Tag: Play Therapy

I realize it’s been a long time since I’ve written.  Life happens and you have to make room for it.  In the time that has gone by, though I have some new things to address.  I’ve done several basic play therapy ideas for small children and I thought I would address some teenager issues.  I have been working with parents of teenagers a lot lately.  I fully admit that I am not one yet, but I hope that won’t discourage you- in fact I love the feedback from those who are “in the trenches”.  I can give you some ideas and insight from what I like to do in my office with the teenagers I am seeing, though.

Social media is KILLING our youth.  I would have to address this in multiple blogs, but for today I want to address the expression of feelings.  I know that sounds sappy, for those who aren’t in the counseling world, but expressing what’s going on inside is crucial to the art of communicating, your self-esteem, being understood by others, and relating to others.  Social media, texting, technology are deteriorating basic communication abilities.  When you are constantly able to edit your response, you never have to think on your feet.  You can text, erase an email before sending it, or wait to respond.  Teenagers are having an emotional response inside and are limited on their ability to express it out loud.  Some of this is developmental as they still think like a child, yet want to be treated like a grown-up. Expecting them to automatically know what they feel and express it, let alone know what to do with it is too high of an expectation.  What teenagers need is help identifying their feelings, adding more words, and then practice communicating it.

An intern that works with me came up with a fun idea for one of the teenagers we were seeing who had this exact goal.  When she first came in, like many of the teenagers I meet, their blanket feeling words are “happy, frustrated, angry, and upset”.  But most of the time, their answer is “I don’t know”.  So we first introduced the feeling chart.  I found a good one here that’s included in the PDF that has some extra information within.

Because young teenagers enjoy games still, we used skittles and M&M’s as bait 🙂

Actually, we (using the feelings connected to colors that I have mentioned previously), had the teenager assign feelings to each color.  Of course, we expected the feelings she chose to be her usual generic ones mentioned above.  Then we took turns picking up a piece of candy (with our eyes closed to prevent avoidance of certain colors) and told about a time when we felt that emotion.  From a therapist perspective, it is usually ethical to avoid too much disclosure, but when working with teenagers, it helps model the normalcy of experience as well as establish a safe relationship.  I would definitely encourage parents to tell their story, yet try to not date themselves.  Choose stories that they can relate to.

To take it to another level, I asked the teenager to try using three extra “feeling words” to describe her feelings during the story.  “Upset” can be broken down to embarrassed, overwhelmed, and discouraged.  Then, once they are finished with the story, I asked, using those words, how would she communicate her feelings to [that] person.

So, for example… I’m completely making this up…

“Mom, when you yell at me, it makes me feel overwhelmed, scared, and discouraged.”  Which is MUCH better than “My mom makes me upset.”

Of course the next level, which I would recommend you try later once your teenager feels confident in identifying their feelings better, is trying to think out how they would ask their Mom to try something different.  This not only takes great courage, but a humble parent who is willing to see their own opportunities for change.  Many of the serious issues I see with teenagers are not just a problem with the child.  Rarely is it only them, it is usually a family dynamic problem.  I am often forced to carefully address the parents and talk about what changes they need to make in order to see their teenager’s behavior change.

I hope to write much more on this in future blogs, but for now let me encourage you with this.  Your teenager still has a child brain that cannot think through the future.  They cannot see or think out consequences or often solutions for what they feel.  That is hard to keep in mind when they look on the outside like an adult.  The best advice I can give is this…

Your teenager wants you to treat them like an adult for the things they know how to do and have proven/earned it.  They desperately need your help in teaching them on the things they do not know how to do and enjoy being taught when done in fun ways that involve quality time with you.  Deep down inside, they need to be loved like a child, especially in private.  This doesn’t necessarily mean physical affection- but more tending to their heart by acceptance, affirmation, loving them through their mistakes, and caring about what they care about.  Don’t let the “front” on the outside, convince you otherwise.  They just don’t know how to ask for it without negating that they also want to have some adult responsibility.  As confused as you may feel, so are they- so just love them anyways!

Here is another resource that I found that I hope to use in a future session.  This would be great for group settings if you are involved in a youth group.  Speaking of that- I will try to write a future blog on the Power of Peers, too!

As always, comments are great! 

I have been thinking about this topic for a while.  My counseling practice tends to run in themes.  Sometimes a majority of my clients are dealing with loss, sometimes domestic violence, and lately parents struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  It hasn’t helped that our first deployment was in the media recently for some additional awards going to some of our soldiers.  As awesome as it is, and I am so proud of our soldiers and families, it has “uncorked” some feelings across the board.  Traumatic events in our lives never fully go away.  We hopefully learn to deal with the emerging emotions and physical reactions to it better, but life has a way of “uncorking” it at unsuspecting times.

PTSD involves a variety of symptoms that occur in a person’s life when they are exposed one or multiple times to a traumatic event.  Symptoms can range from irritability to rage, anxiety to avoidance/phobias, and trust issues with others, among other symptoms.

For more on what PTSD is and symptoms associated with it, click here.  I’ve covered in a previous post some ideas on how to work with children who have been through significant trauma.  But how do you work with children when they are trying connect with a parent who is struggling?  Parents who are struggling with PTSD from an event or multiple traumas can often struggle with anger, tend to withdraw, and react in ways that make a child feel unsafe.

Most often, this is a time for family therapy- an opportunity to work with the family system, the marriage, the relationships between parent-child, etc.  Working around a military culture, I have a lot of mothers who bring their children for play therapy to sort out the experiences the children have had with a father who have PTSD from combat.  So, in this post, I am going to use “him” for the struggling parent- not to say that a mother couldn’t be the one struggling.

Because there are so many unique family dynamics, it’s hard to be too specific on how to work through play.  But, I think we can all relate to a degree.  Family and relationships are messy.  We all want to have a great connection with our kids, but because we are ALL flawed- we will have experiences with them where our connection will be damaged.  The important thing to remember is that we are not responsible for our spouse’s connection with our children.  They are.  That is super hard to believe.  We somehow take on their decisions as a reflection of us because we love them and have a marriage with them- but you simply cannot take ownership for all of their decisions.  If a spouse does something to hurt their relationship with their child- there is nothing you can say to your child to heal that connection.  Comfort and be present with them? Yes, but true healing happens between those two.  Explaining to a child the basics of what the other parent is struggling with helps, but making excuses, or taking them the park extra doesn’t heal it all.  That bond will not fully heal until the two of them do it themselves.  Military wives understand this to the extreme when they attempt to be both parents while the soldier is away.  She will soon find out in the midst of exhaustion, that there is simply no replacement- you do your best to be your best.  Have patience and trust timing ans wisdom.  It may not happen in the time you want it, but can eventually happen in a moment, over time, or as it is periodically revisited.

That may sound discouraging for you, but when you think about it- it is quite freeing.  When you think about your childhood- don’t you think about how you would have loved for your Dad to swing you off your feet, or taking you for that fishing trip, or your mom to hold you during that difficult time?  Do you remember anyone else standing in that gap that healed that wound?  No.  Community helps, other mother-figures or father-figures impacted your life and helped you develop into a fine person, but when it comes down to it- our parents were flawed because we ALL are flawed.  All of our children, including mine, will benefit seeing a therapist someday because there is something about realizing we are all flawed that is disappointing, gives us permission to forgive ourselves for not being perfect, and then goes on to heal our relationship with God and humanity.  God is the only one that is perfect, the rest of us have to figure out how to reconcile with the rest of the world.

So, the first thing is that if your spouse (who is struggling with trauma) is doing ANYTHING unsafe- you must follow your responsibility to children who count on you to protect and teach them boundaries in life by making sure they have a safe environment to live in- so that the parent dealing with trauma doesn’t create a  new trauma for the child.  God made you- just they way He wanted to- amazing and wonderful.  He made your children that amazing too (why do we see our children made more wonderfully than us?).  He would want you to protect yourself and your children. Period.  You have permission- from God- to protect yourself and your children from abuse and dangerous behavior.

Now that I said that, there are behaviors (like responding in isolation, drinking heavily, rage) a struggling spouse may do that make home environment difficult to live in.  Without going into all the family dynamics and adult dynamics, I will give you things to try with your child to help identify what they might be feeling and then teach them how to communicate it.

With PTSD, there are “triggers”-a normal daily task or experience that brings back up memories and sensations of the trauma.  Because all of the sensory areas of the brain light up during trauma for the sake of survival, memories are captured in those senses.  This is why when the memory comes up, the person feels, hears, sees, smells the memory like it is happening in the present.  Because of this, their body escalates with adrenaline (survival again) and then they react.  As a family, it is important to be compassionate and understanding.  However, when it begins to feel like walking on eggshells, or keeping a bomb form exploding- you are talking about the family suffering too.

Teaching the kids to be respectful and mindful is always great, but children of parents who struggle with PTSD will sometimes take on adult responsibilities by taking care of the parent.  I once had a child who knew to bring his mother water when she would have panic attacks.  Although I see nothing wrong with this kind of compassion, if he began to take on extra adult responsibilities around the house, or tasks the mother should be able to do for herself it can become unhealthy.  One of the things he was struggling with was developing his own anxiety while at school.  Who would take her water if she had a panic attack?  It was then that mom began to see that she needed to both get treatment as well as assure him more that he was being helpful, but that she would learn to cope when he wasn’t there.

Telling details of the trauma to the child can vicariously traumatize the child.  If your spouse wants some time to share the memory, respectfully asking for a time out long enough to find an activity for the child to do is being respectful of both.

I would encourage the children to draw or paint pictures on separate occasions of the family, them with the struggling parent,  as well as how they see the parent.  Talk with them, don’t ask leading question (i.e. That makes you sad, doesn’t it?).  Instead, ask them to describe their picture.  Ask them to tell you about their favorite things about you and your spouse.  If they talk about any feelings they have that would show concern for their connection being broken with the other parent, ask them if they ever feel like they could talk to him about that.  Have a conversation where you don’t do the work that dad needs to do, but that you just listen.  Children often just need to feel heard and understood.  Ask them what they would like to see different between them and their Dad or in the home.

One of the signs of maturity as an adult is the ability to confidently communicate how we feel, especially in a relationship.  In marriage and in work, we need the ability to sometimes ask for change and express concerns.  As parents, we are teaching our children how to eventually do that.  For some reason, we feel the need to protect them from having hard conversations.  Do you ever ask your children what you could do to be a better Mommy?  Try it sometimes, their answers are priceless and often not what you would expect.  Creating these times for open dialogue can make it easier for kids to talk as they get older, and develop confidence to ask for something to change, to express hurt, or have the tough conversations that sometimes don’t happen in life.

If you feel your spouse is open to it, encourage your child over time to “show his pictures to Daddy and talk about them” during an open and safe moment when the spouse has been prepared for it (it is never a good idea to ambush or surprise your spouse).  Of course, I am not advocating your using this in a manipulative way, but encouraging your child to own their relationship with their parent.  It may not always go smoothly, but communication never promises that either.  If they feel uncomfortable, you could offer to be there with them.  Now that might scare some of you, fearing it would create conflict.  As difficult as this is to sit through, it is the weight of seeing our consequences that often causes us to try something different.  If they responded to you question about being a better Mommy, with “I wish you would put your phone down” that would feel awful, wouldn’t it?  But would you feel that the next time you picked up your phone around them?

If you feel that your child talking to him could cause intense destruction, then using counseling as a neutral territory could be beneficial to everyone. Until then, using play therapy as an outlet for your child to express his anxiety and other feelings could be helpful.

The important thing is that the children have an opportunity to process feelings in a safe place, teaching them to somehow communicate it to others, and for the right people to feel the weight of their own relationships with each other.  It is in that space that people begin to make the choice to build (sometimes by getting help) or continue to destroy those around them.

By the way, if your spouse is doing something right… encourage them today by telling them so!  We all need to hear it.  Even if a spouse is struggling- let them know what they are doing well and what you think is going right so they know to keep trying.  Fighting for your marriage and family takes initiative on both parts, patience, community, help, and the right tools to bring purpose out of any situation.  I would love to hear what you have learned!!

Why Are You So Scared?: A Child’s Book About Parents With PTSD By Beth Andrews, LCSW

When a Child’s Parent has PTSD

Secondary PTSD in Children

Understanding PTSD in Children and Teens

New Changes in DSM related to PTSD

 

I have been thinking a lot about loss this week.  Not only are some of your families dealing with loss in various ways, Fort Stewart lost more soldiers this week in Afghanistan.  I used to refer grief issues to other therapists.  At the time, I had not lost anyone close to me, I didn’t feel like I could relate enough to someone coming to me for help.  But after walking through the swamp of sadness (Neverending Story) with others enough times, you begin to realize that grief is something we all can relate to. All of us have lost something- a loved one, a pet, a dream, a relationship.  The feelings that come with that loss are mostly the same, just heavier the closer the person was to you.  If you are not careful, the overwhelming feelings of grief can cause you to fear death- or rather feeling overwhelmed at the thought of the emotions that follow.  I know I was tempted to be afraid and know others who struggle with anxiety that keeps them from living fully in the moment.  I am going to share a technique with you, but I think it is more important to share thoughts and words.  It is often the conversations with our children that are the most healing.

Helping children cope with loss is a family issue, not just one with the child.  Ultimately, it brings up what you as a family believe about loss, death, and what happens after death.  It is full of teachable moments with your children where they are needing to be taught the answers to those questions.  If you don’t know the answers yourself, you will find yourself struggling and unable to walk into that swamp with them.  There is no escaping suffering in this life, and grief eventually will become a friend of ours.  That doesn’t have to seem depressing- in fact- I think it is in the pocket of grief that we are truly alive.  The overwhelming feeling of grief is evidence that we loved someone, something, or had hope in something.  What a wonderful thing to say!  That overwhelming feeling of heartbreak is not something to fear, it is something to fully embrace and experience- it is what connects us that point forward with the person we lost.

I tell families all the time that if you don’t allow yourself to feel, those feelings don’t go away.  You push them down and pack them in.  Like a Coke bottle, they will eventually leak out or explode when life shakes you up (sometimes on a daily basis).  Letting it out in healthy ways releases the pressure and gives you a better perspective on everything.  So, when working with the child, encouraging them to fully cry when their emotions are pricked will let out some of the pressure.   I don’t know about your kids, but Aidan seems to only feel his emotions when he is triggered by something- it is then that everything else that he has been feeling comes out with it.  One good cry and he feels better.  Jack on the other hand, will handle disappointment by thinking up everything else under the sun to also be upset at and snowballs.  I remember his feelings getting hurt by someone and him crying about how he never got a yellow umbrella- A yellow umbrella? He never asked for a yellow umbrella!  The point is, sometimes our children will have their emotions pricked by hurt feelings at school or disappointment and everything else will come out.  Instead of pointing out their irrational thoughts, consider letting them release the pressure and talk about it with them afterwards.  We adults do the same thing, bickering with our spouses, gossiping about others, and snapping at our children- all because there is something else going on inside.

I would definitely recommend some of the previous play therapy techniques in the previous days to sort out the feelings the child is having.  I love to have children draw where their loved one is and talk about what it is like there.  Often times, you will hear children want to go there and be with them.  This doesn’t have to be alarming- it is their concrete way of processing their loved one being in a different place.  When Daddy is on a business trip (and is not physically in front of them), it makes sense to fly on a plane to see him- why not take a plane to Heaven?

When my Granddad passed away, it was hard on all of us.  I knew this was going to be my first experience of intense loss and had feared it for a long time.  Matt has been amazing in walking me through it all and I have learned so much from him.  After losing several friends in Afghanistan, he had already walked hand in hand with death.  When it came time, I can look back and say I worked hard to take his advice as well as my own.  I fully embraced those moments of initial loss.  I didn’t try to be strong for anyone (unless I felt capable and wasn’t pushing things down) and made sure I let my children see me cry, saving the worse for private moments.  I can honestly say that I can look back on that time as a sweet time between me and my Granddad.

When a loss doesn’t happen naturally, but suddenly and with unanswered questions, the grief that follows is often called complicated grief.  The normal grief process is dragged out, can effect the community of support, and leave a person with far more questions that answers.  Reflecting on the connection with the one we lost can help ease the pain when it is triggered again and again.  I encourage parents to help the child make a book of positive memories through art, photos, and stories that will help bring back memories that will fade over time.  It can be kept in a safe spot and taken out periodically when needed and given as a gift when the child is old enough to care for it.

After encouraging your child to feel his or her feelings, it is important to communicate what you believe and want your children to understand about death.  Talking to them and finding out what they have heard from other adults is important, as they may have heard conflicting things from others. Sometimes children will explain death to me and use adult language they overheard, all the while not understanding any of it.  Here are some questions to think about when talking to your child.  By the way, we adults struggle with these too, so getting help to resolve these within your own life may be simultaneously important:

  • How can this person be both in Heaven and in the ground at the same time?
  • Someone said God wanted her with Him, why would God take her?
  • Will it happen to me?
  • Will it happen to my parents?
  • Can I pray to him or her?
  • If Heaven is such a happy place, I want to be there too.

You may see your child regress and have some separation anxiety- this is normal.  Giving your child a sentimental object to hold on to is completely okay.  The thing your want to look out for is whether it is interfering with their functioning after the initial stage of grieving.  Can they go places without it where it wouldn’t be appropriate?  Helping them wean when they are ready will be a healthy part of the grief process as they begin to transition from the object as connect with their loved one and instead through memories.  This is similar to a security blanket and can relieve anxiety if grief is coming out as fear.  Think about weaning your child from a pacifier- it will be a similar experience of patience and understanding.

One of the best things Matt prepared me for was how much easier it would be to connect with my Granddad after he was gone.  I didn’t get it until after, but there is something comforting about connecting with him whenever I think of him now, and not having to try to call him on the phone- and that is something special.  Some people feel better “talking” to the person they lost- not necessarily because they feel they can actually hear them, but because their spirit is not contained in the body anymore.  Sometimes not having all the answers to the afterlife gives us the freedom to do what we need to do to grieve.

One of my favorite techniques is using balloons.  I remember doing this technique with adults as well and it seems to work no matter what the age.

It’s very easy.  The child can write a letter or draw a picture to give to their loved one.  Take it to your local grocery store and ask them to stuff it inside a helium balloon.  Let the child release it!  As easy as it is, there is something wonderful about releasing those words and feelings into the sky.  Parents sometimes look at me like “Is this really going to help?” and then come back in tears saying it was powerful for the whole family.  Even when you are old enough to know that your letter isn’t actually going to “get there”, it still feels somehow like it does.  Let the younger children believe it- there is something powerful in the imagination!

You can also do variations of this technique more frequently if you’d like:

  • Writing letters and burning them
  • Writing a message on the loved one’s social media page
  • Sitting with others who are grieving the same loss and sharing stories

Don’t forget anniversary dates.  There is an internal clock in our bodies that we are not conscious of.  Have you ever had a rough day and then looked at the calendar to find out it was an anniversary of a loss or tragic moment in your life?  Mark your calendars so they don’t surprise you or your children.  Plan both meaningful events and unrelated events that get you out of the house and with other people that day.  Step in, feel the connection, and then give yourself opportunities to step out of it.

Here are a few resources that I like:

For an incredible list of statistics on children and grief:

National Poll of Bereaved Children

A Developmental Chart on Children and Grief

More on Childhood Grief

A Community of Grief (Groups)

A List of Do’s and Don’ts When Talking to Children About Grief

Brene Brown gave an EXCELLENT Tedtalk on anxiety that keeps us from experiencing joy:

 

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This is the half way mark!  It’s hard to believe, it has been such a wonderful journey- and easier than I thought.  In fact, the hardest part is finding the time to blog about it and design the page.  In other words, if you haven’t tried some of these ideas, they only take between 5-15 minutes.  Of course you can go on longer, but sometimes that’s all the child can handle with their attention span.

After taking a Sabbath break over the weekend, we decided to jump back in.  I asked some of you what issues you would like to see and wanted to respond to those.  Keep your thoughts and ideas coming so I don’t just use our own experiences that may not relate to what you are going through.  I am looking towards focusing on loss, attention, anxiety, and past bad experiences (trauma) in the coming days.  Obviously one play therapy experience isn’t going to change the issue dramatically, but when you do several over time, spending quality time with your children- you can see the difference.  In fact, unless I am dealing with a traumatic issue that happened with the family, most children in the end are just needing their parents to slow down and spend time with them- that is where all healing happens.

When you think about it, kids are just little people and adolescents are just bigger little people.  Many of the things that help adults are skills that can help children, its just that we as parents are supposed to teach it to them.  Expecting them to handle hurt and anxiety like an adult is unfair.  I guess that brings up the point that we as parents better have some coping skills ourselves in order to teach them!

Children can experience anxiety surrounding lots of things.  Meeting friends, starting the school year, upcoming changes, fear surrounding a parent’s anger or loss, trying something new, etc.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell when they are feeling anxiety because it may not look like the way adults show it- or does it?  When a child is struggling you normally see them regress back into a previous developmental stage (potty trained children begin to wet the bed again, fighting with their siblings more than usual, nightmares, baby talk, clingy behaviors, etc).  One of the greatest things you can teach your children is how to get the nervous energy out of their body and relax.  Relaxation therapy sounds silly and can feel awkward to do, but it is easier than you think and kids really enjoy it.  Visualizing emotions and knowing what to do with them also teaching self-control and what we in the psycho-babble world like to call self-regulation.  In layman’s terms it just means we all have a certain amount of responsibility for the emotions we feel and controlling them in healthy ways.

Adults who do not have good self-regulation tear up their relationships with rage filled anger, manipulation, and passive aggressive attempts at controlling others around them- all while blaming the other person for the feelings they have.

We are not superheroes (even though I regularly become Wonder Woman in this house and wish I was).  We need others, need community, need support.  We are built that way.  There comes a point where we all need others to get through something that is beyond our own ability to cope.  However,  we owe it to our amazing, supportive community (and protect them) when we do our best to regulate (manage) our feelings first before asking them for help.  Teaching your child how to calm him or herself is a powerful step towards self-regulation and healthy boundary setting in their relationships.

Today, I wanted to guide my boys through relaxation therapy before bed.  It’s not hard and you can’t really mess it up.  In fact, we had a good time giggling through some of it!  Here are the basics:

1.  Help them visualize a place where they are completely happy (My boys were thinking of Disney World and Legoland).  Ask them to close their eyes and think about the colors they see, the warm sunshine on their skin, whether or not people are around them, the smile on their face- then we are going to come back to that thought. 

2. Breathe three times through your nose and out through your mouth, each with a count of three.  This will be practice for later.

3.  Keeping your eyes closed (this is where the giggling begins), starting with your toes by curling them and tightening your foot as hard as you can as you count to 5, then relax using the breathing we learned.  Move up to the legs- since kids are still learning to feel and control certain muscles I did the whole leg, where as adults you move muscle to muscle (calves first, then to quads).  I found it was easier for them to cross their legs and squeeze their legs together as tight as possible.  Move to the buttocks (this is where we really started giggling), to the tummy, and then to the arms.  For arms, I asked them to cross them over their chest and give themselves the biggest hug they could, then flex their muscles, and then to their hands- of course don’t forget we are relaxing and breathing out before each one.
When we got to the hands, I asked them to picture any bad feelings, worries, fears, or yucky feelings from the day (give them a moment to think about it) and picture putting all those feelings into a red ball in their hands.  Then I had them squeeze their hands together (or as fists) like they are squishing that red ball as hard as they can.  Then when they relax, the red ball is gone.

4.  Finally, it’s time to think about our happy memory again!  Remind them of what they saw there, how they felt, the warm sunshine, the smile on their face again- and Ta-da!!!! It’s bedtime…  I didn’t hear from them again.

At the very least, this is a great technique to introduce to them as school is starting.  If you practice it ahead of time, try using the hand clenching and breathing throughout the day- this is definitely something they can do in the classroom.  When you see your child panicking, having a tantrum, and beginning to get worked up, you can remind them of the breathing.  By the way… it wouldn’t hurt for us adults to try this as well…

What is your happiest memory???

 

I know I’m not the only one who has a child that struggles with attention.  As we approach the first week of school in two weeks, I know what’s coming.  The first month, the new teacher will talk to me about how Aidan gets easily distracted by everything else in the room.  He is definitely not hyperactive, but will “Space out” and start thinking of who knows what rather than the boring lecture in front of him.  I will talk with the teacher about this, again.  Thankfully, he will have the same gifted teacher for the third year in a row who will tell me that he is struggling to stay on task, but it’s just the first month.  For the last several years, this is the pattern.  He struggles through out the first semester and somehow starts to gain self-control by the end of the year and then summer starts.  I am definitely one of those parents who would love year round school, just to end this cycle.

Matt and I re-evaluated our game plan this past week.  We are cutting way back on any video games to almost none at all.  I know this is a debate that is wide spread for parenting right now and so this post is not about that.  For Aidan, that “world” easily gets stuck in his head and we have a hard time pulling him out.  We are outside more than ever and engaging in every bit of peer social interaction as possible and looking into martial arts for the fall.  So, in thinking about play therapy techniques that are more teaching oriented rather than interpretive- I took to researching building attention span.

One that I found, I was a little hesitant to try.  Honestly, it sounded somewhat torturous.  Yet, the more I thought about it, the more I realizes anytime you want to build a skill (and self-control is definitely one) you have to practice and put forth the effort- hopefully with a reward!  So the game I found involves the child building something while avoiding distractions.  Here’s how we did it:

Materials:

LEGOs– honestly, the materials aren’t as important.  Anything the child enjoys doing will work.  LEGOs worked great for us because you can mindlessly stack them into a tower if needed.

Stopwatch: In a full 50 minute session, they recommended 10 minute increments.  This felt like a lot to me for the first time. I chose to do 5 minutes to see how they felt with the intention of working up to 10 minutes.

Reward:  I used tickets.  You can get carnival tickets at Walmart that will last you into eternity.  I use these as reward for various types of behavior modification.  Don’t forget to think of something to use as an ultimate reward!

Here’s how you play:  Aidan and Jack were asked to build something with their LEGOs (it doesn’t matter what they were building).  In fact the first level (and what I encouraged Jack to do) was to simply stack pieces together.  It was too hard for him to think about what he was building under pressure.  The most advanced level would be reading and following directions (HELLO HOMEWORK?).  While they were concentrating on building, I get to try to distract and break their concentration.  IF they can get to the end of the time limit without me breaking their concentration, they get a ticket.  Then, based on their ability (and I would say stress level with the pressure) decide how many tickets they need to accumulate to get the ultimate prize.

I thought today was the perfect day to try this.  I had the amazing opportunity to go out with a friend today while her husband graciously offered to watch the boys (Matt was out of town).  They of course got to play video games during the day while at their house, so I knew we would have some attitudes tonight.  In fact, my discernment was giving me that we were ALL a little off.  Patience was running really thin for everyone.  I decided to be honest with them and point it out.  I told them that I really wasn’t sure what we all needed- space or quality time.  This was not the time to test them under 10 minutes of timed pressure and over frustrate them.  So… we did a one time 5 minute test run on this game and then talked about it after.

Aidan loved it.  I tried lots of things to distract them.  I asked questions, I tried to show them things, I even tried to help them!  But I pulled out the “Ace Card” at the end.  I pulled out Angry Birds.  Aidan about shoved his whole head into the LEGO pile attempting to avoid looking, and Jack… well he just ran into the closet with his hands over his ears!!!  All in all it was pretty funny.

We went downstairs for our bedtime snack (our reward) and I could tell we all needed a little bit of “centering” from the day.  I pulled out the boys’ devotional book and found one titled “Difficult Days”.  We all laughed as if to say, “We better read this one TODAY!”  During prayer, the Lord reminded me of something pretty powerful.

The most important thing we could ever focus on is Him. Nothing in this world will provide the peace and guidance that He can.  Nothing compares to the assurance He provides when we still our hearts and focus on Him. 

There are so many things that try to distract us from that truth.

There is a distraction every second it seems.  The guilt I am tempted to feel as a mom for wanting ANYTHING for myself, a bad attitude after something doesn’t go my way, loneliness when you are missing community, frustration at the lack of quiet around the house, or emptiness in your heart when it feels you aren’t moving towards purpose.  I do a great job of distracting myself from the truth that God is present and should be the center of my attention.  The enemy sometimes doesn’t have to work that hard to get me to look away from that.  When I stay focused on Him, or what He has given me to hold on to, everything else falls in line… EVERYTHING.

So the boys and I walked away with more than a LEGO tower.  They walked away seeing Mommy as human- even she gets distracted.  They heard God’s words that reminded them that God can help us when we are struggling and we can go to Him when we have a bad day.  And I walked away humbled.  Realizing that Aidan and I aren’t so different, and that I am also needing some help on my own attention span.

Here are a couple of resources on building attention spans.  I will likely do more of this soon, so I won’t give too many right now.  Aidan has not been diagnosed with anything because his attention is not interfering with his ability to function at home or school.  All children need to learn self-control, especially of their mind- so regardless of how severe your child struggles with attention- I think it’s a great thing to work on!

What is ADHD and how can Therapy Help?

The Daily Report Card

Using a Reward System

There are so many of you out there that are doing these things on a daily basis!  Share some of your successes and resources with us!!