Archive of ‘Play Therapy’ category

Helping Children Process Death During COVID-19

There is no doubt that we are living in unprecedented times, especially now that we have approached one year since COVID-19 arrived to the US. This virus has required us to adjust to so many things at once: uncertainty, constant change, fluctuating emotions and, unfortunately, how to cope with the loss of loved ones, friends, and family. For many adults, death is an unfortunate concept we have had to come to terms with at some point in our lives. However, with children experiencing the devastating effects of COVID-19 every day, death has become an unavoidable topic. The intense grief these young children have felt because of the loss of an immediate or extended family member can be especially difficult for them to process, especially if parents have not had the difficult conversation of explaining what death is and the painful emotions associated with it.  My hope for this article is to provide support to parents and caregivers by outlining relevant information to keep in mind when helping their child process grief and loss during this pandemic.

Explaining Death to Your Child

First things first is to tell the truth and be honest with your child, but in an age appropriate way. Children do not need to know every detail of how their loved one died, but it is important to provide essential facts about what happened. Children may also need an explanation of what death is and explaining this process using clear language is key. Everyone may explain death differently, but it is important that you do not use euphemisms, like ‘passed away’ or ‘left us’, because it can leave room for confusion about the permanence and finality of death.  

Death Triggers Many Feelings 

Death can bring up many different emotions for children and grieving a loved one does not look a certain way. Some may cry or be filled with anger, while others may be silent or feel scared. However your child chooses to grieve, it is important that you encourage self-expression and allow them to feel and experience their grief. Experiencing anger, sadness, or any other type of feeling is a part of coping and allows your child to process this painful, but real aspect of life. 

Coping with Death 

Reassurance and continuation of positive experiences can help your child move forward in their grief process. Your child may be worried or scared what might happen to them or other members of your family because of this experience, but reassuring them about the precautions that you are taking to keep everyone safe is important. Resuming fun and enjoyable activities can help support your child’s adjustment, letting them know that life will continue and it is perfectly acceptable to laugh and have fun even during the grieving process. Because COVID-19 has made it difficult to say goodbye to loved ones due to social distancing protocols, it is helpful to find alternative ways to thoughtfully remember the person who died, such as a virtual gathering or the participation of a family ritual. 

Books for Children Experiencing Grief 

Books are not only a wonderful resource to help parents and caregivers explain what death is in an age appropriate way, but also a gentle story can provide comfort to children who have experienced loss. 

Written By: Geetha Pokala LPC-Associate Supervised by Kirby Schroeder LPC-S, LMFT-S

Mindfulness for Kids: Embracing the Power of Nature

Ahhh it’s FINALLY that time of year when it finally doesn’t feel like a million degrees outside or that you’re swimming in the humidity every time you walk out the door. This year especially, going outside feels particularly powerful and therapeutic (for most – I recognize that this might not be everyone’s experience of nature!).  As Hippocrates once said “Nature itself is the best physician.”  But how exactly does going outdoors help us?  Getting outside activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us and our bodies to feel calm.  It also provides a great landscape to practice mindfulness (paying attention to the present moment on purpose) by providing a fun, ever changing sensory experience (i.e. bird song, leaves rustling, changing colors with the seasons).  It can help children develop and enhance focus/attentional skills and promote feelings of calmness and relaxation. 

Mindfulness Activities

With that, here are some suggested activities to do outdoors with kiddos. (Note: all activities were found and inspired by the book Mindfulness and Nature-Based Therapeutic Techniques for Children by Cheryl Fisher, PhD., NCC, LCPC, ACS)

Color Walk

Purpose: Helps children to focus attention and be present in the moment as they look and match color cards to natural items! 

Supplies: Squares of color (paint samples or you can create your own!)

  1. Choose a color from your deck of color “cards” and hold onto it as you walk.
  2. Set a timer for 10 minutes.  As you begin to walk, look all around and notice all the things that are similar in color to your card.
  3. As you notice something, share it out loud or quietly say it to yourself.
  4. When the timer is done, stop and select another color from the deck and repeat the steps! 
  5. You can follow up with your child at the end of the walk with questions such as: 
    1. “How was it to focus on your card?”
    2. “What surprised you about this?”
    3. “What did you notice?” 

You can adapt this activity to fit the needs of your child.  For example, ten minutes may seem challenging (which is understandable)! Start with setting the timer at 3-5 minutes and work on increasing the time.  It doesn’t matter how many cards you are able to complete-the goals is to develop attentional skills at a safe pace 🙂 

Tabletop Sand Garden

Purpose: To calm and focus the mind by creating a natural scene or environment in the sand box.

Supplies: Tupperware or plastic container with lid filled with sand, bag, natural items found in walk.

  1. Start by taking a walk in nature.  Instruct your child to collect natural items that stand out to them (preferably ones that are not picked but lying on the ground already).
  2. Once your child has collected items, open the sand container.  Place and arrange the natural items to create a scene or a design.  
  3. Follow up with questions such as: 
    1. “How was that for you?”
    2. “How did your mind/body feel while you were creating your scene?” 
    3. “What does this mean to you?”

4.  Once they have time to reflect, take the natural items and ask your child to replace the natural items in a place they choose outdoors. 

If I were a Tree…

Purpose: Art activity to help children express themselves through a natural symbol.

Supplies: Paper, coloring utensil (markers, crayons, pencils, etc.)

  1. Find a spot in nature
  2. Close your eyes and imagine you are a tree
  3. Consider the following questions and read out loud to your child: 
    1. What kind of tree would you be? 
    2. Are you a young tree or an old tree? 
    3. Do you have flowers or fruit?
    4. How do animals live around you?
    5. Do you have deep roots? 

4.  Draw your picture of the tree using paper and coloring materials 

5. Consider follow-up/reflection with prompt such as “Tell me about your creation.”  

Sound Mapping

Purpose: Enhance listening skills for attention and body/spatial awareness

Supplies: Large piece of paper, tape, cardboard, pencil

  1. Find a place outdoors that feels safe.  Put the piece of paper in front of you and secure it by either taping it to a wall (if there is one) or by taping it to cardboard.  
  2. Close your eyes and begin to listen to noises around you.  Take your pencil and “map” out the sounds you hear and draw symbolically what they sound like to you (for example: maybe you hear birds chirping in front of you and you place it on the top of the paper with symbols).
  3. Map all sounds around you with shapes, lines, symbols to create a “sound symphony.” 
  4. Once completed, open your eyes and title your piece.
  5. You can reflect with your child with suggested questions such as: 
    1. “What was that like?”
    2. “Were some sounds easier to recognize? Were some harder to recognize?” 
    3. “What surprised you about your map when you opened your eyes?” 

Each of these activities can be modified to fit the needs of each child/teen completing them.  Part of the process is to be with what unfolds, so if the activities don’t go exactly as planned, that is OK! Mindfulness is a practice that is ever-evolving. 

While I hope these provide a way to harness nature’s power,  my greater hope is that it gives you a fun bonding opportunity with your kiddos in the midst of a challenging time.  Parenting is HARD and I see and value you, parents.  Happy exploring, friends! 

Presley Pacholick, LCSW
Written By: Presley Pacholick, LCSW, RPT


Tips From a Therapist: Finding the Right Therapeutic Fit

During COVID-19, our mental health matters a great deal. Though nearly all therapists at Austin Family Counseling are seeing clients virtually, finding the right therapist is more essential now than it has been. With the upcoming election, a lot of us need to put ourselves first. And this looks like finding a therapist who not only has the correct licenses and qualifications but also has the right personal fit. Studies show that regardless of the therapist’s education and acquired techniques, if the personality is too different than the client’s, very little therapeutic growth will happen in the relationship. 


What kinds of counselors work for different clients? Obviously, counselors have to be warm and empathic, but there have been instances where certain clients do not mesh well with certain counselors. Each counselor-client relationship has a different kind of synergy in the counseling room, and there are many different components that make for a great therapeutic process. Below are three main factors that go into making a therapeutic relationship between a therapist and a client work:

Personality Type

Typically, extraverted personalities gravitate toward other extraverted personalities. Just as introverted personalities, though more hidden than extraverts, gravitate toward introverted personalities. For example, extraverts have lower brain arousal and consistently search for higher stimulation in everyday life. If an extravert was seeing an introverted counselor and processed in session ways that they are seeking higher stimulation such as social events, an introvert would probably not be able to empathize as well as another extraverted therapist would.

Age Range

In many general inquiries, I will get clients seeking a therapist close to their age. While I do have a wide and diverse range of clients, most of the potential clients who ask for me specifically tend to be in my same age range. This is perhaps because clients need an empathetic presence to validate their life stages (starting a career or a business, graduating from college, starting a family, etc.). In some instances, having a younger therapist is at an advantage. Statistics show that families who go to family therapy have better results when the therapist is younger because the children of the family feel more validated and less ganged up on in session.

Therapeutic Approach

There is no one kind of therapeutic technique that works for every client. Each person walks into my office on the first visit with different experiences, different perspectives, and different realities. This is why that even though I have specific training on several main kinds of therapy, I allow my clients to tell me what they are comfortable with in the room. Some therapists have staunch views on what works for their clients, and other therapists have a more laidback, non-specific approach. I like to remain right in the middle of these two. No matter how much research there can be on one kind of therapeutic approach, there is always one client who will not be an ideal fit for it. With this understanding in mind, I maintain a firmly gentle approach, letting my clients do most of the work while still gently challenging them using various techniques I have learned.

Written By: Ian Hammonds, LPC, LMFT

Interested in learning more about what therapy looks like from the client’s perspective? Check out this blog!


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