these items before and have any feedback about them?
Saturday, December 18, 2010


Mercury - Relax! Illustration by Emma Holister.

To vaccinate or not vaccinate? That question seems to be a hot topic these days with all the rumors out there that vaccines could be the cause of several disorders including Autism.  My husband and I have chosen to vaccinate our daughter, but every time she gets her shots, I wonder if she is going to all of a sudden burst out with some strange side effect.

Today I took my daughter to get her second flu shot and her third HIB vaccine.  When I first gave birth to her and the nurse asked if I wanted to give her the Vitamin K injection, it kind of blind sided me and I realized I had not really read up enough about injections but decided to give her the shot anyway.  A few weeks after she was born, I quickly ran out and bought the Vaccine Book by Dr. Sears and read it from front to cover.

I had no idea that there were so many strange ingredients in vaccines such as formaldehyde, aluminum and monkey kidney cells. Not to mention the debate about mercury in vaccines that many believe to have caused the increase of autistic children in the 1990's and early 2000's. The book discusses how most vaccines have removed mercury from them as of 2003 but a few still have a trace amount.

The new argument now is the ingredient aluminum and that it could be causing neurological problems and development delays such as walking, talking and gross motor problems. The book discusses how some vaccines have so much aluminum in them, that they are almost at toxic levels. So basically if you give an infant several vaccines at once, then they are surely going to reach toxic levels.

Dr. Sears has come up with a solution and developed a whole vaccine schedule that he recommends where you space them out and give your child 2 shots each month instead of 3-4 at a time every 2-3 months.  He also recommends choosing the vaccine that has the least amount of aluminum (there are several brands to chose from).

I have been following the Dr. Sears alternative vaccine schedule and I am glad our doctor is on board with this and has a separate walk in lab for this reason.  I know of a lot of parents that have chosen not to vaccinate, and everyone has their reasons. We have chosen to vaccinate our child as we feel we want to take the risk from the side effects of the shots over her getting sick from a rare but deadly disease.

And the scary thing is listening to moms out there, like Jenny McCarthy, that say one day their child was smiling and then after getting shots, nothing!  How scary!  So paranoid me, after each trip to the doctor's office I am looking at my daughter hoping there is not that 'change' that they keep talking about.  It's not like parents have anything else to worry about, right?

Has anyone out there chosen not to vaccinate their kids?  What are your beliefs about vaccinations causing neurological damage or autism spectrum disorders?
Monday, December 13, 2010

The Hurried Child

So as I was getting my baby dressed in her baby Adidas outfit today, it made me stop to realize how adult she looks at age 7 months! It reminded me of a great book out there called The Hurried Child by David Elkind. It's basically about how our Western culture is rushing our children to grow up fast.

The main point of the book is that children are being pressured to act and look more adult every year that goes by. Ever walked into a Justice store or even Gap Kids and seen all the adorable clothing that looks like a 'mini' version of us adults?

We all swoon at how cute the clothes are. Little 12 month old Juicy Couture track suits, 18 month old True Religion jeans, and on up to pre-teen clothing that looks like they are about to hit the clubs! Some of the clothes are just adorable and we have all been caught thinking how cute they would look on our kids. But it still begs the question of 'are we asking our kids to grow up too fast?"

We all get caught up in the next stage of developmental milestones as infants like walking, or talking and then as they get older, wondering if they going to be sports stars, or learn algebra and be scientists. I have to keep reminding myself to just live in the moment and not rush to the next stage. Because our children grow up so fast, we need to savor every moment!

I now understand why my parents did not want me to start wearing make-up in junior high as they thought I was too young and I of course got mad and threw a fit, "but all the other girls wear it!". I am stressed with my child learning to walk, but can only imagine the stress that will come when she is at the dating age, wearing make-up and being picked up by a boy for a date and getting into his car and driving off to who knows where, and, okay, I am getting ahead of myself here and breaking out in a sweat thinking about it.

How about you? Do you feel kids are forced to grow up too fast and our society pressures young kids to be mini-adults? Do you think we have more stressful demands on ourselves than 30 years ago (cell phones, cable, internet, dual incomes, etc.)?
Friday, December 10, 2010

Check It Out

We've all heard or witnessed the crazy temper tantrums that kids have at grocery stores and all the other over stimulating shopping places that exist these days.  It always seems to happen right when they reach the check-out lines. It's as if they are saying "I have had enough!"

I have a whole new appreciation for parents out shopping with kids. See, when you have kids with you, standing in line to check out can be a huge ordeal. Don't people know they better hurry up or our children will have a melt down? Why on earth do people still write checks when they get up to the cashier? Don't they see I have a baby in my arms and if they keep taking their sweet time my child will erupt in tears?

Before I had children, I always felt sorry for the kids and the parents in these situations as I figured they were both exhausted and overdone. Sometimes I would try to help distract the children to help the parents feel less embarrassed and to help the kids forget what they were upset about in the first place.

I knew that once you had kids, gone were the days of free time and the ability to run errands at any time and any where.  I knew that once I had kids my independent-do-what-ever-I-want-to-days would be over.

Yes, I do take my daughter out to run errands daily and the hard part is scheduling them to make sure she is not about to go down for a nap and is not starving (stopping in the middle of an excursion to eat is not fun). So the goal is to run out the door the minute she wakes up from her nap and is fully fed, because I know I only have a small window here before she gets tired again and hungry.  And sometimes we can't always be on their schedule.

I guess this is why they invented the concept of Mom's Day Out! Today was the first day I had a scheduled Mom's Day Out to run all of my errands. And my own mother came to the rescue. Of course she has watched/babysat my daughter before but today was the official scheduled visit and it was AMAZING!

I was able to do some Christmas shopping and go to Garden Ridge, the mall, the grocery store and a gift shop all in less than 2 hours!! That would never happen with a baby in tow.  I know I definitely could have taken her with me, but I always feel so bad for my poor little girl getting her in and out of the car and running in and out of the shops while she cries, moans and pleads- I imagine she is secretly crying, "take me home now, I want to play and take a nap!"

I realize that I have just typed a whole book and have not even gone into how to handle temper tampers out in public- one of the biggest challenges yet- I will have to save that post for another day.

What about you? If you are a parent, have you had episodes at the check out lines? Do you have a solution to finding free time either with mom's day outs or family? Even if you work and your child is in daycare or school all day, we all still need a break that is non-work and non-mommy related. I remember the first times I went out alone without my baby, and when I say out, I don't mean going out to a bar, I mean going out to Target and being so happy to be looking at the toilet paper and frozen food sans baby!
Saturday, November 20, 2010

In Utero Waiting Lists?

Yes, we have seen the movies and TV Shows ('Modern Family' most recently) that make fun of families that would give their right arm to be able to get their baby into a certain preschool.  It is always a comedy because it is the most ridiculous concept. But I had no idea it existed so dramatically in real life until I attended a few Preschool Open Houses recently.  Apparently this waiting list is supposed to happen while In Utero.

Camping out overnight to get your child into a Preschool?? Are you kidding me? Sounds like some sort of Black Friday event. Oh yes, this really exists in my city.  And this is not a shopping excursion, this is our child's education we are talking about. Personally, I would not want to send my child to a school where they allow this kind of drama.

BUT- then I attended one area Preschool Tour where they thankfully do not allow this, but after hearing the Director speak, I was wishing I could get in line yesterday. She had me at "Gary Landreth once said..."  (Gary is the king of play therapy up at the Play Therapy Institute at the University of North Texas).  A preschool that uses Play Therapy discipline and limit setting techniques? I wanted to push to the front of the line and hand her my waiting card and act just like the 3 year olds she manages. Well, not really but believe me I was willing to do anything. But instead I waited patiently, handed her my card and was told that last year's waiting lists had 2 openings! Yes, you heard me correctly, 2 openings. I walked away and decided that if all of the area schools are like this then I better start home-schooling!

I was kicking myself over the fact that I did not get on this list when I was pregnant. What was I thinking? Probably that it did not matter and who plans on these things In Utero? I assumed that there would be plenty of good ones to choose from. So far I have not been super impressed with the ones I have seen: paint chipping off the walls, the toys look like Circa 1975, no structure in the programs, "we are a Mom's Day Out 5 days a week" ( Then you are officially a day care, not a MDO), staff without a degree, no parent involvement, etc. Maybe I am being picky here but I guess I just expect the best for my little one.

If all the area schools are like this, short waiting lists and camping out at 2am, this is going to be a fun experience that's for sure!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Cry Loudly

Why is it that children act out more with their parents than anyone else? You leave them with a babysitter or a relative and they are perfect angels but then when they are with their parents or caregivers, they behave the worst.

Most of the time they act out more because they feel safest with their parents. They know when and how to test limits with their parents/caregivers so they feel safest to act out around them.

Luckily my baby has not entered this phase yet, but I hear it from other parents constantly.  I remember being the babysitter and the parents always wondering why they minute they walked in the door, their kids were holy terrors with them while I stood there watching.  Of course I always found it cute and funny but the parents were both embarrassed and frustrated to say the least.

Some people have asked me what to do as they now know they are testing their limits because they feel safe with their parents to act out, but how do you curb this?  Well, of course there is no easy answer, but the best way to START tackling this is to figure out what the root of the acting out is about.

I could go into a super long post about discipline, limit setting, etc, etc but will have to break it down into sections for later posts. But the best way is to just start looking at the 'Goal of the Misbehavior'. Ever heard of that term? There are usually 4: Attention, revenge, inadequacy and power.  You ask yourself, "Is my child needing attention or are they in a power struggle? Is he mad and getting revenge for something or is it inadequacy feelings of discouragement and frustration?" (or is your child just super tired or hungry and cranky?)

Once you can recognize what is going on, then that will help you figure out how to discipline them.  More on discipline later as there are SOOO many different views on it but it's always best to start at the bottom and work your way up.

How many of you out there have witnessed your kids being perfect angels but when they are around the parents/caregivers, a completely different child?  Any tips for success that has worked with you?
Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Awh, sleep! Coming from a mom blogger, I think that sleep issues are one of the most common complaints I hear about with our kids, second to handling temper tantrums/acting out.  Sleep issues as a parent are the topic of so many conversations and we always hear, "why are children are so hard to put to bed and stay asleep (or stay in their own beds)?"

When you are dealing with sleep problems in children you often feel you are the only one out there having to tackle this. But let me remind you that it is the reason there are oh, say, 100 books on the shelves at bookstores about this very issue. You are definitely not alone.

I'm going to jump right in with my experiences as a nanny. So, every baby or child I have put to bed over the years, would always wake up at one point while I was still there babysitting before the parents got home or during nap times. Whether it was a 4 month old or a 4 year old, they would all wake up. What I am trying to say here is that every child has a sleep issue- they do not all peacefully sleep without a peep every single night- all parents have to deal with sleep issues if not weekly, then nightly!

While I was a nanny I continuously would think how much I as an adult would give anything to be able to take a nap on a whim, or go to bed at a reasonable hour. But of course children and babies will not realize this until they are adults and then gone will be the days where they are allowed to drop everything and take a nap.

America, we need a mandatory siesta! We would all be happier people and I think it would solve a lot of the violent crimes out there, not to mention the parents who have become so psychotic due to sleep deprivation! All kidding aside, sleep is something we all need and can cause so many issues if children (and us parents) are not getting it.

For newborns and sleep, I think that the most pressing issue that parents of newborns are worried about is whether or not their baby is going to sleep through the night. They all think, "are we going to be the lucky ones who have a perfect sleeper, or the ones whose baby wakes every hour or is up at 3am and will not go back to sleep."  I have met so many lucky moms that say their babies started sleeping through the night at 6 weeks to 3 months. They did not have to Ferberize them (the cry it out method until they cry themselves to sleep), they would just lay them down and would sleep the entire night without a peep!

Now we could go into a super long discussion about this as some say it is not good for babies to sleep through the night so young, that they need to eat during the night to grow, it could cause SIDS, etc. And then there is the common occurrence that formula fed babies sleep better because it is digested slower than breastmilk, so breastfed babies wake up more to eat. And all the many theories as to why babies sleep through the night or not (colic, needy babies, premature, etc) and if it is a good thing.

Who knows what the answer is, but for those parents whose babies do not sleep through the night, it is a constant struggle to figure out the best way to get them to sleep and stay asleep. Do we Ferberize or does that cause them not to trust us as their cries are unanswered? Do we swaddle them or does that cause physical developmental delays? Do we use sound machines and other sleep assisters or are they viewed as a crutch and they will have to have them the rest of their lives to sleep? What about teething and does that cause them to wake up? I could go on, but I think you get the idea. The goal we all want is for us to put our babies down in their cribs/beds awake and have them fall asleep on their own, just like us adults do it. But how do we get to that point?

Older children have a hard time going to bed themselves even if they were good sleepers as babies. They all love avoiding bedtime and will ask for 3 more glasses of milk, one more story, complain, "but I'm not tired." Then, once you think they are finally asleep, you find that they have snuck down and crawled into your bed or are now out of their room and are standing in front of you while you are watching TV at 11pm. It may happen once a month to every single night.  Or better yet, they need to go to the bathroom and can't go by themselves and need your help, or that there is a monster in their room and they can not sleep, etc. Heard any of these before?

So what is a parent to do? I think back on a lot of my play therapy clients who had sleep problems and the best way we worked with it was to first get to the root of what the parent thought might be causing it. It could be something as drastic as the parents were always arguing at home and the child was anxious and could not sleep because of it, to having overly permissive parents who would let their child ask for anything before bedtime to avoid sleep.

Or you have a baby and they are not sleeping and it is possible they are at the age where they no longer need to eat but are crying every hour to be fed. Is that a learned behavior or are they really hungry?

Then once you have an idea of what could be causing your child to avoid sleep or wake up in the middle of the night, to come up with a strategy. Now, I know every child is different and there is no magical cure. Believe me, if there was a magical answer that would solve every child and baby's sleep problem, they would be the highest paid professional out there!

But you have to find solutions that work best with your personality and lifestyle. If you can not stand to hear your child/baby cry at night, then find a solution you can live with. If you go against some of your beliefs in your solution, then it will probably not work. There are good books out there for those that do not want to hear their child cry such as the 'No Cry Sleep Solution" to the Dr. Ferber book, "Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems." The Dr. Ferber book has several chapters in it about various sleep problems such as bed wetting, sleep walking, etc so it is a good resource to have on hand for older children as well.

While on the Dr. Ferber topic, I do have to say that many mothers have told me success of using this method. It took about 1-2 nights of letting them cry it out but doing they did it gradually. They would let them first cry for 1 minute, then go to them, then let them cry for 5, etc but that once they got through it, they could put their child down in the crib wide awake and walk away. They all said that their child never cried again and would put themselves to sleep every night!

I personally have a poor sleeping baby at the moment, and have not Ferberized her yet but who knows, it may get to the point where I am at my end and willing to try anything for us both to get some sleep. I am just not quite able to let my little defenseless baby cry all night long. We are just going to have to go against doctor's orders and swaddle her until she can get herself out of it.

How about you all, what has worked for you as a parent with a baby or a parent with preschool to school aged children? How has sleep deprivation affected you?
Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I want it now!

I Want it Now!

The other day I was shopping at a toy store and overheard that phrase we all love to hear, "but I want it NOW!" Aren't they the sweetest words you have ever heard? It was a 3 year-old who apparently was not happy when she was told she could not get the doll 'this time', but 'NEXT time'. Next time? Yeah, to that little girl, waiting another next time feels like 3-6 months away. Children have problems with waiting for things otherwise known as delayed gratification. Sound familiar?? A little like Veruca Salt from Willie Wonka.

The other day my baby was having more stranger anxiety towards my sister who was over for a short visit. My sister was offended that my daughter started to cry the minute she held her and said, "I don't understand why she is crying, I just saw her last week!" Little did she realize that to a 6 month old, last week was like last month. Their concept of time is completely different than an adult.  This is the reason children have problems waiting for things (delayed gratification).

Just like when we go visit places we have not been to since we were kids and we say to ourselves, "wow, I used to think this place was so big as a kid, but it's super small now that I see it as an adult." Everything seemed so large when we were younger and the same difference goes for timeframes. Anytime in the future is an ETERNITY to children. A week to an adult feels like a month to a child and hearing "we're going to Disneyworld next month" feels like a whole year away to them!  They are just not there yet developmentally.

On a similar note, since I'm on the topic of time, have you every uttered the words to your child "just a minute?" or "we're leaving in 5 minutes?" Yes we have all said them to our kids, our spouses, friends and even our pets.  It's almost like a slang phrase- we don't really mean "just a second" and that we will literally answer someone in exactly one second.  It's just a way of saying, "hold on and I will be right with you when I am done."

Although these can be innocent little slang phrases to kids they can be pretty confusing. They start learning that when mom says '5 minutes' she really means an entire 30 minute episode of Dora the Explorer. And then the confusion begins. They start not believing you when you tell them you are leaving in 5 minutes and the following scenario happens: they just sit there on the sofa watching their TV show, not moving to get up, so we get mad, they throw a temper tamper, we get more mad and you know the rest.  They honestly thought they had more time and when you tell them it's time to go, they don't believe you anymore and won't hurry to get up from what they are doing.

So even though we all say and do these things, it's a good idea to keep in mind how children differ with their concepts of time when planning activities or running errands and of course when we are setting limits and disciplining.

Ideally it would be great to tell our kids "ok, we are leaving in 7  minutes" and really leave the house in exactly 7 minutes. Hard to imagine as we will never follow our words exactly, but if we try to follow a little more of what we say then our kids will trust us which makes them listen to us better and therefore less acting out! Isn't that what we are all wanting? Less conflicts and power struggles?

If you are limit setting (punishments) with timeframes, for a young child it's probably best to restrict a privilege for half a day and for an older child you can restrict an entire day or even a week depending on the limit. For example, if your 3 year old is not helping to pick up their toys you can tell them, "if you choose to not pick your toys up now, then you choose not to ride your bike until after lunch". That way you are using age-appropriate timeframes in a way they understand.  For an older child you can tell them something is off limits for the rest of the day or a weekend, etc.

One other little time frame tip that's helpful to get our kids to listen to us better is to give a 5 minute warning. For instance, when it will almost be time to quit playing and come to dinner we can tell them, "you have 5 more minutes left to play before it's time for dinner." Then you watch the clock and when there is 1 minute left, give them the 1 minute warning.

It's always nice to know what is going to happen next and they will follow our instructions better. Just like when you are enjoying a nice relaxing bath, how would you like your husband to run in and demand you get out immediately to go do some laundry with no warning at all? You'd probably want to yell at him and use some not so nice words.  Believe me, if I (an adult) was told to get out of my nice relaxing bath 'immediately' I would be throwing a temper tantrum and it would not be pretty. So next time you want your kids to do something, give them a time warning. That way they won't need as many reminders in the future and will actually follow our instructions instead of throwing a tantrum.

How many time have you had to remind your kids to do something? Or had problems with delayed gratification that was more of a "if I don't have it now, I am going to have a melt down?" Tell us what tips have worked for you and if you have any funny comments your kids have made about it!
Monday, October 11, 2010

Stranger Anxiety

Okay, so we have all heard the term 'Stranger Anxiety' before. Some have thought it was someone who was anxious around strangers or babies who are afraid of any stranger they come in contact with and causes them to scream and cry. I studied this in school and have seen first hand how babies react with this, not fun to watch but it can be hilariously cute!

So, when my little girl was around 4 months of age, my mother and sister (who happen to live in the same city as me) came over for a visit and the minute they walked in and picked up my daughter, she started screaming bloody murder. I simply said that she had 'stranger anxiety now, and that it peaks around 5-9 months of age, and is completely normal', but they both said 'but we're NOT strangers!'

Ok, it is not a literal term.  Stranger Anxiety does not mean babies are afraid of 'strangers' only. To an infant, strangers are basically anyone that they don't see 24/7 on a regular daily basis. A grandmother or Aunt or Uncle is a stranger to a baby. If your child is in a daycare setting or has a nanny, or sees their grandmother every single day then they probably won't have stranger anxiety with these caregivers. But when a well-meaning grandmother or Aunt sees their favorite baby once every few days then yes, you are a stranger.

Stranger anxiety is a stage that EVERY baby goes through, much like other necessary stages all babies are going to go through like crawling, walking and teething. But in fact stranger anxiety is even more of a stage that babies go through, because not all babies are going to walk if they are disabled, but they sure as heck will have stranger anxiety. It's just their way of being out in the world and seeing things and trusting their environment because hey, being outside of the womb is hard work!

As for the best way to get through it? Probably not a good idea to hand your baby off when the 'stranger' immediately comes into the room. That will create disaster for sure.

The best thing to do is when any well meaning stranger comes in contact with your child,  you as the parent should hold your baby while in contact with the 'stranger' for the first 15 minutes or so. That way your baby can see you interacting with the stranger well and figures that this person is friendly after all. Your baby will think "hey, if my mom or dad is relaxed and happy with this person, they can't be all that bad." And then while you are having a good conversation with this person and your baby is on your lap you can then hand him/her off to the stranger and see how they react. Or basically any activity like this to where your baby can see this person is safe an approved by their parents.

It won't work perfectly but if you get the general sense of the idea that your baby is needing to trust that a person is safe, then you can probably find the best way around it. Oh, and this is different than separation anxiety- that peaks around 12-15 months of age and is a whole different thing- I'll leave that for another post.  So how about everyone else, any problems you've had with stranger anxiety? Any good tips you'd like to pass on?

I have a great stranger anxiety photo from my 6 month old meeting Santa for the first time. Classic:
Friday, October 1, 2010

What is Play Therapy?

What is Play Therapy?

Play therapy is counseling for children starting at a young age (when they are verbal) up to around age 10. My youngest  client was 1.5 years old and my oldest was 11. We use play in counseling because children express themselves in their play, unlike adults who express themselves verbally.

Imagine as an adult having a hard day at work, and you go to your counselor and tell her everything you have had to experience that day. After an hour of your therapy session, you feel so much better for getting everything off your chest verbally. Your anxiety has decreased. The same is true for children in play. When they play, they decrease anxiety and after an hour of play, feel a lot more relief.

As a play therapist, we do not watch the children play and interpret what they are doing.  I can imagine a lot of people think that I am constantly analyzing children by how they act and play. I am sure my friends with children are paranoid that I am watching their child and evaluating them all the time. But all kidding aside, as a counselor our main job is to empower children to express themselves more fully.

The following is the definition of play therapy from the Association for Play Therapy:

"Play therapy is to children what counseling is to adults. Play therapy uses play, children's natural medium of expression, to       help them express their feelings more easily through toys instead of words."

In the textbook Play Therapy: The Art of the Relationship (2nd ed.), Landreth (2002) defined child-centered play therapy:

A dynamic interpersonal relationship between a child (or person of any age) and a therapist trained in play therapy procedures who provides selected play materials and facilitates the development of a safe relationship for the child (or person of any age) to fully express and explore self (feelings, thoughts, experiences, and behaviors) through play, the child's natural medium of communication, for optimal growth and development. (p. 16)

I personally, am a non-directive play therapist which means I do not tell the child what to play with or how to play with it. The time we spend together is up to the child and they choose what to play with and even if they want to include the therapist or not. There are art supplies, aggressive toys, animal toys, dress-up, puppets, nurturing toys, a play kitchen, a gender neutral doll house, a sand tray, and other real life toys such as a doctor kit. My job as the counselor is to help the child express themselves, encourage safe expression of feelings, and they in turn learn to increase their self esteem, learn to be creative in solving problems, learn self control and to accept themselves for who they are.

In general terms, play therapy occurs in a room full of toys that are preselected and play therapists believe that children express themselves more fully in spontaneous play than verbally. I am non-directive in that when the child enters play therapy for the first time, the therapist usually tells the child the following: "You can play with all of the toys in here, in a lot of ways you would like" and counselors only set limits when the child, counselor or toys are getting hurt." We set limits only when the child is going to endanger themselves, the counselor or the toys. It creates a non-judgmental, free place for children to express themselves fully.

If you would like to learn more about Play Therapy, the following websites provide additional information:

Association for Play Therapy

Center for Play Therapy at the University of North Texas

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

About Me

I am a new stay at home mom to my sweet baby girl, Luna and I have basically figured out I have been a 'surrogate mom' since the age of 12 to about 10 different children as their nanny, have babysat over 320 children, in addition to having worked in 5 daycares over the years. So that puts me at changing about 10,000 diapers, wiping 500 runny noses, rocked hundreds to sleep, cleaning up that many messes, scrapes, bruises, you name it! Oh, and I am also an Aunt to 4 wonderful children who are 12 and under.

In addition, with my degrees in child development and psychology (1996) and master's in child and family counseling (2001), and my license (LPC) of 2000 hours of direct contact clients as well as my Play Therapy specialization (Registered Play Therapist) and years of internships and counseling, I figured, heck, it was time to start putting ALL this kid experience in a blog, a good way to de-stress as a parent and still feel connected to my passion, play therapy.

So, for those that want to keep reading and have the long version of where I got where I am today as a counselor and a mom, here it is:

It all started as a young child when I just loved babies and begged my mom to babysit when I was in the 6th grade. My first babysitting job was for a 1st grader and I was only allowed to sit during the daytime. Her mom had to come and pick me up and then take me home! After that, I babysat all over my neighborhood until I left for college.

In college, I decided my first major/career was to be a photographer and I went to St. Edwards's University of Austin, TX to be a photojournalism major, but then decided it was just not for me so I became an 'undeclared' major and transferred to UT Austin. What the heck I was going to do? I had no idea and it was so overwhelming to decide on a career for the rest of your life!

My second year of college, I needed extra money and took the job I always knew how to do well, babysitting! I started my first nanny job from 3-7pm Monday-Friday for a 6 year old boy and his 9 year old sister. I would pick them up from school and take them to various after-school activities and make sure they did their homework, etc. It was hard work that's for sure!

The next semester I worked in my first daycare at UT Presby Child Development Center 5 days a week from 3-6:30pm. I was in the toddler room for 12-24 month olds and loved it! I would also substitute in the infant room at times and loved feeding the babies and rocking them to sleep. The only bad part was that I kept getting sick from all the other sick kids and was missing too much school, so I had to quit after a year :( But I kept in touch with the parents and would babysit their kids on the weekends.

I still had no idea what I was going to major in and I was approaching my Junior year, yikes! So my next idea was to major in Food Science since I loved baking but then quickly decided it was not for me with having to take 3 chemistry classes, no thank you!

So then I just could not decide and kept going over and over ideas. I knew I always loved kids, but what could I do with that passion?? After babysitting one little girl from the daycare I worked at, and having to set her house alarm all the time because her dad I had learned was an 'abuser', I started thinking about how many of the kids I had worked with in the past had family problems and issues while at preschool and how much help they needed in and out of the classroom. I remember sitting up late one night and finally deciding that what I wanted to do was help kids, not just teach them as a Teacher, but to really go beyond that and help them with their behavior problems, family problems, etc. I realized that they could be the smartest kid in the world, but if their parents are fighting at home, there is no way they can do well in school or excel, and these poor kids needed help!

So I decided to focus on Psychology and Child Development majors. I LOVED all of my child development classes and studied the whole NAYEC backgrounds. After graduating, I worked as a daycare temporary worker in several area daycares and then as a preschool teacher for a short time. I knew I wanted to set up shop soon and start helping these poor little innocent things. I found that I needed to go back to school for an advanced degree and wanted a PhD but was like, what another 5 more years?? No way! I found I could get a master's in 2 years and then do an internship after that, so off I went to Southwest Texas State in their Child and Family Counseling tract. They offered a play therapy specialization which I LOVED as it fit the same NAEYC philosophy that I studied as an undergrad at UT.

I was a full-time grad student but classes were luckily in the evenings so my day job was as a nanny to a 4 month old girl. But then her mom quit her job and I found another nanny job to a 3 month old. Well, her mom did the same thing so I started being a part time nanny to them as well as a few other young children so these moms could have 1 day to run all of their errands while I babysat. I was also the babysitting queen on the weekends as I was with a nanny agency that handed my name out as a babysitter as well! If you drove me around Austin, TX I would point out about every other house and tell you I once babysat there!!

I fell in love with the whole play therapy thing while in school and could not wait to graduate and start using it! And now you are probably wondering what the heck play therapy is, so here is my best description of it, in my terms:
- Adults communicate their day to day problems with words, whereas a child communicates through play. Their language is play and they use toys as their 'words' to express themselves. There is a special play room just for the kids to play and with preselected toys for them to express themselves as much as they want (as long as they don't hurt the toys, themselves or us). We don't analyze every thing they play with, it's more that we make comments that will foster self esteem, encourage and increase expression of feelings and basically to let the kids know we are there and they can be themselves safely, without any judgement!

You would expect an adult to discuss their problems such as saying things like, "oh I had a rough day, my boss drove me nuts, I was so tired from not getting enough sleep, and my wife is on my back when I get home, etc" Whereas a 5 year old child uses play to communicate. You won't catch a 5 year old calling his friends on the phone to discuss his day and saying things like "my teacher is annoying me, I am having a bad day, I just need to take a hot bath and relax, I don't know what I am going to do about Fred on the playground tomorrow!'' They just aren't capable of expressing themselves like this and feel better releasing steam by playing, where us adults feel better by calling up our best friend on the phone!! So, to expect a child to come into a counseling room and sit down in a chair to tell you his problems, not going to happen! That is why we have play therapy for kids aged around 9 and under. More on play therapy later, but you get the idea.

So, after 3 years of school, that was 70 hours of classes and 2 internships as a domestic violence counselor, I graduated!! I could not for the life of me find a job in Austin (too many people want to stay there so it makes it hard to find a job), so I interviewed in Dallas for several positions and found one at The Family Place as a child counselor.

I loved my new job as I worked with kids 1 years of age and up that were victims of emotional, verbal and physical abuse as well as witnessing abuse from their parents. I did this for over 2 years and the hardest part was working with the moms!! I quickly learned that the only way these poor kids were going to get any better was if I helped the moms help their children. I was only with these kids 1 hour a week, but the parents were with them full-time! I came to learn that as a counselor, my job to help kids would be to parent train for 75% and then 25% would be to actually do therapy with the child. That was when I learned to love Filial Therapy, training parents about how they can do play therapy at home! So I finally left this non-profit mostly to earn more money as a managed care LPC, and to start a private practice so I had the freedom to do what I wanted as a counselor. I finally completed my requirements and became a Registered Play Therapist and started a part-time private practice while I worked full time in managed care as an LPC.

Then after these experiences and getting my career on tract, and getting married a few years ago, I decided it was time to have a baby! Since I have ALWAYS loved kids, I knew there was no way I could have one and then turn it over to someone else to raise in a daycare. Now, don't get me wrong, nothing against moms that work- we all have to do what makes us happy and what makes us the best mothers! If you are a mom and are happier working then that is the best thing for you to do, seriously! We all want a happy mom or happy dad for our kids, so whatever that takes! I on the other hand had always wanted to be a mom, so I just knew that I would do whatever it took to stay home with my child. If that meant being poor and eating peanut butter sandwiches for dinner every night, then so be it. I have really enjoyed being at home with my precious child and could not imagine anything better!

So there you have it, yep it was long I know, but I had to put it all out there, so that way you know where I am coming from and all your questions are answered, well at least most! Soooo, in a nutshell, this blog is about my day to day occurrences with my daughter and how all of my past experiences have affected me now that I am a parent and a wife, to my lovely husband Todd. I hope you enjoy reading all of our adventures!!