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!
One day while I was brainstorming activities I could use to help my tween and teen clients review feelings and emotions, I thought I had come up with the “perfect” idea. I was already creating flashcards for my younger clients, which were actually index cards with magazine pictures of different feelings faces and body language poses that I was planning to use to TEACH emotion identification. I figured, why not let my tweens and teens help me create the flashcards as a way to REVIEW feelings?!
I was excited! Not only had I come up with this bright idea to teach and review emotions, but I was going to get some help creating my flashcards. (Hey, I’m human! I need help too!) Next step, put my plan into action.
I visited a middle school that day and explained my plan to the 13-year-old sitting beside me. She was up for it. Yay! She thought it was a really neat idea, and she was especially psyched that she was going to be helping me create something I planned to use for many years to come with the younger kids.
So we began.
First we glued various pictures onto one side of each index card. She laughed at some of them, occasionally noting that some of the pictures were really funny. After all, who wouldn’t think that a dog wearing glasses wasn’t funny?
Then it came time to write the feeling name on the back of each index card. The first few were easy: a smiling child might be feeling happy, the dog wearing glasses might be feeling smart. The clown might be feeling silly. Then all of a sudden she was stumped. She showed me a picture of a teenager who was portraying that she was scared.
“Jealous?” she questioned.
I prompted her to look more closely at the picture, paying attention to the way the person’s body looked and to what clues the person’s face was showing us.
She really didn’t know. I felt terrible! Here I had assumed that by the old age of thirteen, that this would be a review on something fairly easy. Talk about an eye-opening experience.
What was even more eye-opening was that I soon learned that only maybe half of the 12 to 18-year-olds I worked with were able to accurately identify the emotions on the flashcards – never less their own emotions. And about 25 percent of adults I came in contact with just in everyday life weren’t quite sure either. I felt awful! How could I not have realized that even teens and grown-ups occasionally need some emotion identification education too?
Since then, I teach emotion identification and expression like crazy! After all, how can one be expected to regulate their emotions if they weren’t even quite sure what they’re feeling in the first place?
Now when a child or teenager begins therapy with me, my first task is always to assess whether or not they are able to identify feelings. Dependent on the age, I might use flashcards, workbooks, feelings charts, magazines, mirrors, games, or whatever else I’ve gotten my hands on that might be relevant.
Here’s the thing: Feelings are important! They give us information about what we’re experiencing and help us know how to react. But not only is it important to label how we’re feeling, it’s just as crucial to be able to at least get a sense of how those around us might feel.
Being aware of our emotions helps us to build better relationships, whether it be at home, at school, at work, or anywhere else out there in the real world. Knowing and being able to label our feelings help us to talk about them and describe them more clearly. They resolve conflicts better. They help us communicate more effectively with those around us.
Just being able to name what we’re feeling actually helps us move past difficult feelings more easily. In order to be able to modulate and regulate our feelings, we must first be able to label our different internal experiences!
Think about a young child, if you will, who is having a tantrum on the kitchen floor all because you told them that they couldn’t have that yummy looking cake setting on the counter until after dinner. They’re not tantruming because it’s fun and who doesn’t like to throw a good tantrum every now and then. No, they’re actually having a really difficult time regulating their emotions because they really wanted that cake and right now they can’t have it. They’re feeling really disappointed. They’re feeling very frustrated. Because they might not have the words yet to identify and express their emotions appropriately, they’re doing the only thing they know how to do right now in this moment: express their disappointment and frustration by acting out.
What can we do to help children (and ourselves) learn how to identify feelings?
As a therapist, I utilize a number of tools and strategies to help teach clients about feelings. I make feelings cards, I have kids make faces in the mirror, I use special feelings games and workbooks, and so on.
One of the easiest and most convenient ways, though, to teach children how to label their feelings and be able to more accurately identify how others might feel is through the use of apps.
Years ago I didn’t have a really cool smartphone to help me out. (I think I probably had one of those awesome flip phones though.) Now most of us have a handy-dandy phone with access to tons and tons of awesome apps we can use that are supposed to make our lives easier and more productive (or to help kill boredom when we need it to).
There are so many feelings and emotion apps on iPhones and Androids, I don’t even want to begin trying to count them. Some of them are very simplistic, while others are much more complex. Some are for children and others are for us grown ups. Some cost money, though most are free. Some apps are really, really good; some apps are pretty useless and not worth your time.
They’re not all for learning how to identify emotions either. There are also some great apps out there that help us track our feelings from day to day – an especially useful tool for anyone struggling with a mood disorder like depression or bipolar disorder.
I’m going to save some of you the trouble of searching through all the various apps that support emotion awareness, though you’re obviously more than welcome to look and try any or all of them out for yourselves. These apps are my favorites, ones that I use in counseling kids and adults. They’re apps that I use for my own children, as well as ones that I use for myself – because hey, I’m not about to recommend something for you or your kids that I wouldn’t be willing to try and use for myself and my own family!
Emotions, Feelings and Colors! is one of my 3-year-old’s favorite apps right now. Designed for kids in pre-K and Kindergarten, kids can watch short animated stories and identify what emotion the characters are feeling. In addition to that, the app also suggests some best tactics to help the characters work through their emotional situations! Love it!
I actually have quite the collection of these emotions apps from I Can Do Apps. I use Emotions, Emotions 2, Emotions Flashcards, and Baby Emotions both professionally and at home. The I Can Do Apps, in general, offer apps to teach and reinforce speech and language development. The collection of the four emotions apps cost $4.99, though you can also purchase each one separately.
All of these apps help children practice emotion identification and develop understanding and interpretation of feelings. To clarify the differences in the apps, though:
Emotions helps kids identify different facial expressions using real faces and tests their understanding of emotions. This pack only includes the most basic emotions – happy, sad, scared, surprised, and angry.
Emotions 2 does the same thing as Emotions, but it includes more complex emotions, including tired, calm, grumpy, excited, proud, sick, bored, and frustrated.
The Emotions Flashcards app is exactly what it sounds like. It includes the emotions happy, sad, scared, surprised, angry, tired, grumpy, excited, proud, sick, bored, frustrated, and calm.
Baby Emotions is more for toddler aged children, though it could also potentially be used by parents who have difficulty identifying emotions in their infants and young children. The app includes baby faces portraying the emotions happy, sad, scared, surprised, tired, and calm.
Feelings with Milo is an emotional literacy app that teaches younger kids about feelings by helping them understand and learn to manage their emotions. It also lets kids keep record of their feelings everyday by giving them a chance to identify the mood they are feeling. This is a pretty cool app, and its graphics make it quite inviting for kids to use.
Feel Electric! is brought to you by The Electric Company. Remember them? Feel Electric! offers engaging tools to help kids explore emotional vocabulary and self-expression. You can find games, a story maker, a glossary of 50 emotion words and definitions, and even a digital diary to help your kids track their moods. This app is especially good for elementary age but can also be appropriate for tweens and teens that are having difficulty identifying and expressing their emotions.
Moodtrack Diary is my absolute favorite mood tracker! You can find it in the iTunes store, as well as at Google Play for Android. There are actually two versions, one that is a “social” mood tracker, which anonymously posts your current mood for other anonymous users to see – this is especially good if you’re looking for encouragement and want to connect anonymously with others out there in cyberspace.
I personally prefer the “private” mood tracker myself. The private version has a setting in which you’re able to share anonymously but it also allows you to keep your moods private and only for your eyes. The app works offline and syncs when you’re online if you turn on sync in the settings. You can track your mood as often or as little as you want, and it literally only takes a few seconds. You simply type in how you’re feeling, then you’re asked to rate your mood on a scale on 1 to 5, with 5 being the most positive mood. Then the program plots your moods on a graph, making it super easy to see patterns and mood swings.
This is the mood tracker I actually recommend the most to clients. It is not only simple and user-friendly, but if the user desires, they can share their graphed moods with their counselor or a good friend. All you have to do is provide them with your special designated password and they can log on to a computer to see how you’ve been feeling. On Touch ID devices, you can also set up a fingerprint lock. This app gets an A+ from this therapist!
Emotionary by Funny Feelings is another awesome app for kids and adults who are looking for the right word to describe just how they might be feeling. It not only includes a definition for common and funny feeling words (like “happy as Larry,” which apparently means you’re feeling extremely happy), but it also includes emoticons associated with most feelings.
What I like best though is how the app takes you step by step in finding the perfect word for how you’re feeling. First you pick a primary emotion (anger, anticipation, fear, joy, or sadness). Next you pick the category of feelings to find your perfect word. For instance, if you’re feeling sadness, you’re then given the categories alienated, disappointed, distressed, embarrassed, sad, and vulnerable. After choosing the category that best describes how you’re feeling, it takes you to a list of words (and definitions) which fall under that category.
Say I’m feeling embarrassed, so I click on that category. I’m then given a list of a list of over 20 words that I can choose to specifically identify my feeling, such as foolish, guilty, humiliated, mortified, and uncomfortable.
Not only is this app great for finding the perfect word to describe how you’re feeling, it’s perfect for all you writers out there as well!
Just a word of warning though… There are two versions of this – a free version and an inexpensive paid version. If you have kids who will be using the app, be aware that there may some words you’d rather them not see or be saying (such as “happy as a pig in sh**”).
Okay, just one more favorite of mine! Monster Feelings is like a more detailed version of Emotionary, only with MONSTERS! Look up descriptions, examples, and “energy” level of various feelings AND find a monster feelings face to go along with that feeling. This app can be used with kids, teens, and adults. I think this app is a lot of fun!
Regardless of whether you try these apps out for yourself (or your kids) or whether you search for others on your own, I really do encourage you to at least check emotion apps out. Learning how to identify and express emotions is key to being able to start regulating emotions more effectively. After all, how can you adequately express how you feel if you’re not even sure what you’re actually feeling in the first place? 🙂
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:-)
I have a confession. I don’t handle stress very well. In fact, if I don’t do something about it before it becomes overwhelming, it won’t take long before anxiety kicks in. I have another confession. I sometimes don’t take the time to stop and actually do something about it before becoming overwhelmed.
There you have it: an actual therapist with years of education and training and years of experience, and much like many of the clients I see, I too experience an anxiety that intrudes upon my life when I’m stressed. It might seem strange that a therapist wouldn’t know how to handle stress very well, but the truth is that I do know how to handle stress. I can just never seem make time to actually handle it.
So what’s a human to do? That’s right. Human. That’s the thing. We all feel stress, maybe some more than others, but it’s human! It happens to everyone! Some people just handle, or cope, with it better (and more effectively) than others.
Here’s the thing, I know that if I would just stop and listen to my body, I could prevent, or at least better cope, with that anxiety that will soon take over my life when I’m feeling stressed. Here are 17 of the most effective coping skills that I’ve found to help me find some peace. Give them a try. You may find something that will help you too.
First off, let me note that you don’t have to consider yourself to be a “spiritual” person just to be able to use these techniques. “Spiritual” strategies are simply skills that can affect a person on a more spiritual, mindful level. Satisfying the human need to feel worthwhile and connected (and at peace) improves a person’s core well-being. These strategies aren’t like ones that simply distract you; those are temporary fixes to use when you aren’t able to more effectively cope at that moment (such as when you need to concentrate on the test you’re taking at the time). Distraction isn’t very effective to help in the long-term because the moment the distraction is no longer present, the stress or anxiety generally returns. Spiritual strategies are more effective not only in the moment, but also provide peace and calm in the long-run.
So here they are:
I hope you’re able to find something on this list that helps you better manage your stress too! If you know of other strategies that help you cope with stress, please leave a comment so I can add them to my list!
I’m very picky about things like books, movies, and television shows. Something has to be really good for me to like it. When I first ordered How to be Comfortable in Your Own Feathers by Julia Cook, I admit that I was very excited.
I like Julia Cook’s children’s books because they always teach a valuable lesson for children while keeping it fun, like how to keep from blurting out in class, maintaining self-control, and the difference in tattling and keeping yourself or your friends safe. Julia Cook, who has authored more than 50 books for children and teachers, is a former teacher and school counselor with a master’s degree in Elementary School Counseling. She writes books for children that keep them laughing while learning to solve their own problems, use better behavior, and develop healthy relationships.
In the book’s Foreward, it states, “How to be Comfortable in Your Own Feathers uses a creative approach to speak to children who may be currently struggling with body-image concerns. Due to the sensitive nature of this topic, it is important that adults understand how to use this book effectively. This story is written in a manner that gives children an opportunity to apply the characters’ experiences to their own lives. It also demonstrates appropriate adult responses that encourage the development of healthy eating habits.”
Bluebird, who is the main character in this story, wants to flutter like the most popular bird in class, Hummingbird. Bluebird, Chicken, and Owl all try so very hard to flutter like the hummingbird, but each of them just aren’t able to do it. Hummingbird tells Bluebird that the reason she isn’t able to flutter like her is because her body is “too frumpy,” her wing span’s too wide, and her feathers look “lumpy.” Hummingbird even advises Bluebird to go on a diet and work out at the gym so her body could be thin.
So Bluebird goes on a strict diet where she barely eats, and she works out, just like the hummingbird told her. Eventually, Bluebird begins losing her feathers and not feeling so well. Her mom finds out about what she has been doing and teaches her about balance and having a healthy “Food Voice.” Bluebird begins to learn how to find balance and even finds out that she isn’t supposed to flutter like a hummingbird because she is a bluebird, and bluebirds are meant to soar. Near the ending of the book, Bluebird is seen talking to a counselor and is beginning to feel better about herself, though some days are still harder than others.
Just as I have liked several other books authored by Julia Cook, I felt this one was a winner as well. It is beautifully illustrated by Anita Dufalla, which makes the book even more appealing to readers. I felt the book’s message about body image, good self-esteem, and healthy eating was definitely one that many children of today need to hear. The book is recommended for third graders and older, but I think a more appropriate age recommendation would be fourth grade to sixth grade. I’m not sure I can see a child in middle school not thinking that the book is too young for him or her.
I do think the book started out really strong and quite engrossing and then began to slack off as soon as Bluebird’s mother learned of her body image issues. Then it seemed the book was quick to rush to the end. I’m not sure I liked the last few pages where Bluebird is seen talking to her counselor, and I am a counselor. Maybe it was the way things were worded, but it just seemed kind of hokey, not that seeing a counselor isn’t an excellent idea for someone having problems with their body image. After I read the book, I looked back at the amazon.com reviews that others had written and apparently there were others who felt the same way too.
Although the ending seemed kind of abrupt and rushed, I still felt that this was a good book, particularly for the children in which it was written for – those with body image issues. Children with low self-esteem could also benefit from the book, though it may not be appropriate for everyone. Body image can be a sensitive topic, but that doesn’t make it any less important. Children in elementary grades are now dieting excessively and trying to lose weight, and most of them, even if a weight issue exists, have little idea as to how to eat and exercise healthily and with appropriate balance. It’s certainly a topic that should be addressed.
If you’re seeking a qualified mental health provider and live in the Morgantown, West Virginia area, Creative Resilience Counseling, LLC can help! Following are just ten incredible reasons to choose us for your mental health needs. To set up an appointment with a Licensed Professional Counselor, contact us today at 304-292-4050; we can help you address any concerns you may have or issues you may be experiencing.
1. EVENING AND WEEKEND HOURS AVAILABLE!
Creative Resilience Counseling offers nontraditional office hours for those who just can’t make it in for an appointment between the normal business hours of 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Office hours include Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm; Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1:00 to 8:00 pm; and Saturdays from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm.
2. Affordable Payment Plans
Creative Resilience Counseling will work with you in any way we can to arrange an affordable payment plan that works for you, should you need one. We also accept and bill insurance companies.
3. Easily Accessible Location
Creative Resilience Counseling’s office is located in downtown Morgantown. It’s easy to find and easily accessible by bus, car, or bike. You can also easily walk to our office, as it’s within walking distance of West Virginia University’s downtown campus.
4. Professional and Confidential Care
Creative Resilience Counseling’s therapist, Stacy L. Garcia, is a Licensed Professional Counselor who has a LOT of experience working with people facing various issues and challenges, including children as young as four years old, teenagers, and their families.
5. Sensitivity and Compassion
Therapy is conducted in a comfortable, caring atmosphere by a therapist with genuine sensitivity and compassion.
6. Evidence-Based Counseling Techniques
All techniques and interventions used in therapy are evidence-based and proven effective by research.
7. Continued Education & Training
Stacy maintains up-to-date training in a variety of subject areas directly related to therapy and treatment. She is also a born researcher. She is able to provide you the latest information and interventions for whatever concerns or challenges you may be facing.
8. Individualized Treatment
Each client’s therapy is specifically tailored and individualized to his or her strengths and needs. You’re not like everyone else, so why should your treatment be just like everyone else’s?
9. LOTS OF TOYS, GAMES, & ART SUPPLIES!
Stacy utilizes a variety of toys, games, and art supplies in conducting therapy with children, adolescents, and families, as well as with adults who wish to explore their creativity! Stacy is currently working toward her Registered Play Therapist certification, so play and creative techniques are one of the things she does best!
10. No Judgment Zone
Creative Resilience Counseling is a no judgment zone. NO ONE is judged for any reason, including race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, appearance, gender preferences, past decisions and history, etc. You will be welcomed with open arms and a genuinely caring heart.