Archive of ‘Preschooler’ category

What is Non-Directive (Child-Centered) Play Therapy?

Do your kiddos ever sit you down on the couch and explain to you what they are feeling and why? Well, usually not. You see, adult brains are fully developed and are able to talk and share what’s going on in their lives. Children, on the other hand, are still building their brain and don’t have all of the words to be able to express themselves. However, children can connect, process, and express themselves through play. Garry Landreth, the Founder of Child-Centered Play Therapy, shares, “Toys are children’s words and play is their language”.

What is Play Therapy? What does Non-Directive Mean?

Let’s start with the definition of play therapy, which means children, usually ages 3-12, using toys and art to express themselves and process what they need. That’s right, this counseling room is filled with toys and art supplies. These items serve as a child’s way of expressing what an adult would share with their words. Non-directive allows the client to lead the sessions, meaning getting to play freely without the counselor directing activities or questions. Counselors who use this theory believe the client is the expert in their own lives and will bring into session what they need that day. It can be harmful to force clients to process before they are ready, ultimately delaying progress. 

What Happens in Non-Directive Play Therapy?

Play therapy takes the form of what the child needs it to be in that session. Play therapy could involve the child playing with toys to act out a fight they just had or using art supplies and the sandtray to regulate themselves. Play therapy could also be connecting with the counselor in an activity together, that the child came up with on their own, to build trust and self esteem. The counselor is there to support the child and assist with processing, regulation, and limit setting. If the child invites the counselor into their play, then the counselor will continue to follow the child’s lead. Allowing the client to take the lead enables them to build self-esteem and confidence.

Who Could Benefit from Non-Directive Play Therapy?

Really any child could benefit from play therapy! Play therapy has proven success with children from pre-k to middle school. It is a safe space for them to process and express themselves with someone who isn’t a family member or friend. It establishes a personal relationship that is free from any connection to their outside world. Play therapy can be used with anxiety, depression, emotional dysregulation, anger outbursts, life transitions, divorce, low self esteem, social skill issues, school behavior problems, grief and so much more.

How Does Non-Directive Play Therapy Work?

First of all, play therapy takes lots of time and is thought of as a journey. It is extremely important for the child to come to weekly sessions to create safety, trust, and consistency. Sometimes things can get worse at home before they get better, which is normal since a child is having big feelings that they are not used to expressing. 

The counselor will meet with the child one-on-one, so they are fully able to process what they need without their parent present. The very first step is building trust and rapport with the counselor. Without that, how could anyone process what’s going on in their lives? The counselor will observe and be fully present with the child in a calming space, track the child’s play, and reflect feelings. The counselor will also set limits as needed to provide safety for the child, counselor, and room. The counselor will label positive characteristics and strengths they notice in the child as well.

Is There Parent Involvement?

Yes, and this is so important, you and the counselor are on a team now. The counselor is only with the child once a week for 45-50 minutes, while you, the parent, are with your child the majority of the time. The counselor will first set up an initial intake session with the parent to hear all concerns and goals for the child before even meeting with the child. The counselor will then set up separate sessions, usually every 4-8 sessions, to discuss play themes they are seeing in the session, to hear how the kiddo is doing at home, and to provide parenting support while teaching skills to use at home.

It will be so challenging to not know what is going on in session right away, and it is common for it to take at least 10 sessions before safety and trust is built with your child. It is quite valuable for parents to recognize that when their child begins their journey through therapy, the parent does too. With that comes the task of parents being patient and understanding that their child’s progress is fully maximized when the parent changes alongside with them.

Written by: Sumayah Downey, MA, LPC-Associate, NCC Supervised by Cristy Ragland, LPC-S, LMFT-S, RPT-S


How To Tell Your Child You Love Them

Love is such a special feeling we experience with others, especially with a parent towards their child. There are many ways to show your child you love them without just saying it. Each child receives love differently, depending on what they are most comfortable with. Test these out and see what works the best for your kiddo, and, of course, feel the love!

1. Spend One-on-One Time Together

It’s so valuable to spend one-on-one time with each of your children, even if it’s 30 minutes every week. Pick the same day and time each week if possible so it’s a “date” your child looks forward to every week. Allow your child to pick the activity they enjoy. Devote all your focus on them and the activity they chose. This time should just be you and your child, nothing else. 

2. Listen and Reflect Feelings

Your child shares aspects that are important to them with you. Make sure they feel acknowledged and prioritized when they share those aspects. Put down your phone when they are talking and make eye contact while appearing interested. Reflect any feelings you are noticing in them or in yourself. Reflecting allows for you to understand your child and for your child to feel understood and connected by you.

3. Hug Them

Physical touch is a critical part in fostering a loving and trusting relationship with your child. Hug them, cuddle with them, high-five them, hold their hand, sit or lay with them on the couch. Be near them and show them you are physically there for them.

4. Create a Routine Together

Having your child assist in building their routine allows for esteem building and creates trust together. It also allows having a set schedule to provide safety and consistency for your child’s life, especially during the school semester when tasks feel more hectic. 

5. Share Strengths

When you notice a strength in your child, tell them. Tell them everyday. You are showing your belief in them, which allows for them to grow into that and believe in themselves as well.

6. Family Meetings

Having a family meeting to discuss topics that effect everyone, should include everyone’s voice. Allow your child to brainstorm on where to go for dinner or what changes need to be made at home to assist the family in working together. This acknowledges you care about their voice and value their opinion. This assists with feelings of belonging and security.

7. Be Patient

Having kids can be extremely challenging and stressful. Some days you just want to scream and run away. Breathe. Take care of yourself and figure out what helps you feel calm and regulated. You are the example at the house to show how to handle big feelings. 

8. Laugh Out Loud

Laughter can feel like the best medicine. Be silly with your child and allow for good times to roll together. Laughing can bring you both even closer towards one another.

9. Acknowledge When You’re Wrong

We are certain to make mistakes, we are only human. How we are able to recover and how we handle our mistakes is what makes the difference rather than the act itself. Do not be afraid to admit you were wrong to your child. This shows them that it is okay to admit when you have done something you should not have or misspoken.

10. Surprise them

Establishing that routine is crucial to consistent growth but an unexpected surprise shows your child you’re thinking of them, even when they aren’t around. This can be as small as bringing their favorite snack when being picked up from school, putting a sweet note in their lunchbox, or bringing home something from the store that reminded you of them.

Written by: Sumayah Downey, MA, LPC-Associate, NCC Supervised by Cristy Ragland, LPC-S, LMFT-S, RPT-S


Tips For A Successful Transition To Summer

The temperatures are climbing, school dismissal bells are ringing, and sandals are reclaiming their rightful place as a wardrobe go-to. Summer is around the corner! While summer is usually associated with fun in the sun, it’s not always popsicles and rainbows. Summer is also a big time of transition for kids and their families. The change in routine and lack of schedule can be challenging for some people. However, this is also a great season for rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation – especially after a tough school year like this one has been! Here are some of my favorite ways to make the most of your family’s transition to summer. 

Maintain A Routine

One of the toughest challenges I see is the change in routine for kids and their families. Within a matter of weeks kids go from a structured, time oriented lifestyle to a very loose and non-directive day. This shift in expectations and routine can be tough for kids and teens who thrive on structure, routine, and activity-based schedules. 

Consider maintaining a routine for summer that helps provide some parameters for everyone’s day to day experience. A great way to start this conversation is by hosting a family meeting. Bring the family together to discuss appropriate boundaries for wake up & sleep time, chores, and screen time during the summer. Ask each family member for input and find ways to meet everyone’s needs in agreement. Once or twice a month, consider revisiting this conversation in another family meeting to make adjustments as needed. As the months go on, the needs of the kids may change (and potentially yours will too!) This will help ensure a steady transition from spring to summer, and may make the transition from summer into fall easier as well. Find a local Certified Positive Discipline Parent Educator to learn more about the benefits of family meetings and how to incorporate them into your routine. 

Let’s Go Exploring!

One of the highlights of summer is the gift of time! Less time spent in school means more time for extracurricular activities and interests. It can be really hard to weave in hobbies and new activities during the school year. Use this time to get in touch with your inner explorer! 

I encourage families to find ways to try new things over the summer to break up the monotony of long unstructured days. It’s a great time for kids to explore new interests they may have. Ask your children if they have any new sports or hobbies they want to try over the summer and enroll them in a class or interest group. It’s an easy way to meet new friends with common interests and help encourage new neural connections in the brain. Another easy way to introduce new things is planning a Staycation in your own city. Maybe there are some cool new restaurants you’ve been wanting to try, or a local park you haven’t had a chance to visit. Take some time to collect ideas of different places or activities and write them on popsicle sticks. Take one or two sticks out of the jar each Sunday to see where the week will take you!

Keep Up With Your Therapy

The kids are out of school, children are taking breaks from our regular routine of after school activities, and adults are taking time off work for fun vacations and day trips. Without the regular stressors of everyday life, keeping your regular weekly therapy may feel a bit unnecessary, right? Actually, it may be the furthest from the truth! Summer is the best time to jumpstart progress and growth, especially for kids and teens. Less stressors means more opportunity for the brain to stay grounded, attuned, and ready for processing. This is a great time for teens to work on emotion regulation, peer relationships, and overall exploration of their mind, body, and soul. It’s so important to model the prioritization of mental health year round, and maintaining regular sessions over the summer is a perfect time to model this self care for yourself and others. 

In addition, summer is a great time to schedule appointments with other practitioners to help coincide with ongoing therapeutic treatment. Summer is the perfect time to explore new treatment modalities or complete in depth psychological assessments. The extra time off from school allows for time for kids to adjust to new medications, build relationships with collaborative practitioners, and develop a plan for success for the upcoming school year. Ask your therapist if they have any recommendations for collaborative care in your ongoing treatment plan. Your therapist should have a list of referrals available for local psychologists, psychiatrists, and dietitians who are ready and able to help work together to create the best treatment plan for you or your child. 

In the spirit of full disclosure, summer is my favorite season. With these tips (and a good amount of Air Conditioning!) it can become yours, too! Incorporating these areas of growth into your life will help ease the transition from season to season, and prepare you for an amazing and bright few months ahead. Consider reaching out to your favorite therapist for support in making summer 2021 the best one yet! 

Written By: Sara Balkanli, LPC-Associate Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S


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