Losing a parent or caregiver is difficult for any child, whether the loss is through death, separation, or removal from their home. Working with these children, they are often found to be struggling with grief and adjustment issues that might show up as a significant change in mood or acting out behaviors. Working with children who have been temporarily separated or sometimes permanently removed from their home can sometimes prove particularly difficult when trying to find creative ways to help them work their way through the loss of their parent or caregiver who has been a significant part of their lives for some time, often since birth.
Losing someone is never easy. While I certainly am not wanting to downplay the loss any child feels when a parent or caregiver dies, children who are separated from their homes, whether temporarily or permanently, face a unique challenge in itself. The child knows their parent didn’t die, so why can’t they still be with them? In cases where there has been neglect or abuse, a child may especially have difficulty understanding an array of confusing feelings… “I love my mom, but I didn’t like how she hurt me. But I feel guilty for not being with her but it’s kind of nice that I don’t have to worry so much or be so scared.”
In some cases, children aren’t even particularly sure why they’ve been separated from their parents or caregivers at all. They may not be given much information or they may not even realize that their parent’s neglect or other inappropriate behavior was ever wrong in the first place. From these kids’ perspectives, they have a really hard time understanding why or even how their lives seemed to suddenly be turned upside down. And sometimes, depending on the age of the child, it isn’t appropriate to offer a lot of details; regardless, it still doesn’t make up for the intense hurt and pain they feel from being separated from the only home they ever knew.
Child-centered play therapy, I’ve found, is especially helpful for these children when they are particularly young, but I’ve found that a more directive approach is often needed for middle and older elementary children and pre-teens. Seeking out ideas for techniques to work with these children has continued to result in dead ends. With the exception of a few specific techniques out there on the internet and in books for children who have lost their parent or caregiver not by death but by separation, therapists frequently need to adapt general grief activities for these vulnerable children. While this is certainly not a major problem, I began creating some of my own games, art, and other play activities myself.
To create your own game, simply click below and print the Separation & Loss question strips. After you print the questions, I recommend laminating the page for durability. Then simply cut out your questions, and glue each individual question onto a Jenga block. The blocks that are left over can be used as “free pass” blocks, blocks that allow the player a turn without answering a question or they can be rapport (relationship) building blocks.
I find “free pass” blocks to be helpful over utilizing each and every block for a question, as it seems to make kids more comfortable and feel less overwhelmed. Rapport, or relationship, building blocks are ones in which you can use questions such as those found below, to lighten the mood and discuss something a little more fun and less heavy. The topic of losing or being separated from someone you love can be pretty sensitive, let’s cut the child a break! I personally use some of the rapport (relationship) building questions AND a few “free pass” blocks.”
In regards to the rapport building questions I have included in this post, you obviously wouldn’t use all of the strips for this particular game or you wouldn’t have many blocks left for the separation and loss questions. You can pick and choose which of both sets of questions you would like to use. Or you might also decide to glue two questions onto each Jenga block, with one side having a separation and loss question and the other side including a rapport building question. This is what I choose to do. This way, if a child does feel particularly uncomfortable about answering a separation and loss question, there’s a “back up” question they can choose to answer instead.
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.
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.
There you go. Have fun!
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.
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.
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:
Take a minute and think about your child. Picture that excitement in their face right after they learn that their team won that first t-ball game. Can you see that surprised look on their face on Christmas morning when they get that much longed-for gift? Look at their face. Aren’t they the sweetest things ever? Their big round eyes, those long, beautiful eyelashes, that precious little nose, and those sweet lips that kiss your cheek every night before they fall fast asleep in their bed. Look at them. See how sweet they look while they’re fast asleep? And when they wake up so pleasant and well rested every morning and smile at you as they brush their teeth and get ready for school (without even having to be asked!), can you see them?
One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to “be a better parent.” Okay, so it’s one of my resolutions every year. Every. Single. Year. Yes, I strive for this every year because the truth is that I’m by far not a perfect parent. I sometimes lose my patience. Sometimes I get frustrated and raise my voice. Okay, honestly, sometimes I even yell. Yes, I know, this is what every single parenting book I’ve ever read says not to do. But I’m human. I have emotions. And some days are hard. Really hard. My mind is on something else, I’m overwhelmed, I’m stressed, I’m tired, I’m in a hurry. And on top of everything else we grown-ups have to do, we’re expected to be “perfect parents.” Our society tells us that anyway. But the truth is, there are no “perfect parents,” just parents who are, darn it, doing the best we can.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t strive to do “better” in my role as a parent. Even those that we perceive as excellent parents still aren’t sure they’re doing it right. We’re all just doing the best that we can, and honestly, that on top of loving and caring for your kids, is what I consider to be good parenting. We don’t have to be perfect for us to be good parents, so let’s first preface this article with a resolution to stop being so hard on ourselves!
Even though I know with one hundred percent certainty that I will never be a “perfect parent,” I still strive every day, moment by moment, to do the best I can. So I came up with eight parenting resolutions for us parents who made this one of our goals this year.
In all likelihood, you’ve probably already figured out in your years as a parent that kids seem to speak a language of their own. The way kids “speak” is most often portrayed in play and behaviors. With children and adults alike, all behavior is purposeful. This is actually one of the major premises of Dr. William Glasser’s Choice Theory. Dr. Glasser, who is also the founder of Reality Therapy, notes that almost all behavior is chosen and that we’re driven to satisfy five basic needs: survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun. In essence, behavior has a purpose. “All of our behavior is our best attempt at the time, given the resources at our disposal (knowledge, skills, etc.) to meet our needs.”
Let me briefly summarize.
Imagine this common scene between a caring mother and her child (found in “Positive Discipline Parenting Tools” by Dr. Nelsen, Mary Nelsen Tamborski, and Brad Ainge):
Billy is sad because his friend doesn’t want to play with him.
Billy’s mom tries to comfort him by saying,
“Don’t feel sad, Billy. You have other friends, and I love you.”
Okay, raise your hand if you have been an actor yourself in this play. Don’t be shy, my hand’s raised too. Raise your hand again if you remember being the child actor in this scene when you were younger. My hand’s raised.
Let me first preface what I’m about to say with the fact that, maybe like your own parents or caregivers, Billy’s mother cares and loves him a lot. She’s in no way intentionally trying to do the opposite of what I’m getting ready to say here. Just like you and I are also not trying to purposely do the opposite when the same scene plays out with our own kids. Billy’s mom loves Billy and is sincerely trying to help him and comfort him. Unfortunately, she’s not validating her son’s feelings here.
As children, we’re often taught that we shouldn’t feel certain feelings. Not because of malicious parents and caregivers, but because of parents and caregivers who are actually trying to protect us and shield us from those negative feelings. Often we do the same with our own children. It’s important that we instead, validate our child’s feelings and experiences: “You‘re sad because your friend doesn’t want to play today. I know how much that hurts. I felt the same way when my friends didn’t want to play with me.”
Do you see the difference? It’s an important tweak to the wording. By validating our kids’ feelings we’re allowing them to discover that all feelings are normal and okay, that they can work through their feelings, and that they can even learn from them. Just something for us all to remember the next time we feel like fixing, squelching, or denying our child’s feelings. If you’re not quite sure what to say in responding to your child when they’re feeling their big feelings, try something like “How are you feeling about that?” or “I can see that makes you very mad,” or “Little brothers can be so annoying.” Obviously you would want to substitute the appropriate words based on the situation. 😉
Finally, one more thing for us parents and caregivers to aim for is to strive to empower our kids. Share control with your kids so they can develop the skills they need to have power over their own lives. Some suggestions for how to do this (Positive Discipline):
Alright, there you have it. Eight of my parenting resolutions for the new year. Wish me luck (and lots of patience)!
I admit it. I’m a research junkie. This is no surprise to anyone who knows me, including the clients I work with (and their parents). When I want to know something, I’m notorious for finding every bit of research I can on it. If, in my research, I find a book cited frequently or I find a raving review, I can’t help but check it out on Amazon.com and most likely, add it to my Wish List.
Then of course, there are also times that I just browse a topic I’m interested in learning more about in the Amazon.com store just to see what’s out there and look over the many reviews to see if the particular book is worth my time. Kindle book, paperback, hardback, spiral-bound… My iPad and my bookshelves are filled with resources I use in my counseling practice.
I often get questions about the books in my library – both in my Kindle library and my hard copy library. Today I thought I would share a few of the many therapy books (my “therapeutic resources”) you can find on my Kindle. I will share some of my other books in a future post.
I should note that this is not a sponsored post. Amazon.com, nor anyone else, is paying me to share my book selection. I want to further note that just because I have a particular book in my library doesn’t necessarily mean that I recommend it. Most of the books in my Kindle library are really, really good. Others, maybe not so much. You’ll find that some books are specifically written for clinicians, while others are written for everybody else.
Okay, so here goes…
There you have it… Just a few of my growing library of Kindle books! I didn’t even start to cover the books I have on relationships, parenting, family, addiction, and trauma recovery. Those will come later:-)
Coping strategies (also referred to as coping skills or self-regulation skills) carry enormous potential to be effective at calming us down, helping us cope with life’s situations, and assisting with regulating our wide array of emotions. There are SO MANY types of coping and self-regulation strategies. Some work better for children and adolescents, while others are better suited to be used by adults. Individuals generally find that some techniques are more effective than others, depending on the situation, the emotion one might be feeling, or what you’re trying to achieve by utilizing a skill. There are numerous coping strategies out there that a person can try, if they’re just willing to give them a shot. Most people find that not every coping skill they find suggested on Google or Pinterest or even in therapy proves to be effective for everyone every time. A coping technique that your friend may use to help him calm down when he’s angry might not be as effective for you when you’re mad. That’s okay because there are LOTS AND LOTS of coping strategies out there! If you find that one technique doesn’t seem to help, look for another. Just don’t ever completely trash a skill though, as sometimes it takes more than a couple tries to notice that a strategy really helps, and what may not work today may help significantly in the future, and vice versa.
In my last post, I introduced a list of diversion strategies to help people better cope with their emotions, as well as distressing events they may be experiencing in their lives. In this post you will find a list of 42 positive cognitive coping and self-regulation skills that you can try when you’re in need of something that involves using some brain power and thought processes in order to help influence the way you feel and/or behave. You will likely find that some strategies may be more appropriate for adults, while others might prove more appropriate for children and teens. Trying all of them, however, won’t hurt you as long as the task is within your skill level (for example, a five-year-old may find it difficult and equally frustrating if she tries to learn how to code). These techniques can be utilized by anybody, though some skills will probably appear more appealing than others.
Try them out. Let me know in the comments section if they help, or maybe you have some of your own ideas that you would like to share! Remember, if one strategy doesn’t seem particularly helpful, try something else.
Hope these help! Check back for future posts about other types of coping strategies!
Coping skills (also called self-regulation skills) are great. Seriously. They have the potential to be effective in a number of ways. Feeling sad or depressed? Find a coping strategy that helps lift your mood. Feeling angry? There are coping skills to help with that. Are you feeling anxious? There are strategies you can try to help you feel better. Feeling a sense of emptiness? There are techniques for that too. Just feeling upset in general? Yep, there’s coping strategies for that as well. Feeling bored? Choose a coping skill to help you get out of that funk.
There are numerous types of coping and self-regulation strategies. Some work better for children and teens; others work better for adults. Some techniques are more effective with helping to fight urges to self-harm. Other techniques are more helpful when you’re feeling depressed or anxious. And then there are others that can help calm you down when you’re feeling angry. There are even strategies out there that help individuals experiencing suicidal thoughts.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of different coping skills out there that a person could try. Just check out Pinterest and Google. That’s a good thing because most people find that not every coping skill will prove effective for everyone every time. A coping skill that helps your friend may not help regulate your feelings at all. What helps you control your anger might not be as effective at lifting your mood when you’re feeling depressed. That’s okay because there are lots and lots of coping skills out there! If you learn that one technique doesn’t help, look for another. Don’t completely trash a skill though. Sometimes it takes more than one or two tries to notice that something really helps, and what may not work today may help significantly a few months from now.
In this post you will find a list of 54 diversion strategies that you can try to help cope with those overwhelming emotions we all feel sometimes. “Diversion strategies” are coping skills that will allow you to stop thinking about the situation contributing to your distressed emotions, at least for a period of time. These techniques aren’t necessarily meant to be the final solution, but they can be quite useful in keeping you safe, distracting you until you have a little time to think more clearly, etc. These strategies are particularly useful if you can recognize the warning signs of those overwhelming emotions.
Try them out. If one doesn’t seem very helpful in regulating your emotions, try something else.
Do you know what Obsessive-Compulsive Personality is? No, not Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder. OCPD. Many people think they are the same thing. They’re not.
Although 15 percent of those with Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder also have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, the two are actually very different psychological disorders, characterized by totally different sets of diagnostic criteria identified by the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, or DSM-5 (the bible in mental health).
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, is an identified anxiety disorder, while Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder is, well, a personality disorder. OCD is characterized by recurrent, persistent thoughts that are often unreasonable in nature (called obsessions), which lead to repetitive behaviors (called compulsions). These obsessions and compulsions can manifest in many different ways, but they frequently and most commonly center on theses such as a fear of germs, cleanliness, the need to arrange objects in a specific manner, checking and re-checking things an excessive number of times, counting things, and hair-pulling.
Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder, on the other hand, is more about personality traits and perceptions. “Those with Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder exhibit a long-standing, consistent pattern of preoccupation with perfectionism, inflexibility, mental and interpersonal control, and rigid adherence to rules and procedures,” according to Samantha Gluck’s article “Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder Symptoms, Diagnosis” found at the Healthy Place website. Additionally, while OCD can certainly be problematic and offer its own set of significant difficulties, it isn’t something that makes a person toxic or abusive, Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder, however, can make an individual extremely difficult to get along with, and in some cases, may even make the person toxic and controlling in their relationships.
Now that you know the difference between Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and won’t confuse the two, here are 18 facts to introduce you to the personality disorder that affects 8 percent of the population. It is so common, in fact, that chances are good that you have probably encountered an individual with Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder at some time in your life.