Monday, December 31, 2012

I need a hug!

Have any of you moms or dads out there had a tough time during the holidays with major toddler meltdowns?  Or even with your school aged child?  It's tough this time of year with the toys, candy, parties and school vacations.

I LOVE the holiday season and it's even better seeing it through the eyes of your children.  This season was even better since we added the Elf on the Shelf!  But during we had a few more melt downs these past few weeks than we normally have.  But who can blame my toddler?  From the excitement of going on the Polar Express, to meeting Santa, to her school holiday party, it's understandable that she felt a little overwhelmed by it all.

And even though I've blogged on the topic of temper tantrums before, click here, (and excuse the old blog entries, they are not looking as great since I moved the blog over to blogger) this time my one solution has worked EVERY time this holiday season.  I was in shock each time I used it and it worked, and was waiting for the day for it not to work out so well, but that day never came!

And a side note here, kids this age have sooo many emotions running through their little bodies at this age and just don't quite know how to process them, so they get super frustrated, super easy.  

What was the magic solution you ask?  By asking her for a 'hug' of course!  It went down something like this:

My 2.5 year old child is crying, throwing herself on the floor and uttering unintelligible words while pounding her fists into the floor.  Classic tantrum.

As I was acknowledging my child's anger and frustration to her, and feeling like I was going to have to walk away and ignore it as they say to do, I asked her, "Luna, do you need a hug?"  and guess what happened?

She quickly stopped kicking and crying, stood up and walk right over to me and fell into my arms.  We would cuddle for several minutes while she calmed down and then she was off to play again, like it never happened.

Amazing, right?

And this is something that I did over and over again and it worked each time!  I know it's not some magic wand remedy, and it may not work every time, especially with kids that hate hugs, but it's worth a shot next time you have a tantrum on your hands.  I think it works well because kids have a hard time with self-control, and by just melting into a pair of soft arms and cuddling, it helps them calm down in a way they just haven't figured out yet.

What works best for you??  Any secret remedies?
Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Merry Christmas everyone!  Hope your family had a great day celebrating and spending time with loved ones!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas Card Ideas

What do you do with all of the Christmas and Holiday cards you receive?  Toss or keep them?  Maybe you hate clutter and throw them away or just put them in a box and store them up in the attic, never to pull them out again.  I don't know about you, but ever since I had kids I've become a sucker for keeping ALL of their mementoes.  Their daily progress reports, artwork, birthday invitations, thank yous, you get the idea.  But I'm learning to purge some.  I am slowly trying to weed through the artwork and toss the ones that were really done more by the teacher.

And at this time of year, it's hard to decide on what to do with all of the precious photo Christmas Cards we get in the mail.  So far I am the one who throws them in a box and board them up.  BUT today is your lucky day, I have done some online research and found some great ideas!  Get ready to read on for some inspiration.

1. Card Tree:  First I came up with a little tree to display them during the holiday season.  It may be a little crazy looking, but I love it!  I used tape but you can also stick string on them and hang them like ornaments.  And I love watching my daughter open new cards and getting all excited to put them on the tree.  Just get a few branches or get a cute miniature Christmas tree to stick them on.

2. Card book:  This is kind of a scrapbooky idea that I got from the blog eighteen25.  After the holidays, you can make them into a card book each year.  Click here for the DIY instructions.  Super cute idea!

3.  Binder Book:  I LOVE this binder idea from  Just get a 3-ring binder with the page protectors, and put each card in it's own sleeve.  A lot of cards now have pictures on the back and that way you can see both sides.  It's a great way to store the cards and get them out each year to see how families change and grow through the years.


4. Phone Contacts: Store the card in your phone as your contact's photo!  Just take a picture of the card and save it as that family contact.

Some great ideas!  What do you do with your cards??  Would love to hear your ideas.
Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mr. Rogers and Traumatic Events

As a continuation to my previous post about traumatic events in schools, I found some other good information from one of my old favorites, Mr. Rogers!  I loved that show and always felt so comforted by watching him, so it's no wonder he gave some great advice.  And luckily his legacy lives on and they've posted on his new website:

Fred Rogers talks about
Tragic Events in the News

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world."

In times of community or world-wide crisis, it's easy to assume that young children don't know what's going on. But one thing's for sure -- children are very sensitive to how their parents feel. They're keenly aware of the expressions on their parents' faces and the tone of their voices. Children can sense when their parents are really worried, whether they're watching the news or talking about it with others. No matter what children know about a “crisis,” it’s especially scary for children to realize that their parents are scared.
Some Scary, Confusing Images
The way that news is presented on television can be quite confusing for a young child. The same video segment may be shown over and over again through the day, as if each showing was a different event. Someone who has died turns up alive and then dies again and again. Children often become very anxious since they don’t understand much about videotape replays, closeups, and camera angles.   Any televised danger seems close to home to them because the tragic scenes are taking place on the TV set in their own living room. Children can't tell the difference between what's close and what's far away, what's real and what's pretend, or what's new and what's re-run.
The younger the children are, the more likely they are to be interested in scenes of close-up faces, particularly if the people are expressing some strong feelings. When there's tragic news, the images on TV are most often much too graphic and disturbing for young children.
“Who will take care of me?”
In times of crisis, children want to know, "Who will take care of me?" They're dependent on adults for their survival and security.  They're naturally self-centered. They need to hear very clearly that their parents are doing all they can to take care of them and to keep them safe.  They also need to hear that people in the government and other grownups they don’t eveen know are working hard to keep them safe, too.

Helping Children Feel More Secure
Play is one of the important ways young children have of dealing with their concerns.  Of course, playing about violent news can be scary and sometimes unsafe, so adults need to be nearby to help redirect that kind of play into nurturing themes, such as a hospital for the wounded or a pretend meal for emergency workers.
When children are scared and anxious, they might become more dependent, clingy, and afraid to go to bed at night. Whining, aggressive behavior, or toilet "accidents" may be their way of asking for more comfort from the important adults in their lives. Little by little, as the adults around them become more confident, hopeful and secure, our children probably will, too.

Turn Off the TV
When there's something tragic in the news, many parents get concerned about what and how to tell their children. It's even harder than usual if we're struggling with our own powerful feelings about what has happened. Adults are sometimes surprised that their own reactions to a televised crisis are so strong, but great loss and devastation in the news often reawaken our own earlier losses and fears – even some we think we might have "forgotten"

It's easy to allow ourselves to get drawn into watching televised news of a crisis for hours and hours; however, exposing ourselves to so many tragedies can make us feel hopeless, insecure, and even depressed. We help our children and ourselves if we’re able to limit our own television viewing.  Our children need us to spend time with them – away from the frightening images on the screen.

Talking and Listening

Even if we wanted to, it would be impossible to give our children all the reasons for such things as war, terrorists, abuse, murders, major fires, hurricanes, and earthquakes. If they ask questions, our best answer may be to ask them, "What do you think happened?" If the answer is "I don't know," then the simplest reply might be something like, "I'm sad about the news, and I'm worried. But I love you, and I'm here to care for you."

If we don't let children know it's okay to feel sad and scared, they may think something is wrong with them when they do feel that way. They certainly don't need to hear all the details of what's making us sad or scared, but if we can help them accept their own feelings as natural and normal, their feelings will be much more manageable for them.

Angry feelings are part of being human, especially when we feel powerless. One of the most important messages we can give our children is, "It's okay to be angry, but it's not okay to hurt ourselves or others."  Besides giving children the right to their anger, we can help them find constructive things to do with their feelings. This way, we'll be giving them useful tools that will serve them all their life, and help them to become the worlds' future peacemakers -- the world's future "helpers." 
Helpful Hints

  • Do your best to keep the television off, or at least limit how much your child sees of any news event.
  • Try to keep yourself calm. Your presence can help your child feel more secure.
  • Give your child extra comfort and physical affection, like hugs or snuggling up together with a favorite book. Physical comfort goes a long way towards providing inner security. That closeness can nourish you, too.
  • Try to keep regular routines as normal as possible. Children and adults count on their familiar pattern of everyday life.
  • Plan something that you and your child enjoy doing together, like taking a walk, going on a picnic, having some quiet time, or doing something silly. It can help to know there are simple things in life that can help us feel better, in good times and in bad.

  • Even if children don't mention what they've seen or heard in the news, it can help to ask what they think has happened. If parents don't bring up the subject, children can be left with their misinterpretations. You may be really surprised at how much your child has heard from others.
  • Focus attention on the helpers, like the police, firemen, doctors, nurses, paramedics, and volunteers. It's reassuring to know there are many caring people who are doing all they can to help others in this world.
  • Let your child know if you're making a donation, going to a town meeting, writing a letter or e-mail of support, or taking some other action. It can help children to know that adults take many different active roles and that we don't give in to helplessness in times of worldwide crisis.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Tragedy in Schools

Today's school tragedy (not even a word out there to express it all), was so devastating. I can't even imagine, so I won't.   I can't watch the news and don't even want to think about it.  As a mom now, it's too hard.  Do you remember my Mom Empathy post? Sigh.  So instead I am going to post a few tips from the Mental Health America website to help give some tips to those parents with school aged children.  Much easier for me right now to re-post from MHA's website so I don't have to think about it.  You can also access it here:

Talking to Kids about School Safety

School violence and the resulting intense media coverage bring school safety issues to the forefront for all of us. However, children, in particular, may experience anxiety, fear, and a sense of personal risk. Knowing how to talk with your child about school safety issues could be critical in recognizing and preventing acts of violence, and will play an important role in easing fear and anxieties about their personal safety.

To guide parents through discussions about school violence, Mental Health America offers the following suggestions:
  • Encourage children to talk about their concerns and to express their feelings. Some children may be hesitant to initiate such conversation, so you may want to prompt them by asking if they feel safe at school. When talking with younger children remember to talk on their level. For example, they may not understand the term “violence” but can talk to you about being afraid or a classmate who is mean to them.
  • Talk honestly about your own feelings regarding school violence. It is important for children to recognize they are not dealing with their fears alone.
  • Validate the child’s feelings. Do not minimize a child’s concerns. Let him/her know that serious school violence is not common, which is why incidents such as Columbine and Conyers, Georgia, attract so much media attention. Stress that schools are safe places. In fact, recent studies have shown that schools are more secure now than ever before.
  • Empower children to take action regarding school safety. Encourage them to report specific incidents (such as bullying, threats or talk of suicide) and to develop problem solving and conflict resolution skills. Encourage older children to actively participate in student-run anti-violence programs.
  • Discuss the safety procedures that are in place at your child’s school. Explain why visitors sign in at the principal’s office or certain doors remain locked during the school day. Help your child understand that such precautions are in place to ensure his or her safety and stress the importance of adhering to school rules and policies.
  • Create safety plans with your child. Help identify which adults (a friendly secretary, trusted teacher or approachable administrator) your child can talk to if they feel threatened at school. Also ensure that your child knows how to reach you (or another family member or friend) in case of crisis during the school day. Remind your child that they can talk to you anytime they feel threatened.
  • Recognize behavior that may indicate your child is concerned about returning to school. Younger children may react to school violence by not wanting to attend school or participate in school-based activities. Teens and adolescents may minimize their concerns outwardly, but may become argumentative, withdrawn, or allow their school performance to decline.
  • Keep the dialogue going and make school safety a common topic in family discussions rather than just a response to an immediate crisis. Open dialogue will encourage children to share their concerns.
  • Seek help when necessary. If you are worried about a child’s reaction or have ongoing concerns about his/her behavior or emotions, contact a mental health professional at school or at your community mental health center. Your local Mental Health Association or the National Mental Health Association’s Information Center can direct you to resources in your community.
 The following behaviors are signs that a child may need help:
  • Lack of interest or poor performance in school
  • Absence of age-appropriate anger control skills
  • Seeing self as always the victim
  • Persistent disregard for or refusal to follow rules
  • Cruelty to pets or other animals
  • Artwork or writing that is bleak or violent or that depicts isolation or anger
  • Talking constantly about weapons or violence
  • Obsession with violent games and/or TV shows
  • Lack of enthusiasm, energy or motivation
  • Carrying a weapon to school
  • Overreacting to criticism
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Bullying
  • Misplaced or unwarranted jealousy
  • Involvement with or interest in gangs
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
 The more signs you see the greater the chance the child needs help. Mental Health America’s toll-free Information Line can help parents and teachers find community resources. Mental Health America also provides informational brochures on children’s mental health issues, such as a Teen Survival Guide to Surviving Stress, Teen Depression, Coping with Loss, Youth Violence and What Every Child Needs for Good Mental Health.
Sunday, December 9, 2012

Holiday Toys!

It's the holiday season and people have been asking me for toy recommendations.  Since I'm a play therapist, I should be in 'the know', right?  Well, not so much.  It's more that I am 'in the know' since I'm a mom now, and just 'in the know' for preschool girl toys to be exact.

The thing about play therapy is that we are BIG on creativity and letting kids lead play.  So we don't have 'characters' in our play therapy rooms like Disney or Nickelodeon.  Or when it comes to dress-up, we don't have Batman capes and masks, just the plain old black ones, and generic costumes like firemen, police officers, etc. 

Having all of the toys from a movie or cartoon would greatly limit a child's creativity and self-expression.  Just imagine if we had the whole Star Wars or Harry Potter set of toys, a child would walk into the room, run over to the stuff and start acting out the movie.  Or if we had Cinderella dolls and dress up, guess what the little girls would start acting out? The mean step-family, Cinderella getting ready for the ball and marrying the Prince.  Not a lot of increasing self expression, right?  It would just be them re-inacting a movie.

Now don't get me wrong, I love movie and TV gear, in fact my child wants the Doc McStuffins and Minnie Mouse toys for Christmas.  But when it comes to the latest and greatest toys, us play therapists are more likely to go for the neutral zone.  So I try to have mostly creative toys with a few movie and TV character pieces at home for my kids.

It's kind of like having a stack of plain white paper and crayons or markers and seeing the great masterpieces they create!  Versus having a stack of coloring books where your child just sits and fills in pictures with color.  Not going to really make you jump up and say, 'wow, look what you created!'

So, as I have listed on here before, (sorry to repeat myself from the last holiday season), I am going to list a few faves that are good all around creative toys to have that will last a long time.  And no, some are not cheap, but again they will last until your child goes off to college, okay, maybe not, but they will last a super long time.  Happy shopping!

1. Blocks  
Blocks are huge.  EVERY single play therapy session I have, a child will build something with blocks and it almost brings me to tears at times to see how a quiet sheltered child, will all of a sudden create a huge masterpiece of a 'building' out of blocks.  I love seeing what can become of a plain old brown piece of wood!

Here is a good set at a great price (49.99$) Melissa & Doug 60-Piece Standard Unit Blocks
2. Doll Houses
Now, for those moms of boys out there, I know you are a little apprehensive about buying a doll house for your son.  But the super gender neutral ones are great, and there are a lot out there now that are 'green' looking.  And your boys can use different 'characters' to play with in their house, and not dolls.  The less is more philosophy is best for the doll house, that way children can use even more of their imagination!

These are great wooden doll houses:
Melissa & Doug Deluxe Wooden Furnished Dollhouse (76.99$)
Ryan's Room Home Is Where the Heart Is (99$)
 Or this green one, super cute and comes with everything! Hape All Season House - Furnished (139.99)

3.  Dress-Up Gear   My 1st Career Gear Assortment Suit (37.99$)
4.  Kitchen Play

What home doesn't have a kitchen?  Children love to act out what they already have at home and kitchens are a huge hit.  Boys are chefs too and love to pretend they are washing dishes, cooking and grilling like their dad.  This one is a good gender neutral color as well and fits in small spaces.
KidKraft Vintage Kitchen - White (157.99$)

5.  Doctor Kit 
I know I have blogged about these before, but they are still one of the all time faves of my clients.  Kids LOVE using these doctor kits and my daughter still plays with hers a whole year later. 

 So what are you planning on getting your kids for Christmas/Hanukkah this year?  My 2.5 year old daughter wants a tricycle, and a pink one at that!  And Doc McStuffins toys.
Monday, December 3, 2012


When I think of children and anxiety, I always think of 'Willy's Worries'. A worksheet we use where we ask children to draw their worries inside this cartoon figure. It's a great first step about talking to kids about what a 'worry' is, what fears are and anxiety. I like how it has the child fill in his worries inside his stomach since that is where most kids hold their emotions in and get 'tummy aches.'
Lately I have been reminded again about how new and scary some things can be to children, especially a young child like my 2 year old.  Things that we take for granted that we have experienced for years as an adult, can be scary for children when it's their first time. For example, a 2 year old may never have seen lightening light up across the sky since most are in bed at night time when storms develop, or seen simple things we see every day like garbage trucks picking up trash.

But their inexperiences are also what makes the toddler stage so cute sometimes. I love to see their reaction to new things, like when their faces light up when we drive by Christmas lights and our daughter exclaims, "oooh, look! Christmas lights!!"

But when new experiences are scary to them, it can become a problem. Like the other day my husband was giving our child a bath and he thought it would be funny to turn on the shower head to splash a little water on her. Uhm, let's just say it didn't go as planned. The poor thing started crying and wanted to get out of the bath and refused to take a bath the rest of the week saying, "I'm scared of the shower mommy!" She has seen me take a shower in my shower before, but had not seen water come out of her own bathroom's tub. Ugh, so my husband learned a little lesson that our daughter doesn't like to be teased and to basically be careful when introducing new experiences to her.

It reminds me of the time we spent Christmas at my grandparent's house when I was 4 years old (the only time we ventured away from our own home on Christmas Eve as a child), and I was sooo afraid that Santa would get lost trying to find where I had gone. I could not go to sleep and was afraid that he would try to come in through my bedroom window lost.  The thought of a big man carrying a large sack sneaking into my bedroom window scared me to death!!  As much as I loved Santa, I was afraid of him too, weren't you?

And even when I was a little bit older, I remember watching a show on TV where a woman went blind all of a sudden and I had this fear that it would happen to me. I walked around for a few days in fear that one day I wouldn't be able to see. Lesson learned that I will need to censor my children's TV watching :) Children take things so literally and believe that what happens on TV will come true. I'm sure you have a few memories of TV scaring you as a kid, or some horror movie that made you sneak into your parent's room every night for the next year.

Children can develop what seems to us, super irrational fears. But to them they are very real and scary. Especially to a young child, who is barely 3 feet tall and everything in the world is super big and huge to them.

The best things to do?

-First thing is to always remember that children turn to their parents to see how they react to events. If your child falls down and you have this look of horror on your face, then your child is going to read your expression and have the same reaction, the, "ohhh nooo!! Moommmyy!!!! Help!!" and the non stop crying begins. But if you look like it's no big deal, and 'brush it off' then it will help them remain calm.

-Try to always keep in mind that big or new experiences can be frightening to a child and to introduce them slowly.

-If a child tells you they are scared or afraid of something, don't deny their feelings and say, "why?" or "there's no need to be scared." Denying their feelings of fear at first will dismissing their feeling and can make it even worse.

 -So try to first acknowledge the feeling, "you are telling me that you are scared of the shower, and that it is scary to you.?" "I can see how that would be scary to you since you have never seen that before." "We won't turn it on again until you want me to, but remember it's just water coming out of it and grown-ups use it to take showers and get clean"

 -Let them have the control, like asking them to turn the water faucet on themselves when they are ready

-Also, try not to elaborate too much and give too much information, like a science report on what lightening is and giving elaborate detail, sometimes too much information can make the fear even worse!

-For older kids, you can begin by talking about fears like filling out the Willy's Worries worksheet. Sometimes you have first make sure they understand the meaning of the word 'worry' and then go from there.

If you feel like your child has more worries than normal, or an event has happened that has caused them anxiety, it's a good idea to find a good play therapist in your area to help them get past what is bothering them. It may only take a couple of sessions to help get through it but they will also learn how to adjust to new anxieties as they go through life.