In previous posts I’ve mentioned how much I love using games in therapy, especially with children and adolescents. So far I’ve explored how I use the games Jenga, Sorry!, Find It, Perfection, and so on. I call the original games themselves “non-therapeutic” games, otherwise known as classic games that you would likely find in the toy section of most department stores. These games were initially created not for the purpose of using them specifically for counseling, such as the therapy games that you can find on specialty therapy game websites. Most classic games, however, with some imagination, can easily be adapted in some form to transform them into therapy games.
Today’s game is especially popular: Checkers. Specifically, Feelings Checkers. I use Feelings Checkers with children, adolescents, and sometimes even adults to help them improve emotion vocabulary (feelings identification) and appropriate emotions expression. I can also teach people about how our emotions are connected to our body sensations; for example, if I’m feeling angry my face and neck might redden, my heart starts beating faster, and my fists might clench. Teaching body awareness is crucial to helping us begin to recognize the physical signs that occur as we are becoming angry or beginning to feel another emotion. The awareness helps us better regulate our emotions before they might get out of control.
Prep for the Game
If you don’t already own a game of checkers, checkerboards are fairly easy to find in most stores. The game includes at least 24 chips for standard play; some game sets will include some extra chips too. To prepare for this game, write feelings words on round post-its or stickers, then stick them to the underside of your checker piece. I’ve included a number of feelings words examples (more than 24) that you can look at to help you choose which feelings words you would like to use as part of your game. You can also buy an extra checkers set, even if it’s just to use the chips, so that you can create a larger variety of feelings words to choose from and switch the pieces out occasionally. The therapist can pre-select the pieces to be used prior the game.
Feelings Words Examples
How to Play
After adhering a sticker to each checker, you’re ready to play. You play the game as you would normally play a game of checkers. For this therapeutic version, when a piece is captured, it’s turned over and the player is asked to describe a situation they may have experienced that feeling.
Both therapist and client are expected to respond when they capture a piece. This gives the therapist an opportunity to model feelings identification and appropriate feelings expression, as well as discussing management of behavior when we experience strong emotions.
Instead of only identifying a time when you, the player, have experienced that feeling, name one way to cope with that feeling in the future.
If you use chips in your game set version, you can easily adhere a sticker to each side of each checker. The players can look at each side and tell how the two feelings are the same and/or different.
Think about what your face looks like when you experience this emotion? Model this face. What does your body look like or feel when you experience this feeling?
Working through trauma can be scary, painful, and potentially overwhelming. It’s common for people who have experienced trauma to have coped at least in part through some degree of dissociation. While dissociation was necessary for your survival then, continued dissociation, especially forms that are not within your control, is not adaptive once the abuse or other trauma has stopped. Now you have the task of staying present long enough to learn other means of establishing safety in the present. But how does someone who has relied on the automatic survival skill of dissociation learn to do this? Grounding is a skill that can help. In trauma therapy, learning grounding skills so that you can be present enough to develop a whole range of self-care strategies is crucial.
Grounding is about learning to stay present (or get present in the first place) in your body in the here and now. It consists of a set of tools to help you manage dissociation and the overwhelming trauma-related emotions that lead to it. Processing done from a dissociated state is not useful in trauma therapy; neither is it helpful to be so overwhelmed by feelings that you feel re-traumatized.
Grounding techniques can also be useful for those who may not have necessarily experienced past trauma. I recommend using many of these techniques for those struggling with anxiety and with controlling their anger reactions.
Every person is different, and different grounding techniques will work for different people. Some basic internet research and years of experience have led me to compile the following list of grounding techniques. Exploring the pros and cons of various approaches with your therapist can be useful.
Practice the following sensory exercise:
Name 5 things you see. (I see a dresser, a bed, and a TV stand.)
Name 4 things you feel. (I feel the sheets between my fingers, a blister on my toe, the heat blowing from the vent, and a cat lying by my side.)
Name 3 things you hear. (I hear the rain falling, a baby crying, and cars driving down the road.)
Name 2 things you smell. (I smell flowers and coffee.)
Name 1 thing you taste. (I taste the coffee I drank earlier.)
Bring up today’s newspaper on the web. Note the date and read something fun.
Read something, saying each word to yourself. Or read each letter backward so that you focus on the letters and not on the meaning of the words.
Smells are an incredibly powerful way of coming to our senses. If you’re deliberately paying attention to a smell, you’re truly in the present moment. Try to find a smell that has positive associations for you – maybe one that reminds you of happy times, or a smell which you enjoy. Carry it with you and use it to bring yourself back to the present moment if you get caught up in an unwanted memory. Helpful smells might include small bottles of essential oils, perfume soaked on a tissue, whole spices from the kitchen, etc.
Breathe in a scent not related to your trauma.
Practice diaphragmatic breathing (“belly breathing”). Trauma survivors and anxious individuals often hold their breath or breathe very shallowly. This in turn deprives you of oxygen which can make your symptoms more intense. Stopping and focusing on deepening and slowing your breathing can bring you back to the moment.
Practice this relaxed breathing exercise:
Breathe in slowly and steadily through your nose for a count of 4 – don’t rush this.
Pause for a count of 1.
Exhale slowly and steadily for a count of 4. Breathe out gradually; try not to breath out with a sigh.
Repeat for a few minutes until you notice a change in how your body feels.
If you get distracted, of if your mind wanders, just bring your attention back to how it feels to breathe in and out.
Trace your hands around your body and notice its outline. Experience the wonder that is your presence in the world.
Play a “categories” game with yourself. Try to think of “types of dogs,” “rock musicians,” etc.
Call a friend and have a chat.
If you’re feeling stuck, change your position. Wiggle your fingers, tap your feet – pay attention to the movement; you are in control of your body right here, right now.
Find the rainbow. Look around you and find each color, in order of the rainbow (remember ROY G BIV). Repeat until you feel calm.
Eat or drink something; notice it. Is it hot or cold? Sweet or sour?
Run cool or warm water over your hands.
Hold a small stone, shell, piece of small wood, or worry beads; touch and look at what you’re holding.
Imagine. Use an image:
Glide along on skates away from your pain.
Change the TV channel to get a better show.
Think of a wall as a buffer between you and your pain.
Practice a relaxation technique, like progressive muscle relaxation or guided imagery.
Use distractions like TV or music to settle down.
Listen to calming music.
Move to a safe and comforting body position, like leaning against a wall or curling up.
Use your voice. Say your name out loud or read the first paragraph of a book out loud.
Utilize a tactile grounding exercise. This can be done by holding an ice cube in your hand, taking a cold shower, or snapping a rubber band on your wrist. Many people find that the discomfort helps them reconnect with the present mement.
Look at yourself in a mirror and smile, even if it’s the last thing you want to do. Notice how you feel. What can you see? Note any negative thoughts in a diary or journal for later examination.
Write out what’s going on/what you’re anxious about. Keep writing until you notice a difference.
Take a shower or bath and notice how the sensation of the water feels.
Write an email/text to somebody you care about.
Describe an everyday activity in great detail. For example, describe the meal you last cooked for dinner.
Imagine yourself in a comfortable, familiar place: notice, feel, and enjoy its safety.
Take a look outside. Count the number of trees, the number of street signs, etc.
Exercise. Jump up and down on the spot; do yoga; go for a bike ride or walk.
Hold on to something comforting – a blanket or a stuffed toy.
Laugh, even if it’s hard. The act of laughing can break the cycle of despair.
When less stressed, make a list of things that provoke your anxiety. Discuss with your therapist.
Lie on the floor with your legs up and against the wall. This is a restorative pose that is beneficial to the health of your heart, giving it a rest so it doesn’t have to pump as hard; it also helps to slow down your heart rate, leaving you feeling more relaxed with a calmer sense of mind. Spend 5 minutes here noticing the natural rhythm of your breath.
Stretch. Roll your head around; extend your fingers…
Walk around using self-talk to remind yourself of your name, the date, and the words of a positive song or poem.
Walk slowly. Notice each footstep, saying “left” or “right.”
Think of favorites. Think of your favorite color, animal, season, food, time of day, etc.
Grab tightly onto your chair as hard as you can.
List 5 really positive things in your life. Put the list somewhere you will see it so as to remind you that there is more to your life than panic and anxiety.
Write a “grounding statement” to remind yourself that you’re safe; these help to remind us that we are safe in the present when unwanted memories in PTSD make us mentally “time travel” back to the trauma. You can carry the statement around with you and read it if you become upset. Useful statements talk about safety, or remind you of what is different now compared to then. Examples might include:
It is 2018, and I am safe. My trauma happened a long time ago and I survived.
My trauma happened in the past, and I am only remembering it now. The memories upset me, but they are just memories; they cannot hurt me.
Think about your last week. Was there a day you didn’t have as much anxiety? Why? What was different? What did you change or do differently?
Touch various objects around you: a pen, keys, your clothing…
Dig your heels into the floor-literally “grounding” them. Notice the tension centered in your heels as you do this. Remind yourself you are connected to the ground.
Carry a grounding object in your pocket, which you can touch whenever you feel triggered.
Remember a safe place. Describe the place that you find so soothing.
Pet your dog or other pet.
Chew gum. If it’s bubble gum, blow bubbles.
Stomp your feet on the ground.
Imagine yourself by the ocean and visualize the waves going in and out.
Do some gardening, or simply lie on the ground or lean against a solid tree to feel the earth’s solidity.
Eating foods that are heavy in carbohydrates, such as bread, rice, and pasta can help ground you.
He’s sick again. Or so he says. He was fine yesterday, last night even. But today he has a headache and a stomachache. I, with as much patience as I can muster, assure him that his head and stomach will stop hurting after he eats, then after he gets to school… He gives me his 52 best arguments for why he can’t go to school today. Again. When I fail to relent, he becomes anxious, then angry. You would think that this was his very first day of school, that he hadn’t been doing this every weekday morning every fall, winter, and spring since he was four-years-old. It feels like we’ve had the same conversation – argument – every day since he started pre-k. Every morning we replay the same scene over and over again. Every day, win or lose, I am left exhausted and he is anxious and angry.
What is school refusal?
School refusal, or school avoidance, is the refusal to attend school or stay in school due to emotional distress. It’s different from truancy in that kids with school refusal feel anxiety or fear towards school, whereas truant kids generally have no feelings of fear toward school, often feeling angry or bored with it instead. That’s not to say that if your child refuses to go to school because of his emotional distress, that he won’t incur a truancy petition being filed by the school, just as he would if he were refusing out of defiance. Additionally, school refusal can often come out in the form of anger or hostility; it can be hard to distinguish between defiance and emotional distress, especially at first.
There are various signs and symptoms of school refusal, and it can look different in every individual. These kids may outright refuse to attend school or create reasons why they shouldn’t go. Some common signs and symptoms include
The child saying they feel sick often or waking up with a headache, stomachache, or sore throat (or offer some other vague, unexplainable symptom).
If he stays home from school, these symptoms might go away but come back the next morning before school.
The child may have crying spells or throw temper tantrums.
They have frequent complaints about attending school.
Frequent tardiness or unexcused absences.
They are absent on significant days (i.e., tests, speeches, p.e. class).
They make frequent requests to call or go home.
They may worry excessively about a parent when they are in school.
They might make frequent requests to go to the nurse’s office because of the physical complaints.
They may cry about wanting to go home.
It’s important to note that school refusal is not a clinical diagnosis, as deemed by the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM-5), though it can be associated with several psychological disorders, including separation anxiety disorder, social phobia, generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, conduct disorder, autism spectrum disorder, and learning disorders, to name a few. It’s critical that kids who are school refusing receive a comprehensive evaluation by a physician and then by a mental health professional if no physiological causes are found.
What causes kids to resist attending school?
There are numeroues reasons why a child might start refusing to go to school. Some factors that can cause such reluctance are as follows:
The child might want to avoid school-related issues and situations that cause them to experience unpleasant feelings, such as anxiety, depression, and psychosomatic symptoms. It is one symptom that can indicate the presence of a larger issues, such as an anxiety disorder, depression, learning disability, sleep disorder, or panic disorder.
The child may want to avoid tests, presentations, group work, specific lessors, or interaction with other kids.
The child may perceive their teacher(s) as “mean.”
The child may be afraid of failure.
The child may want attention from significant people outside of school, such as his parents.
The child may be reacting to events such as his parents separating or having marital problems.
The child may be jealous over a new sibling.
The child may want to do something more enjoyable outside of school, like practice hobbies, play videogames, watch movies, play with friends, etc.
The child may be anxious about academic achievement and being tested.
The child may have anxiety over toileting in a public restroom.
School refusal may be a response to bullying or peer rejection.
Shyness or social phobia may contribute.
The child might be worried about parents or siblings (such as a parent with substance abuse issues).
The child may be anxious or fearful of emergency drills (like fire, lockdown, or tornado drills).
The child may feel “lost” at school.
The truth is, school refusal is often a symptom of a deeper problem. Anxiety-based school refusal alone affects 2-5% of school-age kids. It’s even more common at certain ages; school refusal commonly occurs between ages 5-7, between 10-14, and at times of transition such as entering middle and high school.
What can parents do?
When a child won’t go to school, it’s tempting to treat it as a behavioral problem or to simply ignore it and hope it goes away (trust me, I know). But for kids who are afraid of school for whatever reason, being forced to go can be extremely distressing, sometimes even becoming like a phobia.
Not going to school is also not an option, so it’s important that parents find ways to support their child while still helping them get the education they need. Since the types of symptoms these children complain about can be caused by physical illness, the first step that I recommend is getting a physical exam for your child, prefereably with their pediatrician or primary care physician who has experience seeing them. When physiological factors are ruled out, the next step should be to arrange a meeting with your child’s school counselor or with a therapist. Family therapy can even be helpful; it can help your family find ways to support your child.
Other Helpful Strategies
Try to correct the problem quickly, if possible. The longer a child stays out of school, the harder it can be to return.
Don’t shame your child for not wanting to go to school. Be a supportive partner and an empathetic listener.
Talk to your child about their reasons for not wanting to go to school. Brainstorm strategies together to help resolve school problems, such as how to handle bullies and mean teachers. (Rehearsing such responses to these problems can especially be helpful.)
Talk about the positive aspects of school (e.g., friends, favorite subject) but without ignoring your child’s negative feelings.
Meet with your child’s teacher to discuss the problem. You may also need to meet with school staff to create a plan or an IEP that addresses your child’s needs. Some children need to gradually reintegrate back to school, going to school in small doses as they get used to it. Working at home or with a tutor can help bridge the gap.
Help your child build a support system. If they have trouble making friends, help them find new activities they enjoy so they can meet like-minded kids.
Encourage and praise small steps.
The way you respond to your child’s school refusal can make things worse. You’re your child’s biggest ally.
Commit to be extra firm on school mornings, when kids tend to complain most about their symptoms.
Keep discussions about physical symptoms or anxiety to a minimum before school.
Avoid telling your child’s friends/peers about their school anxiety.
Avoid shaming and threatening your child for not going to school.
Don’t make fun of your child, and don’t allow siblings to make fun of them for not going to school.
Don’t do nothing, assuming the issue will work out on its own.
If your child does stay home, be sure he’s safe and comfortable, but don’t give him any special treatment (no special snacks, visitors, etc). He should be supervised throughout the entire day.
Don’t take it personally.
How Counseling Can Help
Since school refusal is often related to a deeper mental health issue, such as anxiety, counseling can be especially beneficial. A trained therapist can assess and evaluate whether your child is struggling with something or is “just being defiant.” I use various psychological approaches appropriate to the child’s age that provide not only empathy and validation but also cognitive-behavioral strategies such as systematic desensitization, exposure therapy, and operant behavioral techniques. The goal of treatment is to help the child to restructure his thoughts and actions into a more assertive and adaptive framework that allows a more rapid return to school. I also work with the family in helping them support the child, as well as help frazzled parents learn how to better cope. Additionally, in most instances, a counselor will work collaboratively with the child’s school.
I have worked with a lot of kids and teens with ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) who have a really hard time in school. Whether they have combination type (difficulty focusing/paying attention and hyperactivity/fidgeting) or inattentive type ADHD, I learned quickly that just reading over a list of study skills for these kids to try was hardly effective. Teaching study skills, especially to kids with ADHD, requires more than providing them with a list and reading over it with them, then hoping for the best. You have to get creative, and you have to make learning more interactive.
I came up with this activity for that very reason. When I would teach study skills to a teen sitting in my office who was struggling in school, I could literally see the boredom in their faces and the lack of focus in their eyes. I would lose them within mere minutes. It was hardly effective. Just as teachers often have to make learning more interactive for all their students, I had to come up with a way to make learning study skills interactive for kids who were already struggling with their schoolwork due to ADHD symptoms.
Let’s Get On to the Activity…
GOAL: Help students learn helpful study skill tips and choose which strategies would work best for them.
“PLAYERS”: Student + a counselor, teacher, or parent
AGES: Middle school through college aged students
ACTIVITY: You can actually divide this activity into three separate activities. This is what I frequently do, as let’s face it, giving anyone a whole bunch of any material to learn at once isn’t always effective. Click on the links for the printable pdf forms of the packets and cards.
Before the activity, laminate (optional) and cut one copy of the Study Skill Cards for that particular activity. Cut apart each section/block on the Categories sheet; glue each block onto separate envelopes. Each block should be designated its own separate envelope:
“Tried it, but it’s not good for me”
“Already doing it, and it works”
“I’m interested in trying this”
“I’ll commit to trying it this week”
Both student and counselor (or teacher or parent) each get a packet for the particular activity you’ll be doing. Each person also receives an uncut copy of the Study Skill Cards page. Each player needs two highlighters of different colors. The laminated, cut study skill cards can be placed between the student and counselor.
The student draws a card form the pile in between them. They then read the study tip. The counselor can also choose to take turns drawing cards from the pile if she wants, but it’s important to keep the student as focused an involved as possible. Don’t “just read” to them.
Next to the study skill tip is a number in parentheses. This number corresponds to the number matching on the packet for the particular topic. For some cards, a more thorough explanation may be found in the packet whereas the card generally holds only a brief description of the strategy.
The student, upon reading the card, determines which envelope they want to place the card in. For example, they might place the “Copy the notes. (4)” card in the “I’m interested in trying this” envelope. The student and counselor then, using a designated color highlighter for this category, highlights the study skill tip on their Study Skills Card page so that they both can remember that the tip is something the student may be interested in trying. If the student chooses to place a card in the “I’ll commit to trying it this week” envelope, the student and counselor would use the other colored highlighter to mark those tips on their individual Study Skill Cards pages.
Encourage the student to commit to trying 1-3 skills in the upcoming week, particularly if they don’t already have very effective study habits. Take note that some strategies are better tried separately and not together with another skill tip (for example, “start with the hardest” and “start with the easiest” are probably best not tried during the same week).
After all (or a majority) of the cards are drawn and designated to their appropriate category, spend the remainder of the time discussing the week’s commitments and forming short-term goals. The student then can take their cards sheet and packet with them to help remind them of the skills and their commitment(s).
For the skills highlighted and designated into the category of “I’m interested in trying this,” keep the Study Skill Cards sheet handy for that student and refer back to it as necessary in the future.
The individually cut skill cards and envelopes can be saved to use with other students.
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.
The Idea Behind Separation & Loss Jenga
I came up with the idea of creating a Jenga game to help kids who have been separated from their parents or caregivers not long ago. The Jenga game has been a popular therapy tool for many therapists for years, as it can be easily adapted for a multitude of therapeutic purposes just by gluing question strips onto the individual blocks or marking the blocks with various colors and creating corresponding card decks filled with questions to ask or prompts to give children for anything from identifying feelings to learning and practicing social skills.
Coming up with questions for the individual Jenga blocks came easier than I anticipated. There are so many thoughts and feelings in these children’s minds when they’ve been separated from someone they love; pulling these thoughts and feelings out by using traditional methods of talk therapy only tend to work well for some kids (and usually these are the older ones). But give kids an activity or game, and suddenly the same things that a therapist has been trying to help the child express becomes less threatening for that child. There is a lot of psychology behind why and how play (such as playing games or doing other activities) works in the healing of children. Play is a child’s language. It helps them express what they cannot express in words, whether it be because they don’t yet have the language or because they have been more reluctant or it has been too difficult to talk about such painful feelings.
Though I created the game with the idea of being used in therapy between a child and therapist, it can also be played in the child’s new home with their current caregiver(s). Either way, when the therapist or caregiver chooses a question block, they can read the question out loud to the child for him or her to answer or if you feel comfortable in self-disclosing a separation or loss (even if it was through the death of someone you once knew), this can be done also. Regardless of how you adapt the game, just make sure the child you’re playing with knows the rules and what you’re doing before you play. The child may not respond well if they find out after you draw your first question block and direct the question to them if they didn’t know ahead of time that this was what you had planned to do.
It’s also important to validate the child’s answers when he responds to a question. If the child discloses that he feels sad, for example, that he is no longer living with his abusive mother, it will not help for you to say something like, “What do you mean you feel sad? She did nothing but hurt you!” Just. Don’t. Really, don’t.
Even if you think the child’s answer is “wrong” (which by the way, there are no “wrong” answers in this game), validate what they’re telling you because what they’re saying is very real to them. For the earlier example, you could say something like, “It can feel sad when you’re away from a person you love and care about.” Then. Stop. Really. Don’t try to put a “but” at the end of that sentence. Just leave it there. Trust me, not validating something like this isn’t going to help build your relationship with the child. At all. This isn’t the time to refute the child’s beliefs. Please leave that up to after you know more about the child and they are further along in their healing process and have built more trust in you.
(There are no “wrong” ways to feel anyway, regardless of how we might think they “should” be feeling; it’s not up to us to tell anyone how they should or shouldn’t feel. Don’t refute a feeling, even if you’ve known the child for a really long time and you have a good relationship. Give the child permission to feel the way they’re feeling and validate those feelings, even if you disagree or can’t totally understand why anyone could ever feel such a way. Empathize.)
By the way, it’s important to let the child know before you begin playing, that they should only share what they feel comfortable sharing. If they look like they’re struggling to answer a particular question, especially, give them a pass or allow them to answer another question instead. I don’t like forcing children to rush through any healing process. This will also help build your relationship with the child and plant the seed that you’re someone that isn’t going to push him any faster than he is able or willing to go, and that helps to build trust in your relationship.
Creating Your Own Separation & Loss Jenga Game
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.
creativity (noun) – the use of the imagination or original ideas
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.
55 Art Journal Prompts for Teens
Draw a picture of yourself as something other than a person.
Draw a picture of your family doing something.
My perfect day looks like…
Draw the monster you struggle with (i.e., anxiety as a monster, anger monster, depression monster).
Make a picture of the person you let other people see and a picture of the person you really are.
Draw a picture of how you think others see you.
What makes me unique…
I feel happiest when…
I wish I could…
Draw or paint your emotions.
Create a picture using only colors that calm you.
Create a collage related to a quote that inspires you.
Create a picture of what freedom looks like to you.
Document an experience where you did something you didn’t think you could do.
Draw or collage someone you admire.
Draw a place where you feel safe.
Create a motivational collage.
Create a timeline and journal the most significant moments in your life, with the most important moments highlighted visually.
Create a picture of an important childhood memory. Try to understand why it was so important to you.
Illustrate a fairy tale about yourself. If you could put yourself into a happily ever after situation, what role would you play? How would the story go? Create a visual story that tells the tale.
Create your own coat of arms. Choose symbols that represent your strengths.
Draw a comic strip about a funny moment in your life.
Create a picture for someone else.
Who are the anchors in your life? Make an anchor and decorate it with the people and things that provide you stability and strength.
Make a mind map that is a visual representation of all your thoughts.
Draw your dreams.
What do you need right now at this time in your life? Draw a picture or make a collage depicting this.
Draw or collage a picture showing what you are currently worried about.
What smartphone app would you like to create or see created? Represent this visually.
If magic was real, what spell would you try to learn first?
What problem are you currently grappling with?
Create a picture of what helps you feel better when you’re feeling down.
What is something you really wish you could tell or explain to your family?
What is something you really wish you could tell or explain to the teachers at your school?
What is something you really wish you could tell the other kids at school?
What do you wish would get better?
Draw your superpower (or the superpower you would like to have).
Create a vision board.
What is your good luck charm?
Draw a picture of something that is better broken than whole.
What do you need help with right now?
What question are you afraid to ask?
What people or activities leave you feeling drained?
Create a picture of how you would like your home to feel.
Draw or collage 10 things that make you feel loved.
Design your own logo.
Create a picture depicting what keeps you up at night.
If I really loved myself I would…
I’m afraid people won’t like/love/accept/want me if they knew ____ about me.
If you came across a genie in a bottle who could grant you three wishes of anything at all in the world that you want, except for more wishes, what would you wish for?
Create a picture of what everything would look like if you woke up tomorrow and everything was better.
I think I’m really good at…
Draw a picture of where you would be if you could be anywhere right now.
What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
Draw a self-portrait WITHOUT drawing your face (make it symbolic).
Children with anxiety sometimes have a hard time opening up about what they’re worried or anxious about. Enter the worry worms. Worry worms are simply construction (or cardstock) paper worms that look like… well, little worms. I use them in play therapy, but you can easily make your own worms at home and play the worry worm game.
Worry worms are pretty easy to make. Simply draw or trace a worm onto brown construction paper (or cardstock paper works well too). Make several worms, and cut each of them out. Wa-la! Worry worms! I laminate my worms, simply because this allows me to keep them durable for multiple children to play with.
Next I hide these little guys (the worms) around the room for the child to find. For each worry worm the child finds, they are asked to tell one worried thought they have or have had.
It looks like a game of hide-and-seek to them, but let me tell you what really happens when you play the worry worm game:
The child is identifying their worried feelings. This is a huge thing. The mastery of this skill is a major foundation to helping children learn how to cope and regulate their emotions.
The child is able to begin tolerating the idea and practice of sharing uncomfortable thoughts out loud because they are motivated by the challenge, reward, and fun of finding the hidden worms.
The game itself offers a titrated set of exposures to anxiety producing content that is completed while remaining grounded in the safety of the worm prop.
Have fun playing the worry worm game! Do you have ideas or strategies that you use to help kids talk about their feelings? Please feel free to share in the comments. I’m always looking for new ideas to use in the playroom!
In my last post – Inside a Professional Counselor’s Kindle Library – I shared just a few books you can find in my Amazon Kindle library, including books about depression, anxiety, ADHD, executive functioning, life skills, mindfulness, meditation, relaxation, and stress management. If you thought that was the extent of my Kindle book collection, let me assure you with this post that my first list didn’t even cover half of my wide selection.
I’m a huge research junkie. And I’m a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) who treats a wide variety of mental health issues and concerns. I like knowing what the latest research says about what might help those struggling with mental health issues. I am up front with my clients that sometimes I just don’t know all the answers (nor should I), but I will try to help them find someone or something that might.
Soooo… My Kindle library is quite extensive. Even after sharing this post, I won’t be able to list every single book. My bookshelves are the same. My books may soon need their own house! I frequently get asked about the books I have – both Kindle versions and those that are hard copies. As promised in my last post, today I will share a few more selections you can find in this counselor’s Kindle library.
Again, as with the last post, I want to note that this is not a sponsored post. Amazon.com, nor anyone else, is paying me to share my book selection. Also, 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 good. Others, maybe not so much. You live, you learn. You’ll find that some books are specifically written for clinicians, while others are written for everybody else.
So here we go again…
From a Professional Counselor’s Kindle Library – Part 2
Therapeutic Resources: Parenting, Family
“101 Bedtime Questions to Help Kids Talk About School” by Aaron Shaw, PhD
“365 Ways to Say ‘I Love You’ to Your Kids” by Jay Payleitner
“The Defiant Child: A Parent’s Guide to Oppositional Defiant Disorder” by Douglas A. Riley
“Great Games! 175 Games & Activities for Families, Groups, & Children” by Matthew Toone
“How to Motivate Kids – No Nagging Required!” By Susan L. Paterson
“Little Book of Routines: A Practical Guide for Mums and Dads” by Michelle Kemp
“No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind” by Daniel J. Siegel & Tina Payne Bryson
“A Parenting Guide to Crisis Intervention for Today’s Teens and Difficult Children” by Steve Stevenson
“Playful Parenting – Fun Games & Activities for Families” by Judy H. Wright
“Say Goodbye to Whining, Complaining, and Bad Attitudes… In You and Your Kids” by Scott Turansky & Joanne Miller
“The Staycation Jar: 200 Family Fun Ideas for Creative Meals, Main Events, Silliness, Love Projects” by Erica McNeal
“Toddler Discipline” by Rhonda Hart
“Who’s the Boss?: The Win-Win Way to Parent Your Defiant, Strong-Willed Child” by Don MacMannis PhD &Debra Manchester-MacMannis MSW
“Zombie Party Ideas for Kids: How to Party Like a Zombie… Zombie Approved Kids Party Ideas for Kids Age 6-14” by P.T. Hersom
Therapeutic Resources: Couples, Relationships
“The Drama Triangle (Transactional Analysis in Bite Sized Chunks” by Catherine Holden
“Games People Play” by Eric Berne
“The High-Conflict Couple: A Dialectical Behavior Therapy Guide to Finding Peace, Intimacy, and Validation” by Alan E. Fruzzetti, PhD
“Relationship Guides: Exercises to Improve Relationships” by John Gottman & Julie Gottman
Therapeutic Resources: Play Therapy
“Play in Family Therapy, Second Edition” by Eliana Gil
“SANDPLAY: A Sourcebook for Play Therapists” by Susan McNally
Therapeutic Resources: Autism Spectrum Disorders
“Adult Asperger’s Syndrome: The Essential Guide” by Kenneth Roberson
“Asperger’s Syndrome: A Definite Guide Toward Understanding and Treating Asperger’s Syndrome” by Robert Korsh
“Autism: Help for Autistic Adults, Understanding Adults with Autism” by Mark Spectrum
“Creative Expressive Activities and Asperger’s Syndrome: Social and Emotional Skills and Positive Life Goals for Adolescents and Young Adults” by Judith Martinovich
Therapeutic Resources: Trauma
“Breaking Free: A Handbook for Recovery from Family Abuse and Violence” by Esly Regina Carvalho, PhD
“The PTSD Workbook: Simple, Effective Techniques for Overcoming Traumatic Stress Symptoms” by Soili Poijula & Mary Beth Williams
“Self Help: Child Abuse: Childhood Abuse” by Hanna Monahan
“Sexual Assault is Really Rape of the Soul” by Bob Bray
“When Your Anxiety and Fears are Complex PTSD from Complex Trauma (C-PTSD): The Truth About Childhood Trauma, Relationship Trauma, Workplace Trauma, Natural Trauma” by J.B. Snow
Therapeutic Resources: Bullying
“The Bully at Work: What You Can Do to Stop the Hurt and Reclaim Your Dignity on the Job” by Gary Namie PhD & Ruth Namie PhD
“The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander: From Preschool to High School – How Parents and Teachers Can Help Break the Cycle (Updated Edition)” by Barbara Coloroso
“Employee Rights Handbook: The Ultimate Guide to Fighting Back Against Firing, Harassment, Discrimination and More” by Richard Campbell
“Know Your Rights: Easy Employment Law for Employees” by Charles Henter
“The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t” by Robert I. Dutton
“Surviving Bullies, Queen Bees & Psychopaths in the Workplace” by Patricia Barnes
“When You Work for a Bully: Assessing Your Options and Taking Action” by Susan Futterman
“Your Rights in the Workplace” by Barbara Kate Repa
Therapeutic Resources: Addiction & Recovery
“The Addiction Recovery Skills Workbook: Changing Addictive Behaviors Using CBT, Mindfulness, and Motivational Interviewing Techniques” by Suzette Glasner-Edwards
“Kickstart Your Recovery – The Road Less Traveled to Freedom from Addiction” by Taite Adams
Therapeutic Resources: Grief
“Grief and Loss: How to Get Through the Five Stages of Grief, Death and Loss after Losing a Loved One” by Ariana Kats
“Grief Recovery” by C.S. Hickman
Therapeutic Resources: Emotions
“Emotion Amplifiers” by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi
“Emotions and Feelings: How do you feel today? A Kids Book About Emotions and Feelings” by Jenny River
Therapeutic Resources: Communication
“Body Language” by Craig James Baxter
“Non-Verbal Communication – Body Talk” by Dr. Harry Jay
Therapeutic Resources: Online Therapy/Counseling
“Online Counselling: A Handbook for Practitioners” by Gill Jones & Anne Stokes
“Online Therapy – Reading Between the Lines, A Practical NLP Based Guide to Online Counselling and Therapy Skills” by Jethto Adlington
“Therapy Online: A Practical Guide” by Kate Anthony & DeeAnna Merz Nagel
Therapeutic Resources: Creative Expression
“The Big Book of Therapeutic Activity Ideas for Children and Teens: Inspiring Arts-Based Activities and Character Education Curricula” by Lindsey Joiner
“Creative Expression Activities for Teens: Exploring Identity Through Art, Craft, and Journaling” by Bonnie Thomas
Therapeutic Resources: Miscellaneous
“1001 Solution-Focused Questions: Handbook for Solution-Focused Interviewing” by Fredrike Bannink
“20 Change Exercises for Group Workshops” by David Williams
“Allen Carr’s Easy Way for Women to Stop Smoking” by Allen Carr
“Creative Problem Solving Techniques to Change Your Life” by Colin G. Smith
“The Expanded Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Training Manual: Practical DBT for Self-Help and Individual and Group Treatment Settings” by Lane Pederson, Psy.D., LP, DBTC
“Free Your Mind” by M.P. Nearly
“How to Light Up a Room: 55 Techniques to Help You Increase Your Charisma, Build Rapport, and Make People Like You” by Kate Kennedy
“Inspiration, Confidence, Success: Motivational Ideals to Live By” by Nicholas Muir
“Over 600 Icebreakers & Games” by Jennifer Carter
“Ten Interesting Things About Human Behavior” by Suzanne Davis
“Top 100 Quotes About Education: Great Quotes and Amazing Images that Will Change the Way You Think” by Marco Dragovic
“The Top Ways to REMEMBER EVERYTHING” by Ian Stables
“Treating Somatization: A Cognitive-Behavioral Approach” by Robert L. Woolfolk & Lesley A. Allen
Well, there you have it: a comprehensive list of the therapeutic resources I keep daily at my fingertips in my Kindle library. Watch for future posts and I may just give you a peak into what sits on my bookshelves. 😉
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.
“10 of the Best Relaxation Techniques: Helping You Live a More Balanced and Peaceful Life” by Michael Hetherington
“Five Minute Meditation: Mindfulness, Stress Relief and Focus for Absolute Beginners” by Lisa Shea
“Lolli and the Lollipop: Meditation Adventures for Kids” by Elena Paige
“Meditation: The Proven Guide to Alleviate Anxiety, Depression, and Stress” by Nathan Reynolds
“Mindfulness for Busy People: Everyday Mindfulness Tricks to Enjoy Your Life, Be Happy, Reduce Stress, and Create Freedom” by Marta Tuchowska
“Mindfulness without Meditation: Creating Mindful Habits that Actually Stick” by Shea Matthew Fisher
“Mindfulness for Beginners – Change Your Life by Living Anxiety Free and Stress Free” by Angel Greene
“Mindfulness for Beginners – The Anxiety Cure: A Guide to Replacing Worries, Anxiety and Negative Thoughts with Happiness and Fulfillment by Using the Power of Mindfulness” by Henry Hill
“Name That Emotion: A Mindful Approach to Understanding Your Feelings and Reducing Stress” by Erin Olivo
“The Primal Meditation Method: How to Meditate When Sitting Still is Infuriating” by Matt Peplinski
“Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and Their Parents)” by Eline Snel
“Stress Management Made Easy – How to Relieve a Stressed and Worried Mind Today” by PP Brennan
“Zen for Beginners: How to Achieve Happiness, Focus & Mindfulness by the Power of Zen Buddhism” by James Arvin
Therapeutic Resources: Depression & Anxiety
“The 18 Rules of Happiness: How to Be Happy” by Karl Moore
“40 Worth-it Life Quotes” by Jade the Mystic
“The Anxiety Survival Guide for Teens: CBT Skills to Overcome Fear, Worry, and Panic” by Jennifer Shannon
“Cognitive Behavior Therapy: CBT to Cure Anxiety, Fight Depression, and Beat Back Against Natural Phobias” by Nathan Bellow
“Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): A Practical Guide to CBT for Overcoming Anxiety, Depression, Addictions & Other Psychological Conditions” by Jane Aniston
“Confidence: Positive Thinking: How to Get Confidence” by Laura Boyle
“Depression Help: Stop! 5 Top Secrets to Create a Depression Free Life” by Heather Rose
“Gratitude Journal: A Daily Appreciation” by Brenda Nathan
“Happiness 365: One-a-Day Inspirational Quotes for a Happy YOU” by Deena B. Chopra and KC Harry
“Happiness Quotes: Inspirational Picture Quotes About Happiness” by Gabi Rupp
“365 Quotes for Daily Motivation” by Jonny Fox
“The Irritability Cure: How to Stop Being Angry, Anxious and Frustrated All the Time” by Doc Orman MD
“The Most Unique Anxiety Relief Workbook for Your Child in the Universe” by Renee Jain
“The Secret to Happiness: Change Your Life Around” by Jenna Louise
“Success and Happiness – Quotes to Motivate, Inspire & Live By” by Atticus Aristotle
“Things Might Go Terribly, Horribly Wrong: A Guide to Life Liberated from Anxiety” by Kelly G. Wilson & Troy DuFrene
Therapeutic Resources: ADHD, Executive Functioning, Life Skills
“21 Ways to Organize and Declutter Your Home” by Jane Denham
“The 4 List Method: A Simple Way to Organize Your Life and Reclaim Productivity for Entrepreneurs and Others Living with Disarray” by Ketra Oberlander
“The Adult ADHD Tool Kit: Using CBT to Facilitate Coping Inside and Out” by J. Russell Ramsay and Anthony L. Rostain
“Cleaning Hacks and Decluttering Ideas” Box Set by Riley Stevens, Kathy Stanton, & Rick Riley
“Clutter Kills: How to Declutter and Release Your Power” by William Wittmann
“Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Adult ADHD” by Mary V. Solanto
“Effective Decision-Making: How to Make Better Decisions Under Uncertainty and Pressure” by Edoardo Binda Zane
“Focus: How to Overcome Procrastination and Distractions (2nd Edition)” by Zayne Parker
“Goal Setting: 10 Steps to Success: Write It Down and Make It Happen” by Matt Morris
“How to Improve Your Memory and Remember Anything: Flash Cards, Memory Palaces, Mnemonics (50+ Powerful Hacks for Amazing Memory Improvement)” by John Connelly
“How to Stop Living a Cluttered Life and Get Organized” Box Set by Kathy Stanton and Rick Riley
“How to Study” by George Fillmore Swain
“Level Up: Ways to Be More Productive, Manage Time and Get Things Done” by Zak Khan
“Life Skills Activities for Secondary Students with Special Needs” by Darlene Mannix
“Masterful Focus: 33 Tips to Improve Concentration, Work Smarter, and Be More Productive” by I. C. Robledo
“Mastering Your Adult ADHD: A Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment Program Therapist Guide” by Steven A. Safren, Carol A. Perlman, Susan Sprich, & Michael W. Otto
“The Motivation Switch” by AJ Winters
“Motivation: Master the Power of Motivation to Propel Yourself to Success” by Ace McCloud
“Organize Your Day: Life-Changing Tips on Becoming More Productive, Clutter and Stress-Free!” by Jessie Fuller
“Organizing Solutions for People with ADHD (2nd Edition-Revised and Updated) Tips and Tools to Help You Take Charge of Your Life and Get Organized” by Susan C. Pinsky
“Rock Your To-Do List: Get to Your Biggest Goals Faster, with Less Stress, in Only 15 Minutes a Day” by Lain Ehmann
“Smart but Scattered Teens: The ‘Executive Skills’ Program for Helping Teens Reach Their Potential” by Richard Guare, Peg Dawson, & Colin Guare
“Time Management Systems: 3 Simple Time Management Systems for Busy People” by How To eBooks
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.
17 Spiritual Strategies for When You’re Stressed
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:
Practice mindfulness. (I can’t stress the value of this one enough!)
Get involved in a worthy cause.
Take a walk or go for a hike in the woods.
Pray or meditate.
Practice random acts of kindness. (This is especially helpful for me personally.)
Keep a gratitude journal. At least once a day, write 3-5 things that you’re grateful for. (An alternative is to identify at least 3 positive things that happened that day.)
Listen to a playlist of your favorite songs. (Research shows that music really does heal the soul!)
Gaze at the clouds or stargaze.
Volunteer your time.
Make a present for a friend or make a treat for your neighbor.
Plant something. Garden.
Start practicing yoga.
Send someone flowers.
Surround yourself with positive people.
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!