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.

Teaching Children to Confront Conflict

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Teaching Children to Confront Conflict

One important lesson for children that is often passed over is learning to confront conflict. When a conflict between two peers occurs – for example, “Mom! Joseph threw his toy at me!” or “Mom! Sarah colored all over my picture and ruined it!” – our first response is usually to intervene and correct any wrongs. We jump in to immediately stop the argument, and dish out punishment. Does this scene look familiar?

“Mom! Joseph threw his toy at me! Then he laughed about it! It hurt really bad!”

Mom enters the room and immediately turns to Joseph.

“Joseph, did you throw your toy at Jacob? That was not okay. If you can’t play nicely then you will have to take a break up in your room. Do you understand?”

Joseph nods silently while giving his mom an apologetic stare.

In this scenario, the child tattles and the parent jumps in to lecture. The child misbehaving learns from the parent what is acceptable behavior, what is not acceptable behavior, and what is expected of him from his parent. The child also learns what consequences the parent will deliver should his behavior not change. All these lessons are important, but what is missing, however, is a lesson on confronting conflict for both children.

The child misbehaving – Joseph, in our example – is interacting with the parent only. The only person he has to apologize to is his mother, and the only reason why he should behave nicely is because his mother will be upset and he will have to take a break in his room. The consequences are dictated and determined by his mother, not his peer. This is often why children will misbehavior with peers when parents or another adult is not present.

Confronting conflict on their own (with the help of a parent), teaches children how their behavior affects their peers, and that regardless of a parent’s reprimand, there are consequences to face with their peers as well. Let’s re-approach our first example:

“Mom! Joseph threw his toy at me! Then he laughed about it! It hurt really bad!”

Mom enters the room and immediately turns to Jacob.

Mom: “Jacob, can you tell Joseph why you are upset?”

Jacob turns to Joseph: “You threw the train at me and it hit my arm! It hurt really bad!”

Mom: “Now it’s your turn to talk Joseph.”

Joseph turns to his mother, but his mother stops him: “Joseph, look at Jacob. Talk to him, not me.”

Joseph turns to Jacob, but his silent. He waits for a few seconds with an apologetic stare: “I was just giving you the train to play.”

Jacob looks at his mom prepared to rebuttal. Mom points back to Joseph with a look of encouragement.

Jacob: “You didn’t give me the toy. You threw it at me. I don’t like to play when you throw things at me.”

Joseph: “I’m sorry Jacob.”

Jacob: “It’s okay.”

In this scenario, instead of the mother being a main part of the dialog, the two children were. Jacob and Joseph were able to confront each other and discuss the conflict themselves. This situation allowed them both to practice confronting conflict, which takes a lot of courage and confidence. It also helps a child learn how to regulate their emotions and anxiety during a state of arousal. Although one child is really upset, he practiced using a calm voice to confront his peer about what was making him upset.

In addition, the children also learn how to take responsibility for their behavior. An argument of “No I didn’t! He did!” is averted when the conflict is kept between the two children. The children do not have to prove who did what, as there is no adult to mediate. The mediation is between the two children. In this situation, Joseph learned how to accept his behavior, and take responsibility for his actions. Both children also learned that it’s okay to make mistakes. When children confront conflict together, there is no “naughty” or “bad” child, just forgiveness.

Lastly, one of the most important lessons learned when a children successfully confront conflict together, is how their behavior affects others. In the conflict above, Jacob stated: “I don’t like to play when you throw things at me.” Their friendship and time together was at stake, which was more valuable to the two children than a short break in their room. When working the conflict out together, children learn there are other consequences to their actions aside from how their parent’s will react. Acceptance from peers is important, and is what will help a child from doing hurtful things in the future when a parent or teacher is not around to see.

Learning how to confront conflict is an important lesson for children that can be practiced every day at home and at school. Take the next moment of crisis during play to teach children how to work the problem out together, accept responsibility, and learn how their behavior affects others around them. Focus less on the consequences, and more on the dialog between the two children. Utilizing these teachable moments will help develop more responsible and emotionally secure children, and will leave you feeling less like a dictator, and more like a peacemaker!

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

vanessalemminger.wordpress.com

 

 

 

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© 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.

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 advise 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.