Thursday, June 1, 2017

What is Play Therapy?

Jennifer Hendricks, M.Ed., LPC, RPT 

Play Therapy can be individual, family or group based, for kids as young as 3 through early teens.  It  is beneficial for children because they are able to express themselves through their most natural language, play.  The toys utilized in the playroom allow for expression of nurturing, aggressive and collaborative play.  By engaging with the therapist, a child is able to enhance problem solving skills, expression of feelings and develop coping strategies to use in everyday life.

Play Therapists can also utilize sand trays with a multitude of miniatures to allow children to create their world and process situations.  Kids can show family or peer situations.  I’ve seen battle scenes, playground scenes and slumber party scenes.  Toys utilized in the playroom are specific and selected in that there are no rules for the play.  Puppets, dollhouses, family figures, animals, dress up and building play are all included in the playroom.

Book series are often used in the playroom to address specific situations with children.  This is beneficial for children with a history of trauma, specific anxieties or worries or to allow for developmentally appropriate expression.  

Therapeutic games are helpful in addressing situations with children of all ages.  These games can be focused on increasing self awareness, self expression and social skills.

Play Therapy is engaging for all kids, big and small.  I enjoy watching children connect with me and their families by learning a new skill or expressing difficult emotions.  I’ve seen kids share their feelings with parents about traumatic events and seen kids discuss helpful strategies to help them with peers at school.   Kids can learn to identify their strengths and accomplishments through play.   Play therapy can be combined with talk therapy to address topics in a less threatening manner and allow children to process topics that would be difficult in a dialogue.   We can learn from children that we are never too old to play!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Importance of Helping Your Children Make the Transition from Children/Teens into Adulthood

Leslie Schultea, MS, LPC, LMFT

One of the primary goals of parenting is to raise our children to be responsible and fully functioning adults.  A legal adult is defined as “a person who has attained the age of majority and is therefore regarded as independent, self-sufficient and responsible.”  A common term for this process is “adulting.”  Regardless of emotional maturity of a person each child needs to be fully equipped by the age of 18 to accept and manage adult responsibility.

Unfortunately many parents delay or even avoid this process in an effort to “hang on to their children,” avoid upsetting their children or honestly not knowing how vitally important this process is for life long success.  Teaching your children to be responsible and independent can not and should not be rushed or hurried.  If you wait too long you are likely to over whelm and cause fear in your children.  Both parents and children should have a sense of excitement and pride in the adulting process.

Below is a list of the areas that parents need to address in an effort to successfully help your children become a successful, independent and self-sufficient adult.  In other words “adulting your children.”

1.      Taking Risks-Encourage your children to do things outside of their comfort zone and do not protect them for real life pitfalls and disappointments.   Taking risks will show them that they can rely on themselves and survive hard situations on their own without being rescued.
2.      Managing Finances-Teach your children basic banking skills and managing money.  Open a bank account for your children and give them a budget to manage.  Reinforce real life consequences if they do not adhere to their budget. 
3.      Navigate Around Town and in new/unknown Areas-Teach your children to identify roads, highways, routes and real life travel situation and allow them to find their way around without escorting them.  Teach them to also fill up their gas tank and take basic care of their automobile.  Educating them about public transportation is also very important.
4.      Cooking, Cleaning and Self-Care-Children must know how to cook at least basic recipes and measure ingredients in order to feed themselves.  They also need to know how to do their own laundry along with purchase their own clothes within a budget.  By the time a child is in their late teens they should know how to do their own laundry, care for their clothing and maintain it.    Basic hygiene must also be addressed early on and reinforced throughout the teen years.  This might seem like a simple concept but many tweens and teens resist basic hygiene skills which are necessary in adulthood. 
5.      Managing Relationships and Social Media-Children must learn to negotiate and mediate friendships and other relationships.  They need guidance in understanding social norms, non-verbal behavior and social clues that will help them adapt and adjust to different types of relationships.  Successful completion of these skills will ultimately help in social and work relationships.  Children must understand the risks of social media and posting things on social media that are not appropriate.
6.      Time Management-You must be a good example of time management and expect your children to adhere to a schedule and respect time limits.  Do not schedule things for them and do not constantly remind them of time constraints.  The best time to learn this skill is in childhood instead of late adolescence.  Have consequences for tardiness.
7.      Talking to Adults and Strangers-It is imperative to teach your children to look adults in the eyes when speaking to them and speak in an assertive (not quiet and passive) manner.  You can start this at a very early age by allowing children to order for themselves while eating out and speaking for themselves when meeting with teachers, Doctors and the like.  These basic social skills are mandatory when entering the adult world of college, work and other relationships. 
8.      Marriage and Long Term Relationship-It is the duty of parents to model healthy marital relationships as well as discuss with them what their personal expectations are in their own intimate relationships.  The teen years are the perfect time to discuss with your children and explain the positive qualities of a good partner along with healthy modeling what a healthy relationship looks like. 
9.      Critical Thinking-At the age of 12 critical thinking skills begin to form.  Parents during the teen years either encourage and reinforce this behavior and shut it down.  Allow your children to make decisions even if they make an error in judgement (within reason).  Children need to learn natural consequences of their choices and if their parents are always making their decisions for them those natural consequences will not occur.
10.  Learning and Understanding Politics-Teens must be educated about politics and the rights that they will hold when they are adults.  Parents need to encourage open conversations about politics even if their views differ.  It is your job to reinforce that  their opinion does matter and they have a voice which may influence their adult life.  Push them to look and talk about all things that are pertaining to politics and remind them how important it is to be a part of shaping their own future.    

“Adulting” can be a hard process for some parents and children but the best advice is to start early and be consistent through the teen years.  The skills listed above will make the path a bit easier in the long run.  Remember that you are setting up your children for success when they “fly the nest” and set out on their own.  Your hard work and persistence will pay off when you realize that you have raised strong, independent and self-sufficient adults who are ready to manage and master their world and environment. 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Taking Care of the Self

by Hilda R. Garcia, MSW, LCSW
     Clinical Social Worker

What is Self-Care?

Some of us may think we know or at least have an idea of what it means, but for others it could conceivably be a brand new concept.   For those of us who have been or are clinicians and in the business of helping people recognize how to care for themselves, we may fall short of doing it for ourselves.

As a social work novice, I found early on in my career that taking care of you is an important social work and life skill.  In writing this, I couldn’t help but remember my first flight to visit my colleague and her family in Manhattan.   The flight attendant’s safety instruction began with “in case of loss in cabin pressure, masks will drop from the ceiling; don your mask first before your child or others”.  I thought: WOW, what a brilliant idea…and so “social workie” to boot.  That idea morphed into something I diligently practice...making sure I do self- care and model that for others, whether clients, family or friends.  

For some self-care can feel  innate, yet for others it can be very a difficult challenge.  Suffice it to say that there has been a perception that when taking care of yourself, that is simply “selfish”, but it’s not.   After a few decades, we are now getting to the point of realizing that self-care is a very important part of staying healthy…emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. 

So now that self-care has proven to be a positive aspect of health, you want to know all about it and read up on it.  As reflected by a client’s world, she recognized that she had been too focused on her life goals, achievements, expectations, hers and others, and decided to make a drastic change.  She quit her 50-60 hour job and started a consulting business that promised to be exciting and fun.   She began traveling quite a bit all over all the country and still managed to schedule some time alone, exercise, and train for a marathon just for fun. 
After a few months into that and during the Christmas holidays, she found herself home in bed, completely exhausted and wondering what in the world happened as she’d focused on practicing how to be good to herself.   She simply forgot to take care of herself once again and now had a terrific flu, was tired and unable to do the work she thought was going to be awesome.

So, “SWITCHING THE CULPRITS DID NOT FIX IT”.  As much thought as she put into the changes, the small things were pushed aside.   She did make an attempt to take more time alone and to herself  but maybe not enough.  The training for the marathon was not so easy but she did it.  Getting the flu is a reminder:  it’s the message that self-care is not a one-time thing but instead, it’s an ongoing awareness of how small things can soothe your body, mind and soul.  

A few small self-care ideas for the mind: 
  • Watch sunsets or lie on the grass and watch clouds float by.
  • Document great things people say about you and review them often.
  • Play around for a bit or just goof off.
  • Be “selfish”.   Do one thing that makes you happy; only you know what that one thing is.
  • Fix a small annoyance that’s getting on your nerves.   Change a light bulb that’s out.    
A few self-care ideas for the body:
  • Take a quick nap for ten or twenty minutes.
  •  Have a good laugh by reading comic strips that you enjoy
  • Get down and boogie.  Listen to a favorite record and shake your body. 
  • Take three deep breaths and exhale slowly. 
  •  Be still and just be.
A few self-care ideas for the soul:
  •  Imagine you’re your own best friend.
  • Help someone; carry a bag; open a door; wheel someone to an entrance of a store.
  • Stroke a pet.
  • Plan a get-away for the next weekend.   Tell people you will be away and turn off your phone.
  • Check in with your emotions.  Name without judgment what you are feeling.
It’s taking small yet consistent steps to attend to our own self-care that will connect us to ourselves and our worlds.   Changing a few pathways in our brains will make for big changes in our everyday lives.
Doing self-care …………………“It is an idea whose time has come”………Pierre T. de  Chardin

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Well-Connected Child

by Angie Grindon, LCSW, LPC

This is such an exciting era regarding what we are learning about the BRAIN! This new knowledge is impacting every area of our lives, confirming, expanding or correcting what we previously believed. We now know that the brain is amazingly plastic, capable of remarkable change even in adulthood. 

We are also learning that physical exercise, good nutrition, positive, loving, safe, nurturing, close relationships, loving touch, reliable safety, consistency, good eye contact, attention, listening, structure and routine are all essential* to strong brain development and health. This most recent  knowledge gives us a new roadmap for our own living and for caring for and parenting our children.

When we are stressed, our behavior, thinking, and emotional well-being tends to deteriorate. We do not always recognize stress in ourselves or others. Most people learn, early in life, ways to mask observable signs of stress so as to not appear vulnerable. Children’s sense of vulnerability is both physical and emotional. Children (and adults) may be able to mask stress in its early stages, but in later stages it can result in acting out (e.g. anger, destructive behavior) or acting in (e.g. withdrawal).

What we know now is that once our brain is overly excited (stressed), we cannot think well. We act out a flight/fight response. Returning to our good, balanced brain requires time, positive calm and a sense of emotional and physical safety.  Until that is restored we cannot process information, talk about what is going on with ourselves, or regain use of our thinking brain. 

As adults and parents, we need to provide children with a daily “diet” of those essentials above(*). It is critical to their development. Also, to help our children develop, we must stop and attend to a child when she is displaying signs of stress (e.g. poor or deteriorating behavior, withdrawal, resistance). When this happens a child needs help to return to her best self.  To help, we engage in those identified essential* behaviors. We must do so sincerely and with a caring heart. And, this must be repeated at least daily, and more often when a child is stressed. This enables the child to learn to do so for herself and/or ask for help with this when she needs it. 

These are the elements for eventually developing a positively- and well-connected child: a child whose behavior is positive (most all of the time), can become excited, can calm down, has good eye-contact naturally, enjoys loving, safe touch and time with her caretakers, is engaged in her life, enjoys learning new things, is playful, physically active and creative.