Archive of ‘Children’ category

Play Is The Language Of Children

Birds fly, fish swim, and children play.–Garry Landreth, Author of Play Therapy: The Art of the Relationship

Play therapy was developed with the knowledge that play is the language of children. While it is often therapeutic for adults to talk things over with a therapist, children benefit similarly from a session of unstructured play.

leanna-photo

By: Leanna Hammett, LPC-I
Supervised by Tammy Fisher, LPC-S

Children need time and space to work through feelings and thoughts, practice appropriate social interactions, and just generally feel free to express themselves in whichever way they choose.  The play therapy room and that safe relationship with their therapist provide the opportunity for just that. With a non-directive play therapist, they have an ally in their development and a partner in play rather than an authority figure telling them how to act or what to do. Given this environment, they are more easily able to decide whom they choose to be on their own.

Play Therapy: What’s the Point?

I’m sitting in the therapy room, watching a child create a scene in the sand tray. I’m engaging with him, noticing where he puts each object, commenting on the scene he’s choosing to create. Out of nowhere, a familiar feeling creeps into my brain: doubt. Doubt starts to say, “Why are you just sitting here watching this child play? Isn’t his mom paying you to help create change for this child?”

As adults, and as play therapists, it is so tempting to fall into doubt’s trap. It is so tempting to start to question the value of simple, unstructured play for children. But just as a therapist’s role with adults is not to step in as the expert and “fix” everything for them, the play therapist’s role with a child is also not to take control and do things for them. Not only is it impossible to change something FOR another person (at any age), but it also completely misses the point of therapy.

So What IS The Point? Two Things.
  • The Relationship.
  • The Process.
The Relationship: Am I Really Just a Glorified Babysitter?

No. The simple answer is no, you’re not just a babysitter. Yes, you’re playing with children. Yes, that may seem confusing to the outside observer. But at the heart of that play, you are building a positive, trusting relationship and a safe space for the child to explore him/herself and the world around them.

When the child from the story above is carefully positioning those miniatures in the sand tray, he is using the language of play to express his unique thoughts and emotions. To have someone there to walk alongside him as he expresses these things fosters trust and safety. When I comment on how carefully he chooses his miniatures for the scene and reflect that he puts a lot of thought into the choices he makes, I’m showing him that I’m present in his play experience. And more importantly, I’m showing him that I notice him and the person he is choosing to be.

Play therapy is about providing a place for the child to feel free to explore. What they explore and where they go is up to them. The important part is that they feel safety, freedom, and ownership of their own therapeutic process. It is about taking what is in their life that feels unmanageable to them and bringing it into a manageable forum of symbolic play. You help them see the truth through the experience of play.

The Process: Let the Play Do the Work
Why Child-Centered Play Therapy?

One of the primary premises of child-centered play therapy is that the child will choose exactly where they need to go. And as their therapist, it is your goal to follow them wherever that may be.

In child-centered play therapy, the focus of the session is quite literally “child-centered,” and that means exactly what it sounds like. As the therapist, your goal is to follow them wherever it is they need to go, engaging with them, acknowledging that you’re there, you hear them, you notice their choices and their feelings, and you’re walking alongside them in their play.

Your goal is not to change the child. Your goal is to provide the child a rich space full of possibilities in which they are able to change themselves. This is why you’ll see a vast array of options in any fully equipped playroom, typically including a sand tray, miniatures for the sand tray, puppets, an easel and paint, a dollhouse, a good variety of dress up clothes and props for imaginative play, some games, and more. And it all remains visible to the child, so they can quite literally choose what they need. Your role is to act as a mirror and reflect them and their choices back to them as they go. So, what is the purpose of play therapy?

Quite simply, the purpose is to let the child play.


Sibling Rivalry: Tips for Surviving the Summer

Summer break is here, and if your family is like mine, it didn’t take long for the kids to start getting cranky and fighting with each other, stimulating that sibling rivarly. As the long days of summer stretch ahead, do you find yourself wondering how you’ll survive this sibling rivalry until August? Or, more importantly, whether the kids will make it back for the first day of school in one piece?

By: Julia Fazio, LMFT-Associate; Supervised by Billy Lee Myers, Jr, LMFT-S

By: Julia Fazio, LMFT-Associate;
Supervised by Billy Lee Myers, Jr, LMFT-S

I’ve been thinking about some helpful lessons I learned from Susan Stiffelman’s wonderful book Parenting with Presence that might make it easier to negotiate the dog days of summer with your children.

  1. Let tempers cool first. Giving the kids some time to calm down before you address the problem makes it much easier for them to express their perspective on what happened. Make sure this time is not perceived as punishment, but rather as an important time that they need to feel like their best selves.
  2. Congratulate yourself, this is healthy! Children fight because they need to learn something, even if they’d rather not. Fighting teaches them important skills. However, sibling rivalry undermines their healthy relationship. Try to avoid being the judge and instead focus on facilitating. Ask each kid the same question until they manage to come to a resolution. “Why are you upset, Jack? Emma, why are you upset?”
  3. Avoid comparisons. Comparing kids to one another makes them feel unloved and angry, rather than motivated to change their behavior. Comparison might even escalate the fighting. Instead, try to focus on the unique talents of each child using specific praise, like “Wow, you sure are persistent, you have been working on that Lego building all afternoon!”
  4. Be good enough. You don’t need to do a brilliant job every minute of the day. You just need to be good enough. Try to silence those critical voices in your head that are telling you that you aren’t living consciously enough because you yelled at your kids. Give your heart a forgiving pat and start again.
  5. Prevent problems before they happen. Help your children understand their triggers, and the situations that will really upset them or set off an argument. Once they know what situations will lead to disputes, you can help them identify ways to cope or avoid them altogether.
  6. Remember to Breathe. Arguing children can trigger big reactions in parents, especially when the arguing seems to go on all day, every day. It’s important to recognize when you need to step back and take a breath before intervening in a state of high emotion. Even a minute or two of focused deep breathing can calm you down and clear your mind so that you can act versus react to the conflict.

For lots of helpful scenarios written with a great sense of humor, take a look at Sibling without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. And remember, summer will be over before you know it. All the rough spots will smooth over into one happy memory of the time you spent together as a family.


Domestic Violence Affects Children

By: Susanna Wetherington, LPC

By: Susanna Wetherington, LPC

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and in light of that I would like to take time today to talk about the red flags of abuse in regards to children. Research has shown that children who grow up in homes in which domestic violence takes place experience the effects of the violence, even if they don’t always see it or experience any direct abuse themselves. Today I’m going to discuss the ways in which domestic violence affects children and how these are often expressed in children.

Violence Affects Children Emotionally


  • Guilt
    – Children may feel responsible for the violence.
  • Shame – Children often believe that it does not happen anywhere else.
  • Fear – of expressing feelings, of divorce or separation, of injury.
  • Confusion – Children feel confused as to whether to love or hate the abuser, and often vacillate between the two.
  • Anger – about the violence, about the lack of safety in the home.
  • Grief – over family loss issues.
  • Burdened – over appropriate role as caretaker. With this role reversal, often an older child is forced to accept responsibility for the care of younger siblings and of the household due to the parents’ inability to fulfill these functions. The child may never have the opportunity to participate in normal childhood activities.

Violence Affects Children Behaviorally

  • Children may act out or withdraw and isolate.When it comes to isolation and withdrawal, this behavior seldom attracts attention, so these children may not be identified as troubled.
  • Children may overcompensate by overachieving or underachieving.
  • Children may refuse to go to school – They may believe that if they stay home their presence will keep the fighting under control, or that peers will recognize the physical abuse, emotional deprivation, or sexual abuse.
  • Children may exhibit care taking behaviors – they worry about the needs of others more than their own needs.
  • Children may become aggressive or overly passive.
  • Children may have rigid defenses – being aloof, sarcastic, blaming, or defensive.
  • Children may engage in attention seeking behaviors.
  • Children may start wetting the bed or have nightmares.
  • Children may appear chaotic and it may be hard to set limits with them. This is often because their emotional state is so chaotic and disregulated due to not knowing what is happening at home or when the violence will occur.
  • Children may run away, viewing this as their only alternative for escaping an unbearable home situation.
  • Older children from violent families may engage in excessive use of alcohol or drugs. This behavior is often, but not always, modeled after their parents’ behavior and is viewed as a psychological escape from their problems.
  • When these children become adolescents or adults, they may turn on their parents and become aggressive towards them. Also, when they are adults, they may abuse their own children or spouses.

Violence Affects Children Physically

  • Children will often exhibit somatic complaints, such as headaches, stomach aches, and asthma.
  • Children may appear nervous, anxious, and have a short attention span.
  • Children may be lethargic and this may appear as laziness.
  • Children may get sick often with colds, flu, etc.
  • Children may neglect their personal hygiene.
  • Children may regress in developmental tasks – bed wetting, thumb sucking, clinging, etc.

Violence Affects Children Socially

  • Children may isolate, either having no friends or they may be distant in their friendships.
  • Relationships with friends may start intensely and end abruptly.
  • Children may have difficulty trusting others.
  • Children may exhibit poor conflict resolution skills.
  • Children may be excessively socially involved (to stay away from the home).
  • Children may be passive with others and/or seek power to be the aggressor.

Violence Affects Children Cognitively

  • Children may learn to blame others for their behaviors.
  • Children may believe it is okay to hit others to get what you want, to express anger, to feel powerful, to get their needs met.
  • Children may have a low self-concept.
  • Children may learn not to ask for what they need.
  • Again, children may learn not to trust (because of unkept promises to change).
  • Children may believe that to feel angry is bad.
  • Children may come to believe in rigid gender roles.

Domestic Violence Affects Children

It is not necessary for all of these to be present, but these are certainly some of the red flags to look out for if you suspect a child may be in a violent home environment. It is important to be on the child’s side. More often than not when many of these behaviors are exhibited, especially those that are viewed as unacceptable and disruptive at school, the child gets punished and their parents are called. It is important to be there for the child and to talk to them about how sometimes when there is trouble at home, children respond in this way. This may give you an opening for the child to be vulnerable enough to trust you that these behaviors are not necessarily their fault – that they are reacting to chaos and danger at home. This can also help them let go of some shame they might have about how they are behaving and interacting with the world, giving them understanding as to why they are responding so.

If you believe that a child might be in danger or might be witnessing or experiencing violence at home, do not hesitate to contact the following resources:

9-1-1 – your local police department.

Lifeworks – http://www.lifeworksaustin.org

Safe Place – http://www.safeplace.org

The Center for Child Protection – http://www.centerforchildprotection.org

Child Protective Services – https://www.dfps.state.tx.us/child_protection/


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