Category Archive Blog

ByStacy Garcia, MA, LPC, NCC

55 Art Journal Prompts for Teens

In counseling children and teenagers, I must tell you that I’ve seen some incredible talent. Some kids are talented musically, some are talented in sports, some are great writers, others are great artists, and some can tell you every country’s capital as though it were as easy as making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. In every kid I’ve ever worked with, I’ve found an amazing amount of creativity flourishing inside them.

creativity (noun) – the use of the imagination or original ideas

Everyone is creative in their own way. Don’t believe me? Those kids who can rattle off facts like it’s nothing to them? They had to use some creativity in order to be able to memorize and remember those facts, such as using mnemonics or using music. You have to be creative in different ways if you play a sport, remembering all the moves and such.

I hear a lot of kids (and adults, especially) tell me that they’re not creative. They think that because someone told them back in second grade that their drawing wasn’t “good enough” that they themselves are not “good enough.” I say those people that told you that don’t know what creativity is. Everyone is creative!

 

There’s something cool about using art in therapy. Please note that while I know some various art therapy techniques, I am not a fully trained or certified art therapist. I do, however, use quite a bit of creative expressive techniques in my work as a therapist. One technique I use to help show people that they are creative and that creative expression is remarkably healing is assigning them to journal. Whether it’s through writing, music, art, or any other creative expressive technique, we can find healing in our lives.

Let me say that you don’t have to be an “artist” to do an art journal. There is no “wrong” way to do art; there is no “bad artist.” Art is an outlet for the thoughts from your soul to your hands and onto paper. For art journaling, you can draw, you can color, you can paint, you can collage… the possibilities are endless. I’ve included in this post some of my favorite art journaling prompts that I use especially with teens (and even adults!). Please note that just because the prompt might say “draw,” doesn’t mean you have to draw. If you’d rather collage or do some other form of creative expression (like knitting or writing or sculpting, etc.), you can still use these prompts! Don’t overthink them. Just let yourself be in the moment and do it. Draw in the dark if you think you’re “not a good artist!” Just let yourself be. Just try it.

55 Art Journal Prompts for Teens

  1. Draw a picture of yourself as something other than a person.
  2. Draw a picture of your family doing something.
  3. My perfect day looks like…
  4. Draw the monster you struggle with (i.e., anxiety as a monster, anger monster, depression monster).
  5. Make a picture of the person you let other people see and a picture of the person you really are.
  6. Draw a picture of how you think others see you.
  7. What makes me unique…
  8. I feel happiest when…
  9. I wish I could…
  10. Draw or paint your emotions.
  11. Create a picture using only colors that calm you.
  12. Create a collage related to a quote that inspires you.
  13. Create a picture of what freedom looks like to you.
  14. Document an experience where you did something you didn’t think you could do.
  15. Draw or collage someone you admire.
  16. Draw a place where you feel safe.
  17. Create a motivational collage.
  18. Create a timeline and journal the most significant moments in your life, with the most important moments highlighted visually.
  19. Create a picture of an important childhood memory. Try to understand why it was so important to you.
  20. Illustrate a fairy tale about yourself. If you could put yourself into a happily ever after situation, what role would you play? How would the story go? Create a visual story that tells the tale.
  21. Create your own coat of arms. Choose symbols that represent your strengths.
  22. Draw a comic strip about a funny moment in your life.
  23. Create a picture for someone else.
  24. Who are the anchors in your life? Make an anchor and decorate it with the people and things that provide you stability and strength.
  25. Make a mind map that is a visual representation of all your thoughts.
  26. Draw your dreams.
  27. What do you need right now at this time in your life? Draw a picture or make a collage depicting this.
  28. Draw or collage a picture showing what you are currently worried about.
  29. What smartphone app would you like to create or see created? Represent this visually.
  30. If magic was real, what spell would you try to learn first?
  31. What problem are you currently grappling with?
  32. Create a picture of what helps you feel better when you’re feeling down.
  33. What is something you really wish you could tell or explain to your family?
  34. What is something you really wish you could tell or explain to the teachers at your school?
  35. What is something you really wish you could tell the other kids at school?
  36. What do you wish would get better?
  37. Draw your superpower (or the superpower you would like to have).
  38. Create a vision board.
  39. What is your good luck charm?
  40. Draw a picture of something that is better broken than whole.
  41. What do you need help with right now?
  42. What question are you afraid to ask?
  43. What people or activities leave you feeling drained?
  44. Create a picture of how you would like your home to feel.
  45. Draw or collage 10 things that make you feel loved.
  46. Design your own logo.
  47. Create a picture depicting what keeps you up at night.
  48. If I really loved myself I would…
  49. I’m afraid people won’t like/love/accept/want me if they knew ____ about me.
  50. If you came across a genie in a bottle who could grant you three wishes of anything at all in the world that you want, except for more wishes, what would you wish for?
  51. Create a picture of what everything would look like if you woke up tomorrow and everything was better.
  52. I think I’m really good at…
  53. Draw a picture of where you would be if you could be anywhere right now.
  54. What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
  55. Draw a self-portrait WITHOUT drawing your face (make it symbolic).

There you go. Have fun! 

ByStacy Garcia, MA, LPC, NCC

The Worry Worm Game

Children with anxiety sometimes have a hard time opening up about what they’re worried or anxious about. Enter the worry worms. Worry worms are simply construction (or cardstock) paper worms that look like… well, little worms. I use them in play therapy, but you can easily make your own worms at home and play the worry worm game.

The Game

Worry worms are pretty easy to make. Simply draw or trace a worm onto brown construction paper (or cardstock paper works well too). Make several worms, and cut each of them out. Wa-la! Worry worms! I laminate my worms, simply because this allows me to keep them durable for multiple children to play with.

Next I hide these little guys (the worms) around the room for the child to find. For each worry worm the child finds, they are asked to tell one worried thought they have or have had.

Simple right?

It looks like a game of hide-and-seek to them, but let me tell you what really happens when you play the worry worm game:

  • The child is identifying their worried feelings. This is a huge thing. The mastery of this skill is a major foundation to helping children learn how to cope and regulate their emotions.
  • The child is able to begin tolerating the idea and practice of sharing uncomfortable thoughts out loud because they are motivated by the challenge, reward, and fun of finding the hidden worms.
  • The game itself offers a titrated set of exposures to anxiety producing content that is completed while remaining grounded in the safety of the worm prop.
Have fun playing the worry worm game! Do you have ideas or strategies that you use to help kids talk about their feelings? Please feel free to share in the comments. I’m always looking for new ideas to use in the playroom!

 

ByStacy Garcia, MA, LPC, NCC

78 Free and Low-Cost Reward Ideas for Kids!

Here are 78 of my favorite behavior rewards I’ve used with young children I work with, as well as with my own children. And the best part is that they are all low-cost or free!

  1. Take a walk or hike together
  2. Help a parent make dinner one night
  3. Decorate paper placemats for the kitchen table
  4. Assist mom or dad with a household chore
  5. Go swimming
  6. Have a special art session together
  7. Earn art stuff for creative fun
  8. Scavenger hunt
  9. Bake together
  10. A delicious milkshake
  11. A cup of hot cocoa
  12. Read a book together as a family
  13. Out for ice cream
  14. Get a new book
  15. Earn a printable certificate
  16. New toothbrush or toothpaste
  17. Package of stickers
  18. Choose a dessert to make for dinner one night
  19. 30 minutes of extra TV time
  20. Take a trip to the park
  21. Choose a favorite treat to eat
  22. Choose a game to play
  23. 30 minutes of one-on-one time with mom or dad (play a game, do a puzzle, draw, etc.)
  24. Choose what we will have for dinner one night this week
  25. Trip to the Dollar Tree to pick out a toy or something else of your choice
  26. Stay up 30 (or 15) minutes past your bedtime this weekend
  27. Play on the computer (or other electronic) for 30 (or 15) minutes
  28. Pick your favorite cereal on our next grocery trip
  29. Choose a movie to watch together
  30. No chores for a day
  31. Save the change (give your child your loose change every day for a week so they can save it for a rainy day)
  32. Camp out in the backyard with a parent
  33. Play on the playground
  34. Go with a parent to volunteer at a nursing home for an afternoon (or couple hours)
  35. Mystery grab bag
  36. A trip to the library to select a book
  37. Go fishing with a parent
  38. 30 minutes of special outdoor time with mom or dad
  39. Make a craft together
  40. Earn behavior bucks to save up for a special trip to the Dollar Store
  41. Jump on the bed for 5 minutes
  42. Plan one day’s activities
  43. Choose a special breakfast
  44. Sleep in a different place in the house for one night
  45. Make a fort together and play in it
  46. Go bowling
  47. Slumber party with mom or dad
  48. Play with bubbles
  49. Get out of school (or daycare) one hour (or 30 minutes) early for a special treat with mom or dad
  50. Captain for two hours (let your child be in charge for a set time; no bossiness allowed!)
  51. Help mom or dad clean _____
  52. Pick an activity for the family to do
  53. Make sidewalk chalk art
  54. Make slime together
  55. Make play dough together
  56. Buy new play dough
  57. Trip to the pet store to see the animals
  58. Put a model together with mom or dad (such as a model car)
  59. Feed the family pet
  60. Take pictures (then have mom or dad help you print them out)
  61. Color together
  62. Play a video game or computer game together
  63. Decorate your own room
  64. A special after-school snack
  65. Order a pizza
  66. Decorate a room for a holiday (it doesn’t necessarily have to be Christmastime)
  67. Go to a ballgame
  68. Go ice skating
  69. Go roller skating
  70. Chew bubble gum
  71. Set the table
  72. Go for a bike ride together
  73. Popcorn party
  74. Pajama day (wear pajamas all day)
  75. Outdoor water fun
  76. Have a water fight (with balloons or waterguns)
  77. Family kickball or baseball game (or other sport)
  78. Take a nap together
ByStacy Garcia, MA, LPC, NCC

Dinner Time Conversations with Kids

Dinner time conversations can be hard, especially when you have a child who doesn’t like to talk much when you ask things like, “How was school?” or “What did you do at school today?” This would be my child. The one who would rather eat brussel sprouts than to answer questions about his day at school. Now that my own child has been in school for several years, I’ve learned the trick to getting him to talk more about his day is to initiate a conversation about something else first – something they really don’t mind talking about. Even though my child doesn’t necessarily come right out and talk about his day after I do talk about something else, it does seem to increase the likelihood that at some point that day, I get some information about how his school day was.

Here are 39 of my favorite questions to ask my own children. Hope they help initiate more conversation in your home too!

Random Questions

  1. What is your favorite toy?
  2. Who is your favorite superhero?
  3. Who would you say is your best friend?
  4. Who do you not particularly like to play with?
  5. If you had to choose between reading, writing, or drawing, which would you choose, and why?
  6. Would you rather read a book or article from a tablet or from hard print (a hard copy of a book or newspaper)?
  7. Would you eat the gum from under a picnic table bench for $50.00? (Or How much money would it take for you to eat gum from under a picnic table bench?)
  8. What is your favorite thing to do at the park and/or on a playground?
  9. Would you rather go on a swing that does flips or a slide that never ends?
  10. If you could be granted three wishes and you could wish for anything that you want except for more wishes, what would you wish for?
  11. What is your idea of a “perfect day?”
  12. What is your most embarrassing moment?
  13. What is your favorite game/videogame? Why? (Bonus: Ask your child to show you how to play said game/videogame.)

Questions About School

  1. What is your favorite thing to eat for lunch at school?
  2. What is the worst lunch you’ve ever had at school?
  3. Who is your favorite teacher?
  4. What is your favorite subject?
  5. What is your least favorite subject?
  6. What do you think should happen to a kid that gets caught cheating in school?
  7. What is your favorite thing to do at recess, and why?
  8. What would you like to do or be when you get older? Why?
  9. What do you think is the most boring thing about school?
  10. What do you think is the best part about school?
  11. What is the worst part about school?
  12. What is the craziest or funniest thing your friend has ever done in school?
  13. What teacher seems to really “get you?” What teacher doesn’t?

Questions About the Home and/or Family

  1. What is the nicest thing your sibling has ever done for you?
  2. What is the nicest thing you have ever done for your sibling?
  3. What is the nicest thing your parents/caregivers have ever done for you, in your opinion?
  4. What is your favorite meal?
  5. What is your least favorite meal?
  6. What is your favorite thing to do at home?
  7. What is your favorite thing to do with your mom? Your dad?
  8. What is your favorite thing to do with your sibling?
  9. What do you think you most need from your parents?
  10. If you could go anywhere for a two-week vacation, where would you want to go? Why?
  11. What is the most embarrassing thing your parents have ever done in public in front of you?
  12. What is your least favorite chore and/or rule in this house?
  13. What is the most embarrassing thing your sibling has ever done in public with you there?
ByStacy Garcia, MA, LPC, NCC

How to Talk to Your Child About Death (with free printable)

The unfortunate truth is that if we live, we must also one day die. And death can be confusing, especially for children, who are constantly receiving confusing messages about the subject. Many parents have difficulty talking about death with children, particularly young children, and we frequently avoid the subject for as long as we can… usually until someone close to us or close to our child dies.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

My Own Experience

I remember years ago when an older sibling of a child around my son’s age suddenly and unexpectedly died. My son was six years old at the time, and it was his first experience with death. He of course had watched cartoons in which various characters would die, but they always came back to life, sometimes within minutes and in the same episode. He knew what death was in his young eyes: something that happened but then you get to come back to life and re-join all the loved ones and friends you knew when you were alive. Death was portrayed in his cartoons more as a time of sleep rather than something permanent and forever.
My son had played at his friend’s house plenty of times (nearly daily for at least over a year), and he knew his friend’s older sibling. They had even played together on occasion. My son was close to the whole family, so when his friend’s older sibling suddenly died, he was completely confused and I was dumbfounded as to how to explain his death. The older sibling was still school-age, which made it even more complicated – because “kids don’t die, right?”
For the first few days, grieving myself, I didn’t know what to say to my son, who had what seemed like a billion questions about death. “Why do people die?” “How did he die?” “What’s death like?” “Will he be back?” “Where did he go?” “Will I die?” “Kids don’t die, right?” “How come kids die?” “Does everyone die?” “I thought only bad kids die, don’t they?” He went on and on with the questions, and I tried to be as honest as possible, but I was truthfully at a loss. How do you talk to a six year old about something so hard?

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

What Do We Tell Our Children When Someone Dies?

That’s the question I kept asking myself. Since then, I’ve learned more and more about what to say and what to avoid saying. After taking an excellent online course, in addition to going to some face-to-face trainings, I finally learned how to really talk to kids about death. The online course “Using Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with Childhood Traumatic Grief” especially lays it out for us. The course is for clinicians, but it’s an excellent resource for anyone who works with kids or has children of their own. I highly recommend it.
Every course and training I’ve had on childhood grief tells us to begin by talking about the topic directly. This can be done in several different ways, such as by reading books with the child. Reading books about death and grief not only provides the child with information, it also speaks to our children in their own language. It lets the child know that it’s okay to talk about death and ask questions, and it also promotes more open discussion with family members. There are numerous appropriate books to choose from for all ages. Another strategy is to play grief-specific board games. While most of these are marketed toward clinicians to use in therapy with grieving children, parents can also purchase these games at specialty websites. You can google “grief games for children,” and you’ll find plenty of online stores to choose from.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Next, it’s important to focus on the child’s beliefs and own understanding about death. You can ask your child to draw or write what she thinks happens when someone dies; this is one good way to learn more about their personal thoughts and beliefs. This is also a point in which we as parents can correct inaccurate information or misconceptions.
Of course, we all have different beliefs about what happens after we die. It’s okay to incorporate these beliefs into your discussions with your child, just be careful about the way you word some of your information. More on that in a bit.
Finally, address your child’s feelings about the death. This provides your child the opportunity to identify his own grief response. It then gives you the opportunity to normalize your child’s feelings. Depending on your child’s developmental level and feelings vocabulary (e.g., the feelings they are able to identify), we can use tools like feelings faces charts (google this and I promise you’ll find a ton of them), journaling and writing, or simply drawing how they feel.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Consider Their Developmental Age

It’s no big secret that children’s knowledge about death and the way they respond to it vary by age and their developmental level. It’s important to keep this in mind when you’re listening to your child express their thoughts and feelings. Some thoughts that may sound unusual to us (as adults) are actually normal for a child at certain ages; there is generally no reason to be concerned about these kinds of thoughts. It’s a good idea to learn what responses are common at your child’s age.
Also, recognize that there is no grief “timeline.” There is no set order to what people feel; there is no “normal” amount of time to grieve. You might notice your child continuing to experience “pangs” of grief even after a period of time during which their grief has lessened. This is normal.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Make Sure Your Kids Feel a Sense of Safety

Depending on the circumstances of the death, help your child by reassuring them that you will do whatever is possible to keep them safe. Again, depending on the circumstances, children may benefit from learning how to stay safe themselves by developing a safety plan.

Common Terms to Use When Talking to Your Child About Death

Like I said earlier, kids receive a LOT of confusing messages about death. Most people typically don’t even like to use the words “death,” “dying,” or “dead;” instead we use words to disguise death. While these terms (such as “passed away”) are intended to protect our kids from the reality of death, they can contribute to children’s confusion. Younger kid in particular aren’t yet able to understand that when people die, it’s forever, that they can’t come back to life, and that everyone will eventually die someday.
The most important thing you can do for your child during difficult times like grieving is to be honest and direct. Use language that is accurate and of course, appropriate to the child’s age.
You can start by talking to your child about the actual physical process of death. The child needs to hear that the person who died is no longer physically present and that they can’t come back. What you say about the cause of death will vary according to the circumstances of the death, of course, but saying the words “death” or “died” is best. Religious explanations can be incorporated into any discussion that includes these main concepts. Again, books are an excellent way to help you and your child use the correct language.
Some examples of common phrases you might want to consider:
  • “Now that your grandpa died, he can’t breathe or eat anymore. We can’t see him, but we can remember him.”
  • “People die when they are very sick and there isn’t any more medicine to help them.”
  • “Daddy died and he is in heaven.”
It’s important to clarify, however, that people who are alive can’t get to heaven and that those who are dead can’t come back. You may need to balance the explanation based on your family’s beliefs with an understanding that there is a chance of possible misunderstood meanings when you talk to your kids. For example, if you say “Daddy is an angel now, and he’s watching over us from heaven,” you may need to elaborate more, as children may get the feeling that Daddy is still alive, that heaven is a place they can visit, and that he sees everything they do.

What to Avoid Saying to Your Child When Talking About Death

Slang and euphemisms should be avoided, as they can be confusing to young children. Be aware that kids may attach concrete or inaccurate meaning to different words and phrases. For instance, saying, “We lost Grandpa” can be upsetting, as it can imply that Grandpa was misplaced or that he could still be “found.” Telling a child that “Mommy is sleeping now” can also be quite confusing, as it can imply that Mommy can wake up; it could also potentially leave your child with a worry or fear about falling asleep himself.
Some common phrases to avoid:
  • “He went to sleep.”
  • “We lost your sister.”
  • “She went on a trip.”
  • “He croaked.”
  • “She kicked the bucket.”
  • “He went to the big ranch in the sky.”
As you can probably see, these phrases can only further confuse your child about a topic that he is not so sure about in the first place.

Free Printable Summary of This Article

Click on the link below to receive a free printable summary of this article, with suggestions of what to say and what to avoid saying to your grieving child.
Information for this article can be largely contributed to the online course “Using TF-CBT with Childhood Traumatic Grief” found at CTG Web (http://ctg.musc.edu/) and various other trainings offered to counselors and social workers.
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