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