Some Bunny to Talk to: A Story About Going to Therapy

Check out this fantastic book resource for kids in therapy! Some Bunny to Talk to: A Story About Going Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 1.38.04 PMto Therapy by Cheryl Sterling, Paola Conte, and Larissa Labay (Illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke) provides for a gentle and easy to understand introduction to therapy. Filled with colorful illustrations, the book covers feelings of worry, sadness, anxiety, while also explaining who a therapist is, what they do, and how they can help. Some Bunny to Talk to does a great job showing how therapy can be a positive and helpful experience. In addition, the book has a section at the end that provides notes to parents and caregivers on how to pave the way for a positive therapy experience. The book can be found at your local library, or it is also available on Amazon.com here: http://www.amazon.com/Some-Bunny-To-Talk-Therapy/dp/1433816504

Bunny Collage

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Communication Icebreakers for Kids

Communication Icebreakers for Kids Image

Communication Icebreakers for Kids

Communication with your child is crucial. Keeping an open line of communication between you and your child keeps you informed on what is going on in their life, their friendships, and also increases the likelihood that your child will come to you for advice when they have a conflict or are in a dilemma. While this information is helpful, getting children to talk is not always an easy task, especially when a communication disorder is present.

Communication is not always easy, and talking about more serious or intimate topics does not just roll off the tongue. Reaching a more intimate level with your child requires time and practice talking together. Here are a few simple and easy DIY icebreaker activities to open up dialog and start to get children talking. With these communication icebreakers, you can work on getting to know your children better, practice conversation starters, and start building the foundation for a deeper, more intimate relationship.

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Talk Toss

The first icebreaker is called Talk Toss, and is a very simple, and portable activity that could be played virtually anywhere. Here is what you will need:Talk Toss Materials

  • 1 ball (of any size)
  • 10 strips of paper (more or less is fine)
  • writing utensil
  • 1 die
  • timer/clock

On each strip of paper write down a topic. Make sure to include both light and fun topics, as well as heavier or more intimate topics. This step can also be done with the child, and may make the child more receptive to playing if they have a choice in what some of the topics are. If your child wants to help write down topics, split the pile in half so each person can come up with topics. Another important note is to keep the topics vague. More specific topics can corner the conversation, limiting movement (for example: “Favorite Colors” would be hard to talk about for 6 minutes). After all the topics have been chosen, fold them and put them in a bucket or bowl.

Talk Toss Materials 2

Some examples of possible light topics include:

Favorite movies

School

Music

Hobbies

Sports

Places to visit

Video games

Fashion

Examples of possible heavy/intimate topics include:

School

Achievements/things I’m good at

Conflicts

Things that make me sad

Things that make me happy

Relationships

How the game works:

Each person will take turns picking a topic, and rolling the die. The number on the die will determine how long to set the timer. Once the timer is started, each person will take turns tossing (or rolling when working will younger children or children with gross motor limitations) the ball, but with each toss, the person has to say something about himself or herself that relates to the topic chosen. This turn-taking continues until the timer goes off. Play until all the topics are finished or a certain amount of time is reached. Depending on what number is rolled on the die, 10 topics could result in a 30-60 minute game.

Helpful Hints:

As parents, it is important to channel your own experiences. If the goal is to reach more intimate conversation, you will have to be more vulnerable with your answers as well. For example (with school as the topic), “At school I was really good at math” is not as provoking as, “At school I didn’t have a lot of friends.” With practice this game can invoke more honest and “authentic” answers from your child. However, if they do not reciprocate right away, do not panic. Opening up requires being vulnerable and requires trust – both of which require time. If the child feels pressured or rushed to open up, the opposite of what is desired may occur. A slow and sincere approach will usually yield the best results. An additional benefit to this game is that it is flexible, and can be played almost anywhere. A small bouncy ball, a Ziplock bag, and a cell phone (for a timer) can easily fit in a purse or carry-on bag to be utilized in a waiting room, airport, or in the grocery store.

Grab and Gab

Grab and Gab is another communication icebreaker that can be made for very cheap, and can be played with several players, or just two! Materials needed include:

  • Jumbling Tower puzzle game (can be found on Amazon.com for as little as $9)
  • Permanent marker
  • Tape labels (optional – will allow the blocks to be changed in the future)

Jenga Materials 2

Take all of the blocks in the game, and divide them equally into any number of piles (it is okay if they are not exactly equal; Usually 6-8 piles is sufficient). If using tape, apply a strip of tape to one side of each block. For each pile, come up with a starter sentence. You will be writing this sentence on the block (or the tape). Some example starter sentences can be:

If I could be any animal I would be …

I feel happiest when ….

I feel nervous when …

Things that make me happy are…

I often think about …

My favorite quote is …

Jenga Materials 1

How the game works:

Once all the starter sentences are written on the blocks (or the tape), the game is played just like the original Jumbling Tower instructions (see the instructions included in the game), only the player has to finish the sentence on the block they choose before they place it back into the puzzle. An alternative version of the game is to have one player pick the block, and the opposite player (or player to the left if playing with more than two people) has to finish the sentence. This alternative method will be helpful if the child starts to memorize which blocks contain certain sentences, and starts to strategically pick or avoid certain blocks.

Helpful Hints:

This game is very similar to the Talk Toss icebreaker. It is important to have a good mixture of light/fun sentences and heavy/intimate sentences, and it is important that the child does not feel forced into starting the game off by saying something they do not feel comfortable sharing. The goal is to make the child feel comfortable, and that comes with time and practice. If the deck is stacked too heavy, you will not get the results you want. Be aware that some questions (for example, “If I could be any animal I would be…”) may lead to more personal or intimate answers than expected. Do not assume that a light sentence answer is irrelevant. An answer of “… a bear because they get to hide away in a cave for 9 months and not talk to anyone,” tells more about a child’s internal emotional state than “… a monkey because they get to eat bananas and I love bananas!” Sometime the answer can have more meaning, and sometimes the answer is just straightforward. It’s important to be listening to the answer, and really trying to understand what the child is telling you. The main goal of the game is to learn how to communicate, and that includes active listening. (For more important information on effective communication and listening, see my previous post ‘Tips for Improved Communication’ here.)

If the starter sentences start to get routine, or you think of new starter sentences you would love to add, you can always change up the sentences. It’s always a great option to include the child in creating starter sentences.

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These two communication icebreakers are a great way to start practicing dialog between parent and child, and to reach a more intimate level of communication. The icebreaker games can be played for fun, or during more serious moments, and can be played almost anywhere! Remember, the most important part is that the activity is fun, relaxing, and not forced! Oh, and do not forget to listen! If you are not getting the answer you want right away, that’s okay. It takes time and practice! Do not rush the experience, and the results will be rewarding.   Stay tuned for more interventions and icebreakers!

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nessaVanessa Lemminger M.A., LMFT 53937
Marital and Family Therapist

© Vanessa Lemminger, M.A. Marriage and Family Therapist 53937, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vanessa Lemminger, Marriage and Family Therapist 53937 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

This blog (https://vanessalemminger.wordpress.com/) is for informational and educational purposes only. No therapist-client relationship arises. The information provided and any comments or opinions expressed are intended for general discussion and education only, even when based on a hypothetical. They should not be relied upon for ultimate decision-making in any specific case. There is no substitute for consultation with a qualified mental health specialist, or even a physician, who could best evaluate and advice based on a careful, considered evaluation of all pertinent facts. Likewise, it is understood that no guarantee or warranty arises from the information provided or discussed on this (https://vanessalemminger.wordpress.com/) blog.

10 Tips for Tackling School Anxiety

School Related Anxiety Pin

Summer has officially ended, and school is in full swing. Often times, the start of a new school year can be anxiety provoking for children of all ages and personality types. With new students, new rules, and a new teacher, the start of school can make even the most extroverted and energetic student anxious. Here are 10 helpful strategies to prepare for and cope with school-related anxiety for children of all ages and personalities:

Notes of Encouragement:

Write a short note to your child and slip it into their lunch box every morning. These can be short and sweet, serving as a quick reminder that their loved ones are thinking of them. Try to include positive phrases about the child, such as, “You are a fantastic reader!”, “I am very proud of you!”, or “You will make some great friends today!”. These uplifting phrases can keep your child’s thoughts in a positive direction! If your child does not pack a lunch, you can always slip the note in their backpack, or in a folder that they check at the end of the day.

Dress for Success:

Come to school the first few weeks sporting the most comfortable and functional clothes. As much as every parent wants their child to look like the coolest kid in school, it is important that the child feels comfortable and their outfit is functional. If a child has a favorite shirt they always like to wear – even if it’s not your favorite – let them wear it. Feeling comfortable will allow them to focus their attention on what’s important: school! Coming to school with functional clothes cannot be over emphasized! Skinny jeans during gym, jelly shoes with heels, and long-sleeves during a warmer fall are all examples of poor functionality. If you can’t do jumping jacks in skinny jeans and heels, neither can your child.

Provide a Familiar Face:

Tape a favorite picture of you and your child inside their desk, lunch box, or backpack. You can even laminate the picture for increased durability. Seeing a familiar face, a loving parent, or a favorite memory will provide some extra comfort throughout the day.

Practice Positive Phrases:

At home, practice some positive phrases the child can tell themselves when they are nervous. Just as adults practice positive self-talk in the shower, car, or bathroom mirror, this strategy can be helpful for children too. Phrases such as, “I am doing my very best!”, “I am capable of success!”, or “Just keep swimming!. Just keep swimming!” can help calm a nervous child in the moment. These short mantras can be practiced at home and used at school silently.

Trial-run Through Transitions:

Knowing the layout of the school can ease a child’s anxiety as well. Children are expected to rotate classrooms and navigate campuses even in Kindergarten now! If a child is nervous about finding their way around or being late, a good strategy is to do a trial run of their schedule. After school, once the commotion has died down, you and your child can walk through each transition throughout their day so they are confident they will know where to go, and how to get there.

Ignore the Small Stuff:

Try to keep from nit-picking small behaviors during the first few weeks. It is very common for kids of all ages to chew on shirt collars, sleeves, nails, fingertips, erasers, and pencils, as well as play with their hair or not eat all their lunch. These behaviors are often a way to reduce anxiety and can also provide some sensory relief. Focus your energy on increasing their confidence, and once the anxiety has reduced, then you can start implementing some replacement behavioral strategies for such behaviors. In fact, many children actually stop exhibiting these behaviors on their own after the first month or two of school.

Practice Positive Self-talk:

Start each morning off by listing 3 positive things about your child. This is a great activity to do during breakfast or the car ride to school. Ask the child to list the 3 things themselves, but feel free to jump in and help if they are struggling. Practicing this activity every morning will help your child develop a positive self-esteem and create a positive narrative about themselves that focuses on their strengths and accomplishments.

Ease into Academics:

Focus less on grades during the first few weeks of school, and more on how well their day went, what they did well at, and things they are proud of. Taking the focus off of grades will relieve some pressure until the child is more settled in. Once the child is feeling confident or less anxious, then the focus can be redirected back to academics.

Keep a Full Belly:

Start each morning out with a good breakfast. Schoolwork, new environments, and anxiety can be mentally and physically tasking. By lunchtime, most kids are starving during the first few weeks of school. Having a hearty and nutritious breakfast can ensure a child has the mental and physical energy to do their best throughout their day.

Provide Reassurance:

Remind your child that it is okay to be nervous. Reassure them that many other kids in their class are probably feeling the same way. Try to think of a time when you were nervous (at work, during a presentation, or back when you were in school), and talk to your child to show them that you understand what they are feeling. Children often think of their parents as superheroes, so when they realize that Super-Dad and Wonder-Mom also get nervous they will feel relieved. They will feel even more assured when they hear how their parents overcame the experience and succeeded.

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 nessa

Vanessa Lemminger M.A., LMFT 53937
Marital and Family Therapist

© Vanessa Lemminger, M.A. Marriage and Family Therapist 53937, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vanessa Lemminger, Marriage and Family Therapist 53937 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

This blog (https://vanessalemminger.wordpress.com/) is for informational and educational purposes only. No therapist-client relationship arises. The information provided and any comments or opinions expressed are intended for general discussion and education only, even when based on a hypothetical. They should not be relied upon for ultimate decision-making in any specific case. There is no substitute for consultation with a qualified mental health specialist, or even a physician, who could best evaluate and advice based on a careful, considered evaluation of all pertinent facts. Likewise, it is understood that no guarantee or warranty arises from the information provided or discussed on this (https://vanessalemminger.wordpress.com/) blog.

How to Make the Most of a Social Outing

How to Make the Most of a Social Outing

A child’s learning does not just stop at school or the therapy session.  Providing opportunities for your child to learn and practice their social skills is a great strategy for continued learning.  Setting up a play-date or social outing for your child is a great start, but there is more you can do to help facilitate appropriate social interaction and social skills while allowing the natural peer interaction to take place.

Children age 2-6

For parents with younger children, it is important to take time and observe the children’s play.  Children at this age can have unique styles of play, and do not always use logical play.  Instead of immediately joining the children in play, spend time observing first.  Watch how the rules of the play are established, and what the object or goal of the play is.  Study how they transition between play, and what themes they frequent (Do they always play some version of house, or do they lean more towards adventures?) Once you’ve taken some time to understand their style of play, join in, but let the kids take the lead.  Asking questions is a great way to engage more conversation in play while still leaving the control to the kids.  As an example:

Three kids are pretending to cook in the sand box, and you join.  Questions you can ask: “Can I play?” “Who can I pretend to be?” “What are you making?” “What should I make?” “Who is going to eat the food?” “Where should we take the food?” What do we cook next?”

Another great technique to naturally model appropriate social play is to think out loud.  Narrate everything you are doing while playing.

“Hmm… I want to dig a tunnel, but I need the blue shovel and Jared has the blue shovel.  Maybe I could ask him to take a turn with it.  Jared, can I take a turn with the blue shovel?”

“Oh no! I want to play on the swings, but everyone is playing in the sand.  I really wish I had someone to swing with.  Maybe I could ask someone to come play with me! Caleb, do you want to play on the swings with me?”

Remember, when working with kids, less is more.  The goal is to create natural social interaction, and it’s important not to over-pathologize your child’s behavior.  Children do not always say “thank you” after every single toy exchange, and do not compliment their peers on everything they do.  It is also typical for children at this age to play alone or have moments of parallel play (children playing adjacent to each other).  Don’t feel like you need to be maintaining constant dialog.  When the environment is relaxed a child will feel more comfortable going beyond their typical boundaries.

 Children age 7-12

Parents with middle-aged children should focus on building self-esteem and competency during social outings.  This is the age where children develop of sense of self, which makes modeling appropriate social behavior important. A great way to do this is to be overly socially appropriate yourself.  For most, social skills come naturally so we do not even realize the different social behaviors we are exhibiting.  As a parent modeling appropriate social behavior, the goal is to expand these interactions and amplify them.  To provide an example:

Two individuals, John and Gary are at a bowling alley.  John sees Gary pick up his ball and start walking towards the lane.  This triggers John to think, “Oh, it must be Gary’s turn.”  John then glances up at the screen to confirm his thought that it was, in fact, Gary’s turn.  After Gary sends his last ball down the lane, he casually tosses a hand up, which John meets with his own.  Without checking the screen, John walks up to the lane for his turn.

A child with ASD may not see all these subtle social interactions that take place, and deciphering when it is okay to approach the lane, who’s turn it is, or what to say to a friend may not be so obvious.  This short interaction can be amplified and expanded by being curious, asking questions, and making observations.  For example, to prompt a child to look at whose turn it is or stay focused on a game, a parent could ask the child, “Whose turn is it? Do you know whose turn it is, Molly?” A child at this age will be more receptive to the former approach versus, “Molly, it is your turn.  Make sure to pay attention to the game.”  Using observational statements also helps narrate some of these interactional patterns.  A parent could say, “Wow, Molly! Sarah hit 2 pins on her first try, and 6 pins on her second try.  She did a great job. I’m going to give her a high-five!”  Expanding your language beyond “Good job!”, “Great work!”, and “Nice try!” is also helpful.  Try to compliment and appreciate a child’s specific behavior and achievements.  Some example of this phrasing include:

“Andrew, you put your lunch box away by yourself!”

“When you put toys away, that helps Ms. Smith.  She appreciates your help!”

“Carissa, thank you for giving Ella an extra turn.  That was showing great sportsman ship!”

Children at this age also like to have a sense of control and independence.  It’s important for all parents to establish boundaries, but allowing your child to choose some of the rules and boundaries for play will give them a sense of control and create a less restriction environment.   When feeling in control and relaxed, a child will feel more comfortable opening up and exercising their social skills.  Giving children some control of their environment and boundaries will also lead to less resistance or less focus on the “rules”, which will allow the child to be more productive during their social play.  Language and approach makes all the difference when talking to children.  For example, which of the following phrases sounds [approachable?]:

“Well, we could play [game X] or we could also play [game Y].  What do you both want to do?”

“Well, that is not an option.  You can pick [A] or [B].  Which one?”

The words “could”, “also”, and “want” provide a softer approach that appears to be giving all the choice to the child, when in fact you as the parent set the parameters.

Teens 13-18

Working on appropriate social skills with teens during play-dates or outings can be tricky.  First off, it is probably best if you refrain from using the word “play-date” with your teen.  Instead, use “hanging out”.  All teens have an increased self-awareness and are very sensitive to being embarrassed.  Working with your teen is all about being natural and playing it cool.  No teen is going to want their mom or dad lurching around them while their hanging out with their friends, and especially not if they are going to point out things they are doing wrong.  The first key to working with your teen in social situations is to blend in.   As much as you despise that video game with exploding zombie heads, act like you love it! Maybe they are playing a game that makes absolutely no sense at all to you: act excited to learn how to play! Every teen has liked something absolutely silly at that age, but if you are not receptive to their interests, they are not going to be receptive to yours (working on the social skills).  Try your best at refraining from saying as many “Eww!”s or “What?!”s as possible (if you are really brave, try using some “Cool!”s and “Awesome!”s), and instead ask questions about the game or activity they’re playing.  You can ask what the rules are, how to play, what happens if someone does X or does Y, and the object of the game.  Remember to ask in an excited voice and not with a concerned tone. This will not only clue you in on the parameters of their play, but also show that you are interested in their world.  Once you have established this common ground, you can start modeling appropriate social interactions.

When modeling social skills with your teen, it’s important not to draw attention to him/her or single them/their behavior out.  You can still provide correct social responses without having to point out the error.

As an example: Your son/daughter walks in the kitchen, with his friend following behind.  Your son/daughter grabs a soda from the fridge, shuts the door, and starts to leave without offering his friend one. Don’t: “Benny, you need to ask your friend if he wants a soda too. That was rude.” DO: “Chris, would you like a soda as well? If Johnny is thirsty, I’m sure you are too!”

The correct response here allows you to demonstrate to your teen that if he is thirsty, others may feel the same as well.  It provides an example on how to be polite, without making the child feel like he is being scolded in front of his friend.  You can also redirect the focus from your teen by focusing instead on the emotion present.  As an example:

You and your teen are at the beach with a friend and his/her teen.  Your teen skips up to you, unknowingly knocking over their friends sand creation in the process.  DO: “Chris (the friend), you look upset because your castle got knocked over.  You were working hard on that, and I can tell you are upset. Maybe we can help you rebuild it!”

In this example, the emotional context is still being addressed, an appropriate action is still being offered, but there is no blame or focus on someone’s mishap.  Using “we” when offering to help rebuild the castle also allows for another opportunity to work as a team together, and shifts the focus from a blame (“you need to fix his castle”) to working together on the solution.

Lastly, parents can practice their social skills at home.  Practicing with partners or relatives can be very effective modeling.  They are many instances when adults use very subtle cues to express what they are feeling, that may be missed by a teen with ASD.  Compare these examples:

Example 1:

Mom: “Dan, we are almost out of milk, eggs, and we don’t have anything for lunches this week.” Dad/Dan shrugs his shoulders.  Mom: “Well, Dan, I got the groceries last time, and the time before that”.  Mom then stares at Dan/Dad with her hands on her hip and a scornful look on her face.  Dad/Dan is silent for a moment.  Dad/Dan: “I’ll go tonight …” with a huff.   

Example 2:

Mom: “Dan, I’m feeling frustrated that I have to get groceries every time, and I think it would be fair if we took turns and shared the responsibility.” Dan/Dad: “I’m sorry that you’re frustrated and I apologize for not helping out more.  We should be taking turns and sharing the responsibility.  I will go get groceries tonight since you got them the last few times.”

Example 1 uses a lot of emotional cues, body signals, and gestures that may not picked up, where as Example 2 provides a narrative that better describes what each partner is feeling and what the appropriate social rules are.  Of course this change in language is hard to do all the time, and that is not expected.  But recognizing the more subtle emotional language used, and taking time to expand it to provide more clarification can provide great modeling examples for your teen when at home or with family.

Final Note:

On a final note, if you need more help knowing what to do, reach out to your child’s therapist, or behavioral interventionist.  What techniques do they use? What patterns have they seen? What are they currently working on in regards to social skills.  You can even ask to shadow a session.  Working on the same goals and using the same approach will help create consistency, which helps both your child and the therapist or interventionist working with them!

Vanessa (16)

    Vanessa Lemminger M.A. LMFT 53937
Marital and Family Therapist


    


© Vanessa Lemminger, M.A. Marriage and Family Therapist 53937, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vanessa Lemminger, Marriage and Family Therapist 53937 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.