Tag Archive Children

ByStacy Garcia, MA, LPC, NCC

Spend Meaningful Quality Time with Your Child while Instilling Kindness: 45 Random Acts of Kindness You Can Do with Your Child This Week

While checking out Facebook one day, I found a great video by Kristina Kuzmic in which she suggested an awesome activity to do with your kids. The video showed her and one of her children spending some good quality time together driving around town (which in itself is a good way to connect with your kid) and finding different ways they could do random acts of kindness together.

If you don’t know who Kristina Kuzmic is, I strongly recommend checking her out! Kristina is energetic and she’s really funny while she offers her perspective on issues of parenting and life in general. She does “mom-centric” videos about raising children and juggling all of life’s challenges. She really is great! And the video I watched about how she spends some good one-on-one time with her kids (individually) especially inspired me!

We all hope to instill kindness in our children. And we all know the benefits of spending good quality one-on-one time with our kids. Kristina’s idea offers both! After watching her video, I knew I had to give it a try with my own children. I have two kids – both boys – who are always vying for mom’s attention. Spending one-on-one time with each child can be challenging. Either we don’t have the opportunity or we aren’t quite sure what to do together – at least this is a roadblock I’ve found in raising only boys.

Okay, enough introduction. Let’s get to the acts of kindness ideas, right?! The following ideas are all free or pretty affordable, hence why you can do most of these acts this week if you want to – there’s no prerequisite of having a lot of money.

My challenge for you is to pick a time this week that you can spend some one-on-one time with your own child, then together choose at least three random acts of kindness to do during your special time. Brownie Points: Do something like this once or twice a month if you’re able! Hope you have fun!

photo courtesy of Pixabay

Random Acts of Kindness You Can Do with Your Child This Week

  1. Leave happy notes around town.
  2. Go to a fast food restaurant and grab a bite to eat. If you see someone sitting alone, strike up a conversation and maybe even eat lunch with them!
  3. Help an elderly neighbor take out the trash, mow their lawn, or shovel snow.
  4. Bring a box of donuts to the school custodians or drop them off at a local fire station.
  5. Spend time together making and/or filling out cards to send to soldiers serving in the military.
  6. Bake cookies together and deliver them to a neighbor.
  7. Donate warm coats or blankets to the homeless shelter.
  8. Surprise an older person or couple with dinner. (Drop it off, don’t stay.)
  9. Find someone who looks like they’ve had a bad day and give them a gift card. ($5 for coffee or an ice cream cone)
  10. Offer your child’s teacher your services and help clean or do other tasks for him/her together for the day.
  11. With your child, go through their old toys and donate those in good condition to a charity or local children’s hospital.
  12. Put together care packages for the homeless and distribute them together (either to a shelter or on the street handing them out to those you see in your own town).
  13. Put together care packages for children who have to stay in the hospital (a small stuffed animal, a coloring book, some crayons, etc.); distribute them together.
  14. Put together care packages for parents of children who have to stay in the hospital (toiletries, a word search book with a pencil, a $5 gift card for coffee at the hospital’s cafeteria).
  15. Make breakfast together and bring it to your child’s school teacher.
  16. Fulfill an angel tree request together.
  17. Go to a nursing home together and visit – if it’s a holiday, take something related to the special day and pass them out to tennants (like candy canes).
  18. Leave one dollar bills around a dollar store.
  19. Donate coloring books to a hospital or doctor’s office waiting room, distributing them together.
  20. Take the neighbor’s dog for a walk together.
  21. Challenge each other to smile at every single person you see for one whole day!
  22. Write thank you notes to special people in your lives.
  23. Have a bake sale and donate your earnings to a local charity.
  24. Leave some extra money in vending machines (or tape it to the outside) with a note that says “This treat’s on us!”
  25. Have your child go with you while you donate blood, showing them how easy and how important it is to do it.
  26. Babysit for a single parent or for a couple who desperately needs a date night; babysit together!
  27. Pick up litter together.
  28. If you both can carry a tune, go door to door and offer to do some Christmas caroling.
  29. Challenge each other to compliment at least 5 people in one day.
  30. If it’s Christmastime, help someone (or some place) in your area wrap Christmas gifts.
  31. Go to a local grocery store and together, round up carts and put them in the cart bins or take them inside so they’re not scattered and wandering around the parking lot.
  32. Recycle together.
  33. Wash someone’s car together.
  34. Go to the animal shelter together and offer to walk the dogs.
  35. Bury treasure at a local playground.
  36. Write positive chalk messages on the sidewalk together so you can brighten others’ day.
  37. Donate food to the food pantry.
  38. Tape change to parking meters.
  39. Go to the children’s hospital and offer to read books or otherwise volunteer together.
  40. Sing songs together at a nursing home.
  41. Make get well cards for children at a local hospital.
  42. Make kindness stones together and leave them at a local park.
  43. Volunteer at a soup kitchen together.
  44. Collect books for the library.
  45. Participate in a YOU MATTER Marathon. Click on the link to learn more!
ByStacy Garcia, MA, LPC, NCC

Separation & Loss Jenga for Kids (free printables included)

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.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

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.

The Idea Behind Separation & Loss Jenga

I came up with the idea of creating a Jenga game to help kids who have been separated from their parents or caregivers not long ago. The Jenga game has been a popular therapy tool for many therapists for years, as it can be easily adapted for a multitude of therapeutic purposes just by gluing question strips onto the individual blocks or marking the blocks with various colors and creating corresponding card decks filled with questions to ask or prompts to give children for anything from identifying feelings to learning and practicing social skills.
Coming up with questions for the individual Jenga blocks came easier than I anticipated. There are so many thoughts and feelings in these children’s minds when they’ve been separated from someone they love; pulling these thoughts and feelings out by using traditional methods of talk therapy only tend to work well for some kids (and usually these are the older ones). But give kids an activity or game, and suddenly the same things that a therapist has been trying to help the child express becomes less threatening for that child. There is a lot of psychology behind why and how play (such as playing games or doing other activities) works in the healing of children. Play is a child’s language.  It helps them express what they cannot express in words, whether it be because they don’t yet have the language or because they have been more reluctant or it has been too difficult to talk about such painful feelings.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Though I created the game with the idea of being used in therapy between a child and therapist, it can also be played in the child’s new home with their current caregiver(s). Either way, when the therapist or caregiver chooses a question block, they can read the question out loud to the child for him or her to answer or if you feel comfortable in self-disclosing a separation or loss (even if it was through the death of someone you once knew), this can be done also. Regardless of how you adapt the game, just make sure the child you’re playing with knows the rules and what you’re doing before you play. The child may not respond well if they find out after you draw your first question block and direct the question to them if they didn’t know ahead of time that this was what you had planned to do.
It’s also important to validate the child’s answers when he responds to a question. If the child discloses that he feels sad, for example, that he is no longer living with his abusive mother, it will not help for you to say something like, “What do you mean you feel sad? She did nothing but hurt you!” Just. Don’t. Really, don’t.
Even if you think the child’s answer is “wrong” (which by the way, there are no “wrong” answers in this game), validate what they’re telling you because what they’re saying is very real to them. For the earlier example, you could say something like, “It can feel sad when you’re away from a person you love and care about.” Then. Stop. Really. Don’t try to put a “but” at the end of that sentence. Just leave it there. Trust me, not validating something like this isn’t going to help build your relationship with the child. At all. This isn’t the time to refute the child’s beliefs. Please leave that up to after you know more about the child and they are further along in their healing process and have built more trust in you.
(There are no “wrong” ways to feel anyway, regardless of how we might think they “should” be feeling; it’s not up to us to tell anyone how they should or shouldn’t feel. Don’t refute a feeling, even if you’ve known the child for a really long time and you have a good relationship. Give the child permission to feel the way they’re feeling and validate those feelings, even if you disagree or can’t totally understand why anyone could ever feel such a way. Empathize.)
By the way, it’s important to let the child know before you begin playing, that they should only share what they feel comfortable sharing. If they look like they’re struggling to answer a particular question, especially, give them a pass or allow them to answer another question instead. I don’t like forcing children to rush through any healing process. This will also help build your relationship with the child and plant the seed that you’re someone that isn’t going to push him any faster than he is able or willing to go, and that helps to build trust in your relationship.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Creating Your Own Separation & Loss Jenga Game

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.

Separation & Loss Jenga Question Strips

Relationship Building Jenga Question Strips

Enjoy playing!

ByStacy Garcia, MA, LPC, NCC

70 Silly Art Journal Prompts for Kids, Teens, and Adults

In my last post, I gave you 55 Art Journal Prompts for Teens, a collection of some of my favorite prompts to use with my clients, as well as for myself. Art journaling can be incredibly therapeutic, and you don’t have to be Picasso to do it. Everyone has some creativity living inside them!

For this post I want to give you some silly art journal prompts, which I also make sure to give to my clients in addition to the more serious ones. It’s important to have fun. It’s important to allow yourself to be silly sometimes. Not everything in therapy (or outside of therapy) has to necessarily have some deep meaning attached to it except for the mere fact that it’s just something fun to do. Seriously, this is an important part of taking care of you. Everyone should make time for play (and I’m not just talking about kids and teenagers right now)!

So here are some of my favorite silly art journal prompts – be sure to definitely give some of these a try!

Silly Art Journal Prompts

  1. Draw you, as an animal, shooting down the moon.
  2. Draw a cat who’s dressed for an interview.
  3. Draw an agitated dog with aggressive body language.
  4. Draw an internet troll.
  5. Draw powerful spirits disguised as kittens.
  6. Draw your dream pet in his pajamas.
  7. Draw a fruity ninja.
  8. Draw a camel surfing the waves.
  9. Combine two animals to create a new one.
  10. Draw a shark eating a cupcake.
  11. Draw a dinosaur at a birthday party.
  12. Draw a horse throwing a horseshoe.
  13. Draw a koala bear sitting on a trash can.
  14. Draw a squirrel roasting a marshmallow around a campfire.
  15. Draw a butterfuly eating a steak.
  16. Draw a cat chasing a dog.
  17. Draw a dog playing ping pong.
  18. Draw your teacher (or boss) eating pizza while dancing.
  19. Draw your teacher (or boss) as a zombie.
  20. Draw yourself with a super power.
  21. Draw yourself as a fairy.
  22. Draw a Pop Tart lifting weights with a cow.
  23. Draw a food eating another food.
  24. Draw a dancing taco wearing a sombrero.
  25. Draw an annoying orange.
  26. Draw a turkey leg eating a turkey sandwich.
  27. Draw a banana in pajamas.
  28. Draw a donut talking to your teacher (your boss).
  29. Draw a garden of lollipops.
  30. Draw an ice cream cone eating a Popsicle.
  31. Draw yourself as a spoiled brat.
  32. Draw a super scary Valentine’s Day card.
  33. Draw a design for a $3 bill.
  34. Draw a pencil sharpener eating something other than a pencil.
  35. Draw a starfish eating a bowl of cereal under the sea.
  36. Draw a pair of scissors running.
  37. Draw your own version of Mount Rushmore.
  38. Draw your teacher (or boss) as a pirate captain.
  39. Draw a battle elf.
  40. Draw a troll riding a unicorn.
  41. Draw what your imaginary friend would look like if we could see them.
  42. Draw a dragon breathing rainbows.
  43. Combine two holidays to make a new one.
  44. Draw the moon fighting the sun over a turkey sandwich.
  45. Draw a crime scene where a donut lost its donut hole.
  46. Draw something really gross.
  47. Draw the moon howling at a wolf.
  48. Draw your name as an animal.
  49. Draw a modest unicorn taking a shower.
  50. Draw your teacher (or boss) in a fight with a small animal.
  51. Draw something from your pet’s point of view.
  52. Draw a dog taking its human for a walk.
  53. Draw the most adorable animal you can imagine.
  54. Draw the most terrifying animal you can imagine.
  55. Draw your teacher (or boss) as an adorable, cuddly animal.
  56. Draw the oldest thing in your refrigerator.
  57. Draw you, getting the last laugh.
  58. Draw your teacher (or boss) as one of Snow White’s dwarves.
  59. Draw a mysterious man in a sharp business suit.
  60. Draw a ballet dancer in a striking pose.
  61. Draw your teacher (or boss) sitting on a bench with a pigeon as they share an ice cream cone.
  62. Draw a shy mouse doing her grocery shopping.
  63. Draw a vampire astronaut.
  64. Draw an unenthusiastic fast food employee.
  65. Draw peanut butter eating a jelly sandwich.
  66. Draw a girl with chocolate skin and cotton candy hair.
  67. Draw a frantic tiger who sees that he’s losing his stripes.
  68. Draw your teacher (or boss) as a Lego figure.
  69. Draw a goldfish driving a racecar.
  70. Draw a snail on a skateboard successfully getting away from a curious puppy.
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

Good Behavior Jars

I have a confession. I’m human. I work with lots of kids and families, but I’ll be the first to admit that I am NOT a perfect parent. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed, sometimes I am too strict, sometimes I’m too lenient. Sometimes I even raise my voice (okay, sometimes I even yell). The truth is, some days I just don’t feel like being a parent, and that makes it awfully hard when you know that you still have to be, regardless of whether you feel like it or not.

Sometimes I get caught up in making sure my kids know what they “should” be doing or what they’re doing wrong, trying to make them responsible and raise them to be good, decent human beings. Sometimes I forget to tell them all the great things they’re doing right, because believe me, regardless of how tough the day’s been, they’re doing A LOT of stuff right too.

Realizing this, I came up with an idea (because I’m a problem solver). I needed something to help me remember to let them know that they’re doing some really great things, and I needed a reminder for myself to stop focusing on the misbehavior so much and start focusing on all the ways my kids are actually really awesome. By doing this, it’s actually a pretty neat strategy to get more positive behaviors from your children. It also helps your kids to start thinking more positively about themselves – and to realize that hey, you were paying attention after all.

Good Behavior Jars

In all my years of training and experience, I’ve learned to emphasize “Catch Them Being Good.” That’s the idea behind my idea: making Good Behavior Jars for my own children. I was afraid my own kids weren’t hearing enough of what they we’re doing “right,” and maybe too much more about what I thought they were doing “wrong.”

So I found two mason jars (because I have two children), and I labeled each with my children’s names. Each night (or early morning), I write them little notes about how proud I am of them or examples of things I caught them doing that I thought were really great that day (or the day before). Then I slip the notes in their own individual jars and let them open them in the morning so they can know that I really did see those good things! If you’re like me and have a child who can’t read yet, this is a great opportunity to sit and read the notes together. (Actually, it’s pretty cool to read the notes together with your older kids too!)

Sometimes when I sit down to start writing, I think I’ll only be writing a couple notes, particularly when we’ve had a particularly rough day, but more often than not, I find that once I start writing, I can’t stop remembering all the great things they did do! Some things I caught in the moment, and most things I didn’t realize in the midst of our rough day.

Here are some examples of the notes I’ve left my own kids:

The notes cheer me up, and more importantly, they help my kids know that they are doing some pretty amazing things (some that they themselves may not have even realized). The ten or fewer minutes I take to write these notes each day helps them think more positively about themselves and actually promotes an increase in positive behaviors throughout the day! Now I’m not saying that this is a miracle cure for those rough days. Rough days are normal. You’re going to have them. You’re human! Your kids are human! But if nothing else, the jars sure help me to remember to focus more on what they’re doing right and to help them know that I noticed. And ask any kid, that’s a pretty big thing in itself.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

ByStacy Garcia, MA, LPC, NCC

What is Play Therapy?

“Play therapy is based on the fact that play is the child’s natural medium of self expression. It is an opportunity which is given to the child to ‘play out’ his feelings and problems just as, in certain types of adult therapy, an individual ‘talks out’ his difficulties.”  – Virginia Axline, “Play Therapy”

Sigmund Freud believed he could understand children by watching them play. He was right. According to the Association for Play Therapy’s website, play is the child’s language. Play:
  • Is fun; it’s enjoyable.
  • Elevates our spirits; it brightens our outlook on life.
  • Expands self-expression, self-knowledge, self-actualization, and self-efficacy.
  • Relieves stress and boredom.
  • Helps us connect to people in a positive way.
  • Stimulates creative thinking and exploration.
  • Regulates our emotions.
  • Boosts our ego.
  • Allows us to practice skills and roles needed for survival.
  • Fosters learning and development.

Photo courtesy of pixabay.com

Play therapy is the child’s mode of communication, for sharing his world, his inner thoughts and feelings, and the meanings that he makes of his experiences of the world. It’s the child’s opportunity to communicate what he can’t as easily put into words. It is child-to-self communication, similar to the way that many adults go over and over a topic that’s bothering them when working with a therapist – in ways that they won’t when thinking about it alone, even if they’re doing it “all the time.” Specially trained mental health professionals use play therapy to help kids express what’s troubling them when they may not have the verbal language to express their thoughts and how they’re feeling. It builds on the natural way that kids learn about themselves and their relationships with the world around them.
The Association for Play Therapy defines play therapy as “the systematic use of a theoretical model to establish an interpersonal process wherein trained play therapists use the therapeutic powers of play to help clients prevent or resolve psychological difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development.”
In adult therapy, the counselor’s listening and empathic responses help the client work through their problems and gain insight. In play therapy (particularly Child-Centered Play Therapy, or CCPT), with the counselor’s attentive tracking and empathic responses, kids work all the way through their own repetitive, unproductive loops to reach new understandings of their experience, and new decisions of who they want to be and how they want to behave.
Play therapy is used to help kids cope with different emotions and find solutions to problems. By confronting their problems in this setting, kids are able to find healthier solutions.

Who Benefits from Play Therapy?

Everyone can benefit from play therapy, including teenagers and adults! It is especially appropriate for children between the ages of 3 and 12. Play therapy is identified as the treatment of choice in mental health, school, agency, developmental, hospital, residential, and recreational settings with clients of all ages, according to the Association for Play Therapy. As is the case with most therapy modalities used in treating children, it is most effective when a parent/caregiver is also actively involved in the child’s treatment; kids and families heal faster when they work together. The therapist will decide how and when to involve some or all of the child’s family members. At minimum, the therapist will want to communicate regularly with the child’s caregivers to develop an appropriate treatment plan, as well as to identify and monitor progress.

Photo courtesy of pixabay.com

What Issues and Concerns Does Play Therapy Help?

Play therapy is often utilized as the primary intervention or as an adjunctive therapy for multiple social, emotional, and behavioral disorders, including (but not limited to):
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Depressive disorders
  • Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Oppositional Defiant and Conduct Disorders
  • Anger management
  • Trauma
  • Grief and loss
  • Divorce and family dissolution
  • Academic and/or learning difficulties
  • Social developmental difficulties

How Long is a Play Therapy Session?

Play therapy sessions generally last for 30-50 minutes. For most school-aged children, I frequently allow for 45 minutes per session, once a week. The length of a session is dependent, however, not only on the age of the child, but additional factors as well, such as the child’s attention span and developmental level.
On average, it may take approximately 20 sessions of play therapy before treatment is deemed to be complete. However, this also varies from child to child. Some children require fewer sessions, while more serious or ongoing issues may require more. I ask parents and caregivers to be patient; it may seem sometimes as though all we’re doing is “playing,” but in reality, the child is hard at work.

Photo courtesy of pixabay.com

Who Can Provide Play Therapy?

While many trained clinicians sometimes utilize play techniques in their sessions, the practice of true play therapy requires extensive specialized education, training, and experience. A licensed mental health professional with a Master’s or Doctorate degree must receive advanced, specialized training, experience, and supervision in order to be credentialed by the Association for Play Therapy as a Registered Play Therapist (RPT), Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor (RPT-S), or School-Based Registered Play Therapist (SB-RPT).
I am currently in the process of becoming a Registered Play Therapist (and have been for some time now). This means that I am permitted to practice play therapy while completing my training and required hours of experience while under the supervision of a RPT-S. If you’re interested in play therapy for your child (or even for yourself!), please contact Creative Resilience Counseling at 304-292-4050 or by contacting me on the website’s Contact page. I look forward to working with you and your child!
For more information about play therapy, check out the Association for Play Therapy’s website!
ByStacy Garcia, MA, LPC, NCC

What Happened to My Sweet Kid?! Little Monster Psychology

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?

pic attributed to pixabay.com

Wait. What?

 Okay, so maybe you were able to visualize just how sweet they look once they’re asleep… assuming that you’re one of the lucky ones who has a child who sleeps. And I bet you can see how precious their face looks when they’re happy and content. But did I lose you at the end? Yeah, that may have been a little fiction I stuck in there. At least for many of us parents, that last part – the waking up so pleasant and smiling as they go about their morning routine – is a pretty rare scene.
My own kid is not quite so pleasant to wake up. He moans and groans and asks me for the billionth time why he has to go to school. Then he rolls over, pretending like this hasn’t been the routine for years now. He mumbles and grunts to himself as he gets dressed and eats his breakfast. And as far as brushing his teeth… Some days that takes some real work. He’ll do it, but he decided a long time ago that he doesn’t have to be happy about it. As for after school, some days are less than fun for either of us. There’s homework to be done, practice to go to, and there are baths to take. Some days he does all of this willingly and with little complaint. Then there are the days where he’s grumpy for one reason or another, and that’s when the fun begins. He wants something or he wants to go somewhere, and well, the answer just can’t always be yes. And then…
But wait, weren’t they just babies yesterday? They were so sweet. Remember when they wanted to cuddle with you? Remember those little kisses on your cheek and how innocent they seemed. And then you think about this day that you’re having now. The one where your child asked you to buy them something beyond expensive or wanted to hang out with that kid from down the street that likes to swear at everyone and smokes cigarettes when he thinks no one is looking. And you say no. Then all of a sudden, they don’t seem so pleasant and sweet. They seem… almost like a monster. WHY?!!

Little Monster Psychology

pic attributed to pixabay.com


In each developmental phase, kids wrestle with new skills and abilities, and these are some real struggles for them. Assuming the phase goes well, after a period of intense struggle and effort, finally a breakthrough occurs. A personal victory that changes everything. The child discards his old way of doing things and determines to keep moving forward.
Each time your child masters a new skill, be it learning how to use a spoon by himself or learning how to drive a car, he makes a leap in maturity. And he loves this feeling of mastery; it’s a rush of confidence in his own abilities. He is now stronger and more powerful. And we as parents are right there cheering them on, we’re so proud of them! This parental applause motivates them to keep striving for more mastery. To keep moving forward.
Here’s the thing though. That drive for independence, the one each and every child (and person, in general) holds within them… Well, it promotes conflict too. With mastery comes a yearning for more independence. In other words, kids will begin to reject their parent’s support. Imagine the baby who has just learned how to use the spoon by herself. Then you, the parent, try helping her use the spoon one day when you see that she could probably use a little assistance. The baby doesn’t want your help though and swats your hand away. And the more you try to help, the madder she gets.
To complicate all of this, inexperience and impulsivity play in to this drive for greater independence. Kids don’t know their limits. They don’t always know what’s good for them and what’s not. They aren’t sure when to stop and when to go. The thing they do know though is that they don’t want their parents hovering over them every step of the way. This means that eventually every parent has the unpopular job of going against their kid’s will.
Let me repeat that. EVERY PARENT has the unpopular job of going against their kid’s will, at least sometimes (and usually more often than that).
Here’s something else that’s pretty important. It’s IMPOSSIBLE to be a good parent without saying no from time to time.
So the battle of wills begins. You see, kids don’t really like hearing the word no. Do you? Kids are perplexed when they’re prevented from getting what they want. “What? Why are you doing this to me?! Can’t you see…?”
They don’t understand that we’re protecting them. To them, it feels like restraint, and they don’t like it. Not. One. Bit.
It’s actually human nature to rebel against restrictions, and no kid wants a parent standing between them and what they want. Yes, nature puts kids and their parents on a collision course. That’s why, eventually, all healthy kids must enter into battle with their parents. This fight is natural and necessary. It’s how kids can begin to define themselves as different from their parents.
That’s right. Kids have their own wants and needs, their own interests; if kids are too accommodating or compliant with their parents, they will grow to lack confidence and self-definition in life. In every developmental stage, kids instinctively battle against their parents’ restrictions. And as parents impose their will on their kids, sparks fly. These clashes are unavoidable and an IMPORTANT part of parenting.

pic attributed to pixabay.com

Now we as parents enter into a crucial moment after we set a restriction for our child. The child will see how far he can push his parents and give him what he wants. It’s his will against theirs. It’s up to us, the parent, to decide what we’re going to do at this point: stay firm and refuse to give in to demands, or concede to the child’s demands. Sometimes the choice is an easy one, such as one where we are trying to protect them from a potentially dangerous situation. Sometimes the choice is more difficult to make. Should we give in? Should we negotiate? Not all choices are black and white, but it’s up to us as parents to do our best to help our children and protect them. It’s up to us to help our “little monsters.”
ByStacy Garcia, MA, LPC, NCC

8 Parenting Resolutions for the New Year (with Free Printable)

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.

1. Recognize the Goals of Discipline

One of the most important things that we, as parents, can do is recognize the goals of discipline. Too often, we respond to our child’s misbehavior as though consequences are the ultimate goal. This isn’t true. According to Drs. Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, as they wrote in their book “No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind” there are two basic goals of why we discipline our kids:
  1. To attain cooperation in the short-term
  2. To instruct our kids in ways that help them develop the skills and resiliency to handle and cope with life’s challenging situations, frustrations, and emotional storms (in the long-term)

2. Be Responsive, Not Reactive

How do we typically try to accomplish these discipline goals? Threats and punishment. Our child misbehaves, and we dish out the consequence, right? So what’s really going on is that our kids ACT and in response, we REACT.
Well, you ask, what else are we supposed to do? Just let our child get away with their misbehavior? Absolutely not. To be more effective in accomplishing what we’re setting out to do (our goals of discipline), we should instead RESPOND to our child’s behavior. Instead of being REACTIVE, we want to strive to be RESPONSIVE to our children.

3. Be Intentional

So how do we become responsive? By being INTENTIONAL. By making CONSCIOUS DECISIONS based on principles that we’ve thought about and agreed on BEFORE a misbehavior even occurs. This means considering various options and then choosing the one that helps us achieve, or at least move toward, our intended outcome (the goals of discipline). What lesson do you want to teach? Are you wanting your child to learn self-control? Understand the importance of sharing? To act responsibly?
Whatever you’re trying to teach, your response should be directly related to your goal. Yelling and screaming demands at your child when he punches the wall in anger isn’t going to actually teach him how to handle his anger more appropriately. In fact, our reacting like that will only model for him the opposite of what you’re looking to teach.  Really, think about it. What are we really teaching him when we ourselves clench our teeth, spit out a rule, or spank them in reactive anger?
Using fear and punishment actually teaches our kids that POWER and CONTROL are the best tools to get others to do what we want them to do. I don’t know about you, but that’s definitely NOT what I want my child to learn from this kind of situation. Not only are our hair-trigger reactions generally not going to be very effective in getting our message across (especially when you consider the long-term), but this kind of reaction is also counterproductive in terms of building your child’s brain.

4. Connect and Redirect

What are we supposed to do? How do we teach our children to be more cooperative, to learn self-control, to become more responsible?
Dr. Siegel and Dr. Bryson encourage and teach us to CONNECT AND REDIRECT. When your child misbehaves, do you still love them? Sure, you might be angry with their actions at that moment, but you still love them, right? We want our kids to know that we love them. We may not like their particular choices or actions at certain moments, but even when we’re angry, we still love them. LET THEM KNOW that we love them not only during times when they’re making us proud, not only when they’re displaying kindness to others, and not only when they’re home playing quietly and showing cooperation. SHOW them you love them when you’re addressing their misbehavior too.
 Connection means giving our kiddos our attention and letting them know that we respect them enough to listen to them. It means letting them know that we value their contribution in working together to solve the problem at hand and communicating to them that WE’RE ON THEIR SIDE – whether we like the way they’re acting or not.
Make no mistake, connection is NOT the same thing as permissiveness. That connection should be COMBINED with clear and firm boundaries that create structure for our kids. That’s where the “redirection” comes in…
 Once you connect with your child and she is more calm, we can then redirect her toward more appropriate behavior and help her see that there IS a better way. Here’s something to remember. Until your child has calmed (or regulated) her emotions at least to a certain extent (reaching closer to her emotion equilibrium, as we psych folks call it), she isn’t going to hear a word you’re saying, regardless of how logical and rational your explanation might be.
 Not only is your child physiologically wired like that, that’s how ALL humans are wired. When we experience a stressful or threatening situation, our body reacts in ways to help us deal with the perceived danger. Our body shuts down its nonessential systems and begins to channel blood flow to our large muscles. Then it begins creating extra fuel for energy. It heightens our sensitivity to signs of danger, all the while releasing hormones that will help us deal with the stress. When all this occurs, it also impairs our ability to process information and to think clearly before we speak – exactly the abilities we need to have in order to work through difficult situations. This process is called flooding. And when we become flooded, we operate from a self-preservation mindset. We seek then to protect ourselves (think fight, flight, or freeze).
When our emotional arousal is really high like that, our thinking and reasoning abilities are overwhelmed. Consequently, we say and do things that reflect being overwhelmed. Once our emotional arousal goes up, our thinking abilities go down, and we start to lose the emotional balance we need to communicate effectively. Then we become reactive. Being upset and likely having a lot of negative thoughts in that moment, we start to say things that don’t always reflect what we really want (like attention, understanding, and so on). Instead, we just end up saying something bitter or nasty.
Now let’s apply this to our misbehaving child. She misbehaved, and now she knows that she’s in trouble. When we’re in trouble, our brains send signals to our body that we are in a dangerous or stressful situation, so just like every other human, her brain sends her body that same signal. Nonessential systems are shut down. Emotional arousal goes up. Thinking abilities? They’re likely out the window right now. Now start talking to her. Does she hear you? Probably not, remember that her body’s nonessential systems are shut down at the moment. She’s in survival mode now. You might be too. Best to connect and let her calm herself (you may need to help her do this, particularly if she’s very young) so she can reach equilibrium again so she can begin fully understanding what you’re saying.

5. Ask Yourself, “Why? What? How?”

While all of the above is going on, this is the perfect time to think about how to respond to your child’s misbehavior. Dr. Siegel and Dr. Bryson provide us with an excellent model in which we can take the time to ask ourselves three important questions. Remembering these questions (and answering them) is important and can help us respond to each and every misbehavior our kids is exhibiting.
 WHY did my child act this way?
Look at what your child is doing, and ask yourself why he might be acting the way he is. Look deep at what’s going on beneath his particular misbehavior. I personally recommend using Positive Discipline’s Mistaken Goal Chart for this (check out #6 below). When asking yourself this question, try not to approach it with assumptions; instead, approach it with curiosity. An assumption would be asking yourself this question and deciding right away that your kid’s just being a brat, plain and simple. Or he’s just being selfish or spoiled. Approaching this with curiosity, however, will help you recognize that there’s very likely something deeper going on (again, check out #6 where we’ll briefly look at “breaking the code”).
WHAT lesson do I want to teach in this moment?
The goal of discipline is not to dish out consequences. We want to teach our child some lesson. Maybe it’s learning how to control his emotions more appropriately. Maybe it’s for him to understand the value and importance of sharing, or perhaps you want him to start acting more responsibly. Whatever the lesson you want to teach, keep this in mind when choosing how you want to discipline his misbehavior.
HOW can I best teach this lesson?
Remember your answer from the previous question? Okay, now think about how you can most effectively communicate that message you want to get across. It’s important that when pondering this question, you also consider your child’s age, their developmental stage, and the context of the situation (did he realize the bullhorn was on before he raised it to the dog’s ear?).
Imagine that your four-year-old comes up and smacks you really hard while you’re emailing something important for work and can’t stop right away to play. This very act is likely enough to trigger your own emotion regulation system, so first it’s important to remember to take a moment for yourself to calm down so to avoid simply reacting. (I know, easy to say and harder to do, but you can do it!) This pause between reacting and responding is the beginning of choice and intention as a parent.
As soon as you’re able, you then want to pause and ask yourself the three questions:
  1.  Why did my child act this way? More than likely in this case, she hit you because she wanted your attention and wasn’t getting it. First consider her age. Is this behavior typical of a four-year-old who is wanting attention and can’t immediately get it? Definitely. Is the behavior pretty developmentally appropriate for a four-year-old in this situation? Absolutely. It’s hard for any child this age to wait. Add that to her big feelings of this moment, and you likely have a recipe for dysregulation and misbehavior. At four, she’s not old enough yet to be able to always be able to calm herself effectively or even quickly enough to prevent acting out. In that moment, hitting is her default strategy for expressing her big feelings of frustration and impatience. She still needs some time and skill-building practice to learn how to appropriately handle her anger and for delaying gratification. That’s why she hit you. She wasn’t just being a brat, I promise.
  2. What lesson do I want to teach in this moment? What do you want her to learn from this? Obviously, just because she’s four and not developmentally capable yet of always being able to handle her big emotions appropriately, we can’t just let her walk around hitting people. The lesson isn’t that hitting merits a consequence; the lesson is that there are better ways of getting your attention and handling her frustration than to resort to violence. You want her to learn that hitting isn’t okay, not that feeling frustrated or angry isn’t okay.
  3. How can I best teach this lesson? First, try connecting with her. Pull her to you, get on her eye level, and let her know that she has your full attention. Acknowledge (validate) her feelings and model how to communicate those emotions more appropriately: “It’s hard to wait. You really wanted me to play with you, and right now you’re mad that I’m busy. Is that right?” Now she knows that she has your attention, and you have hers too. Now talk with her, keeping in mind that as she becomes calmer, she’ll be better able to listen and actually hear what you’re saying. Explain that hitting isn’t alright, and talk about some other alternatives she can use in order to get your attention.

Click for your free poster to help remind you of the 3 questions!


6. Break the Code

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.”

As I already noted, children and adolescents are no exception to this theory. In fact, it’s quite evident once you “break their code.” The behaviors they exhibit are done so in order to satisfy their needs, particularly their need for love and belonging.
Positive Discipline, a parenting program founded by Dr. Jane Nelsen that teaches young people to “become responsible, respectful, and resourceful members of their communities,” uses what I consider to be one of the best and most valuable resources to help us “break the code” of our child’s misbehavior: The Mistaken Goal Chart.
Seriously, you’ve got to get your hands on one of these. You can find an excellent PDF version of The Mistaken Goal Chart here, or if you have very young children (ages 0-3), here’s a great PDF version especially for parents of those kiddos. Really, print that out. I use it in parenting my own children, as well as in my own private practice when working with children and teens. And if you’re looking for an excellent parenting resource, check out Positive Discipline; it’s widely used and praised by many, many psychologists and therapists.
According to Dr. Nelsen, “‘Mistaken goals’ are called such because their behavior is based on mistaken beliefs about how to achieve the primary goals of belonging and significance.” There are four mistaken goals of behavior:
  1. Undue attention – to keep others busy or get special service
  2. Misguided power – to be boss
  3. Revenge – to get even
  4. Assumed inadequacy – to give up and be left alone

Let me briefly summarize.

  If your child’s goal is undue attention, then his mistaken belief is “I belong only when you pay constant attention to me, and/or give me special service.” But let’s look at the coded message; this is what he’s actually saying: “NOTICE ME. INVOLVE ME USEFULLY.”
 If your child’s goal is misguided power, his mistaken belief is “I belong only when I’m the boss, or at least when I don’t let you boss me around.” Coded message: “LET ME HELP.”
If the goal is for revenge, his belief is “I don’t belong, and that hurts, so I’ll get even by hurting others.” Code for: “I’M HURTING. VALIDATE MY FEELINGS.”
 And finally, if his goal is assumed inadequacy, his mistaken belief is “I give up. Leave me alone.” Again, the coded message: “DON’T GIVE UP ON ME. SHOW ME A SMALL STEP.”
Look again at coded messages. All of a sudden, instead of just anger, annoyance, irritation, and helplessness, you’re liable to also feel a little compassion for what the child must be going through. If a child could say “Don’t give up on me,” instead of portraying through their actions “I give up, leave me alone,” it helps us begin to answer that question from earlier: “WHY is my child acting this way?” Looking at it that way, from their core belief, helps us to better help them.
 Think about it this way: Imagine an iceberg. We only see the tip of the iceberg. The belief is hidden underneath. We just have to remember to look for it.

 7. Validate feelings

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. 😉

8. Empower

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):

  • Teach life skills.
  • Focus on solutions together.
  • Have faith in your children.
  • Let go (in small steps).
  • Increase self-awareness: “How do you feel? What do you think? How does this affect what you want in your life?”

Alright, there you have it. Eight of my parenting resolutions for the new year. Wish me luck (and lots of patience)!

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