Expressive Arts Programs

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Home-made seasonal calendars

calender

Holidays and special occasions are often a difficult time for children in foster or adoptive homes. There may have previously been a lot of uncertainty and disappointment around the holidays and there will certainly be new and unfamiliar traditions. Making a calendar is a great way to help your child prepare for what is to come. When things are predictable, they feel safer and are less likely to cause your child anxiety. You can even create and plan for some new traditions with your child.

Start out with talking about your main traditions and plan out where these will go on the calendar. If it’s for Christmas, it might be when you will be getting and decorating your tree or putting up your lights. You might be planning to do some Christmas baking, shopping for family members or making some home-made gifts. Maybe you will do a walk around the neighborhood to see the Christmas lights and then have some hot chocolate at home afterwards. Also, make sure to talk about what Christmas Eve and Christmas day will look like so your child will know what to expect and it will be more enjoyable for everyone.

child drawing 3

Keep it simple and don’t overload yourself with a huge wish list. Remember, the holidays are stressful for everyone so less is more. The important part is talking about the plan first and then letting your child make as much of the calendar as they are able. Egg cartons are great for this, your child can draw and cut out a small picture on cardstock for each door with a number on the front for the date. You can put whatever you want inside each section. It could be a recipe or shopping list for gingerbread houses, or a small wrapped chocolate in each one. Whatever works for your family. If  your child gets overwhelmed around the holidays, consider doing a smaller countdown for getting ready for Thanksgiving, Halloween and Easter as well.

calender ideas

Sorry, I couldn’t resist and no, I have never attempted making any of these but if you and your child enjoy making crafts you might want to give one a try. (Website is www.1dogwoof.com)

Thanks for reading and I hope this was helpful!

 

Kind Regards,

Vicky Wallace, Play and Expressive Arts Therapist

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Exploring Questions using make believe

How to Introduce it – This works best while engaged in another activity. Driving to school, going for a walk, eating dinner, brushing teeth etc. Use spontaneously and curiously, without any expectations.

How to do it – Asking questions about how your child is feeling, what they think about something or what they did today can often be met with resistance, blank stares or a feeling of intrusion. Using fun, made up scenarios can help your child let down their guard and not consciously have to connect to their feelings. Although their answers can tell you a lot about how they are feeling as well as build safety and connection. Be prepared to have a creative answer of your own to each question you ask….you can ask one or two more qualifying questions afterwards if the child is responding well but don’t overdo it.

 

Here are a few examples:

  1. ‘What animal do you chose to be today?’ As you are dropping them off to school or getting ready in the morning.

If they answer, you can say ‘oh, good choice, what is your favorite thing about that animal?’ or you can put a feeling to it and ask if they are a happy ‘crocodile’ or ‘is that crocodile kind of angry today?’ etc. ‘That’s okay to be angry, the crocodile must be careful not bite anyone though. Maybe he will be a happy crocodile tomorrow?’

If they don’t have an answer or they ask you for yours then you can tell them your chosen animal and why. ‘ I think I’m going to be an armadillo……and you can make it silly with a funny voice/face or a more serious answer. ‘ I feel like a bear today because I like how much they get to sleep in the winter and I’m so tired. They can also be a bit grumpy and so can I but they take really good care of their cubs and always keep them safe’

pexels-photo-1319572 (2)

 

This question works with any category that the child may have an interest in and some knowledge about ….cars, dinosaurs, food etc.

  1. If you could have any super power what would you want to have?
  2. Would you like to live in a cottage in the countryside or a mansion in the city? Some of these will allow you to build some stories around but follow the child’s lead on this. If they stare at you and say ‘why’ or you are weird. Just shrug it off with a smile and say you were just curious.

Some of these questions will simply be a conversation opener, help the child to relax and let them know that you want to know things about them and won’t judge the answers. Some of the questions may lead you to get a lot of insight into your child’s thoughts. For example, if they choose a tiny bug and say it has to hide in corners so nobody can see it or squish it, this tells you the child is feeling vulnerable and unsafe. Or if they say they would love to be a tiger (or other powerful, magnificent animal) and then say but they could never be that animal and choose a toad instead; it implies they may have a lowered sense of self-worth.

Thanks for reading and I hope this was helpful!

 

Kind Regards,

Vicky Wallace, Play and Expressive Arts Therapist

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Family Game Night with a Twist

board game 1   board game 2      board game 3

How to introduce it – For this one your child will need to be willing to play a board game with you so it may take time to be able to use this technique. If your child turns their nose up at family game night, you can introduce them more casually and spontaneously. Most games, including board games can be adapted to be more therapeutic. Winning, losing and taking turns can all be triggers for children so be mindful of how your child is doing. You can choose games that don’t have a clear winner or loser to start with and just focus on the turn taking piece. Here are a few suggestions below:

Feelings Twister

Stick ‘Feelings’ words over the colours and practice making the expressions of happy, sad, angry and calm when you land on those colours. Ask your child which colours should match which feelings. For myself, I would choose red for angry, blue for sad, green for calm and yellow for happy but your child may very well have a different idea. If your child is triggered by close proximity and touch, then try taking four turns each with only one person on the mat at a time.

Ups and Downs Charades

Write out or draw a picture of the titles and pick them out of a hat. These can be accomplishments like ‘winning a trophy’ ‘getting an A on a test’ or ‘winning a race’ or disappointments like ‘loosing your shoe’ ‘hurting your hand’ or ‘having an argument with a friend’. If you look at the titles together before you play then you will both have a better chance of guessing correctly which always feels good!

Truth or Dare board game

You can use a basic board game with a dice or spinner and something to use as counter pieces. Make your own cards beforehand. You can decide to assign truth to odd numbers and dare to even numbers or you can place stickers along the board game that say either truth or dare. Truth cards can be things like….. ‘What are you most afraid of?’ or ‘name something that you love about yourself’ ‘what are you proud of?’ etc. Dare cards could say……. ‘Turn to the person on your left and give them three compliments’ or ‘do a silly dance for 10 seconds’ ‘wear a funny hat or make a funny face for the rest of the game’ Don’t  make the requirements too difficult or embarrassing and keep them age appropriate. You may need to explain what a compliment is and give an example.

Thanks for reading and I hope this was helpful!

 

Kind Regards,

Vicky Wallace, Play and Expressive Arts Therapist

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Telling your child’s story with metaphors

How to Introduce it – The easiest way is if you want to or have already established, a bed time routine where a story is included. For younger children, you can invite them to sit down with you for a story anytime they appear in a calmer mood. If the child is an adolescent with good enough reading skills, you can even give them the story to read on their own and later ask if they want to draw the pictures together.

child's drawing 2

How to do it – Write an age appropriate story that is based on how your child arrived in your home or on a difficulty your child is currently experiencing (like being anxious in crowds or scared of the dark). You will be switching out all the people with animals. If your child has a favorite animal or stuffy, make that your child’s character and make your family a different family of animals. If it is a blended family for example, step children, foster or adoptive children, then make each of these people different animals from each other. Set the scene for your story in a home that would be suitable for such animals. If you choose a family of rabbits, for example, they would live in a cozy burrow and maybe your child is a field mouse.

Make the theme very simple for your first story. The new arrival is a different animal that has to live in a home that they are not used to and maybe feel a bit afraid or uncomfortable in that home. The other animals can have some feelings too, maybe they are excited or worried that the new animal will not like them. You can describe how the family of animals prepare for the new arrival, maybe cleaning the home, choosing items they might like (maybe getting it wrong because they are a different animal) or switching rooms so the new animal gets the softest bed etc. (acts of nurturing or at least, good intentions)

You can elaborate on the descriptive elements but keep the plot and themes quite simple for the child’s age. The story can involve the family trying to do something fun and maybe part of it was not so fun for the new child. Then it turned out better than they thought because they found a commonality after all.

Your story definitely doesn’t have to end happily ever after but it should have a hopeful ending. If your child has an issue with any part of the story as you are reading it, or later on. This is a great opportunity to ask them what changes they would like and revise the story together. (This is a story about the child’s experience so try not to get too attached to all your hard work!)

 

Please note:

If your child was or is very young, you can leave out a lot of the negative feelings and just emphasize the love and acceptance piece.

The following example story is designed for a child, adopted or fostered at an older age by a heterosexual couple with two biological children. Please apply genders, ages, number of adults and children to represent your own family. Change animals and setting to ones that will most interest your child.

 

Example Story:

……It was springtime and all the buds were starting to show on the flowers, the birds were singing and happily making their nests…….All this happiness was kind of annoying to little squirrel. She wished the birds would just stop singing and the sun would stop shining so much.

In fact, sometimes it made her so angry that she threw acorns at trees just to make herself feel better. If squirrel admitted it though, she actually felt scared because she was soon moving to a new home and she didn’t know if she would even like it. She had been told that she would be living with a family of birds, which meant that she would have to climb all the way up to the highest tree every day to get to the bird’s nest. She was worried that she would forget which tree the nest was in and then she might have no home at all! She was also scared the birds would fly away and leave her all alone in the nest! Lastly, she was definitely not okay with the thought of eating mushed up worms!

bird in a tree

Moving day had arrived! The family of birds were so excited that little squirrel was coming to live with them (forever) Mrs. (or mommy) Bird had been storing some acorns because she had heard that squirrels really liked to eat acorns. Mr. (or daddy) Bird had told brother and sister bird to be very nice to little squirrel because he knew that she might feel a bit sad to start with. Brother and sister bird had squished in together so that there was now lots of extra room in the nest for little squirrel.

It was finally time to move in but by the time old Mrs. owl had shown little squirrel to her new nest, she was nearly in tears.

squirrel crying

Everyone was a little nervous but the bird family greeted little squirrel and told her she was most welcome in their home. That night little squirrel had a hard time sleeping, she had liked the acorns Mrs. bird gave her but didn’t want to say thank you and she did have a very soft bed but she didn’t know why brother and sister bird were sleeping so far away from her!

In the morning, Mrs. Bird brought worms for brother and sister bird and more acorns for little squirrel, she asked if little squirrel wanted to try some worms and little squirrel said shyly, ‘maybe later’.

After breakfast brother and sister bird wanted to play hide and seek and little squirrel thought that sounded fun so the three of them set off into the forest. Little squirrel wasn’t sure if the birds knew the same rules she did so they decided to talk about the rules first before starting.

Rule number 1: Once you are hiding in position, no flying or scurrying away! Rule number 2: If you are the seeker, you can’t climb up or fly up to a high tree to get a ‘bird’s eye view’! That’s cheating! The birds thought it was cool that Little squirrel called it a ‘bird’s eye view’ even though she was a squirrel. Rule number 3: Count really loudly!

Once the rules were agreed, the two birds and little squirrel had a great day together, starting with hide and seek and then making up some fun, new games together that none of them had played before.

Little squirrel heard Mr. Bird calling them back to the nest for dinner. Brother bird shyly gave his new sister squirrel a hug and sister bird said maybe Little squirrel could try some worms for her dinner. Little squirrel thought for a minute, ‘hmm, maybe’ and then she saw an acorn fall from a tree and picked it up, ‘but maybe tomorrow’ and they all laughed.  The End

Thanks for reading and I hope this was helpful!

 

Kind Regards,

Vicky Wallace, Play and Expressive Arts Therapist

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Uncategorized

Simple collaborative art

  

Child drawing

How to Introduce it – Keep paper and crayons/colored pencils around so they are easily accessible. The trick to these activities is that they should seem spontaneous and informal. You may have been waiting for the perfect moment all week to try these out; but to your child, it will seem like you just came up with a fun doodle game out of nowhere.

How to do it – Draw a line anywhere on a piece of blank paper and slide it over casually to your child, hand them a crayon and gesture to the paper. Maybe even give a choice of colours, saying ‘purple or green?’ this gives them less of an opportunity to decline. Depending on the age of the child they may understand that you mean to just draw one line each at a time or they may begin scribbling or making a picture, or they may scrunch up the paper and throw it at you……Whatever happens, you follow their lead.

With the turn taking game of one line each, you can gradually make your lines closer to their lines or even join up with their lines and watch what their next move is. If they start to back away on the paper, give them space, making your next line further away. If they cross out your lines, you could be playful and cross out one of their lines. Or make nurturing, protective marks around what they have drawn to contain the emotions. Go with your intuition on this.

 

Child wanted to do his own picture all by himself with caregiver watching

child's drawing

If they start to make a picture, try working  on it too. If they are scribbling angrily, you can validate this feeling by doing the same right beside them. If they tear the paper up, try once more and then let it go for another time. If they scrunch it up and throw it at you, this could be a great opportunity for a spontaneously fun paper ball fight! (Be careful about this one, in cases where the child has a history of physical abuse, they may be triggered by things being thrown at them, even in fun)

These games can also be adapted for more than two people. Sometimes this can be more successful with foster siblings involved, sometimes other issues come up. Whatever happens, be curious about and respectful of the child’s reactions as these directly reflect their feelings.

Collaborative art is a great starting place to invite and validate these feelings and to reach out to your child in a safe, no-pressure way.

 

Examples of turn taking with single marks (shows different stages of  trusting relationships

IMG_20181016_145401 IMG_20181016_145350

Thanks for reading and I hope this was helpful!

 

Kind Regards,

Vicky Wallace, Play and Expressive Arts Therapist

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Predictable Endings are so Important!

IMG_6643

I can’t stress this enough! Abandonment and broken attachments are all too often, the themes of my clients play. Even if they aren’t, let’s not make it a first for your child in the case of their relationship with me. Healthy closure is so important!!!

Endings are hard for everyone. Think back to the first time you were unexpectedly dumped…..does it bring up some unpleasant feelings? Just a few, you say?  Some of which might include: the sting of rejection, the confusion of: what’s wrong with me? and why aren’t I good enough? and after those initial ones are starting to fade; the shock of not expecting it and the sadness of loosing someone you cared about, might linger on a bit longer. They say it takes about half the amount of time you were in the relationship, to get over the relationship (I’m pretty sure that was from Sex and the City but it feels true enough)

So, knowing this.  Can we expect the same feelings from the endings of non-romantic relationships in our lives? They don’t often end in such an abrupt way but if they did, I think we can; and we can expect that our children will also experience confusion, loss and rejection if not prepared that a trusted relationship is about to come to an end.

 

I once worked with a 10 year old boy and I cringe at the thought of him, not of him but of how our therapeutic relationship was ended. Callum was referred to me due to getting in many physical fights at school and not being able to control his temper. His life so far was rather heartbreaking to learn about. His parents were very young and his mother struggled with addiction and left the family sometime during the first year of his life. Callum was mostly raised by his paternal grandparents until his father met his new wife and they had a child. Callum was brought into his father and step-mother’s home that now contained a young baby brother. When we started working together, Callum’s brother was about a year and a half.

I have a very strong visual of this child in my mind. He did not want to be seen or if he did he wanted to be seen as a ‘tough’ kid. He had a black hoody on with the hood almost covering his eyes and the front zipped up past his mouth. He shuffled into my office and slumped in a chair. I sat down and proceeded to point to all the various toys and activities in the room. After, I had given him the tour he looked at me and said in an annoyed tone, ‘well aren’t you supposed to counsel me or something?’ So I asked him some questions about his school, friends and family and he was gruff but very articulate. He could point out the problems he was having but didn’t seem to have any emotional connection to them.

So we worked backwards and by about the third session, we had built up enough trust for him to try some expressive activities. We did things like making different colored circles to place on the floor like a roadmap for his angry outbursts. He would describe the outburst from the previous day and step onto the yellow, orange, red or black circle of the corresponding feeling. He drew many pictures and made pipe cleaner models of the ‘alien’ in his head that told him to hit when he lost his temper.

He took to this very quickly and we were doing play based and creative work for the majority of the sessions. He was often a little hesitant stepping outside of his comfort zone but always agreed to try everything I suggested and then began making suggestions himself! He had a lot of success getting lost in his imagination with the sand try, and the change in his personality and demeanor was like night and day. He now looked like a regular, happy kid. Playful, intelligent and kind. With a self-awareness that was well beyond his years.

After about 15 sessions, I asked Callum if he would be willing to have his step-mother join us. The organization where I worked had a limit of twelve sessions per family member with some wiggle room for extensions. We had already received two extensions and Callum knew the only way to continue was to agree to have joint sessions. He expressed a lot of hatred for his step-mother and brother although he obviously loved them in his own way. I was very surprised that he agreed to my suggestion without argument and realized just how much our weekly sessions meant to him and how much trust he had in me. I must admit, I was reeling with the success of our time together and very excited to see what the dynamic of the family sessions would bring. So I was taken completely off guard when I checked my messages one morning and listened as his dad stated that Callum’s school suspected a disability and they would be going in another direction for treatment. So matter of fact and no word of an ending session…

I left several messages asking for a follow up conversation, stressing the importance of a closing session and a chance to acknowledge all of Callum’s hard work, without trying to sound too emotionally attached which was proving to be quite difficult considering how devastated I was to have lost my prodigy client in such an undignified manner.  Nothing, I couldn’t justify a fourth message as the father was most likely avoiding my calls at this point. As I said at the beginning of this story, I cringe when I think of this outcome. I try not replay it over and over and I try not to think of the damaging effect that not being allowed to say goodbye and ‘oh by the way, there is something wrong with you….’ most likely had on this vulnerable young man.

I never want this to happen again and I am now so invested in a healthy ending to your child’s therapeutic relationship with me, that I pay for half of it and I ask you to pay the other half before we even start. This way, it’s never a financial reason for no last session, because it’s already been paid for.

I like to give at least three sessions of notice to my child clients that we won’t be playing together anymore; sometimes we even see a regression in behavior as the child processes this information. Modelling healthy closure is all part of the service and my hope is that by the last session, your child is in the acceptance stage and happy to enjoy the celebration party that we have to honor the amazing changes and all the hard work they have put in during their time in therapy. I want to see before me, a confident, transformed individual that feels ready and excited for what life has to offer them next!

Thanks for reading and I hope this was helpful!

 

Kind Regards,

Vicky Wallace, Play and Expressive Arts Therapist

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Autism

Play Therapy For Everyone?

An opinion article (by an educated mama) on the benefits of Play Therapy for children with Autism

cropped-20171030_122235.jpg

Imaginative play and creative expression are the cornerstones of a healthy childhood. It is true that screens have slowly been taking over children’s precious playtime for the last few decades so, now more than ever, encouraging a child to use their imagination is of the utmost importance.

This kind of play and the ability to express oneself; not only builds confidence, emotional regulation, self-awareness, self-worth and social skills but it increases a child’s capacity for learning and builds resilience for the future blows of adulthood.

My oldest child had many behavioral problems from before he was two and had been on a waitlist for Early Intervention services for over a year. He reached the top of the waitlist for Play Therapy at the same time as having an assessment done for ASD. When the Play Therapist called me she already knew of his diagnosis and promptly informed me that Play Therapy isn’t normally used with children on the spectrum. Without thinking about it, I told her I knew what she meant and that I was also a Play Therapist. I felt disappointed and it wasn’t until I was relaying the conversation to a close friend that I started to really ask myself WHY?…Why wasn’t play therapy used and how did I already know this?…..

Is it because children on the spectrum don’t know how to Play??….If a child doesn’t know how to talk do we simply avoid talking to them?…. No we do not! We have public health nurses, family doctors and pediatricians that discuss age milestones and word counts and then we have specialists that jump in if any delays in language development are detected. In the UK they actually use Play Therapy as a pre-requisite to speech therapy; as conditions such as Selective Mutism often stem from anxiety or other emotional causes.

So…. if children struggle with imaginative play and connecting to their emotions; surely, this is all the more reason to take on the honorable task of helping them to learn these important skills?

I already had a couple of clients on the spectrum and felt confident that I was helping them slowly but surely; so why shouldn’t I expect the same for my son?

Children on the spectrum vary greatly from each other. You may be aware of some of the main difficulties; sensory sensitivities – which is a difficulty integrating information from the environment. It might be touch, sound, smell, taste or sight that can cause great discomfort to a child with autism or it might be none of these things. Another well-known symptom is difficulty picking up on non-verbal and social cues. There are many more to learn about but I won’t go into all of the them at this time.

My point is that although children on the spectrum may miss things that other children notice, or fixate on things that other children don’t care about; they can still be painfully aware that they are different. The overall difficulties and the added stress of feeling different is what leads to secondary mental health issues such as anxiety or depression; as well as, coping strategies such as, avoidance and obsessive behaviors. In fact, children on the Autism spectrum have a greater risk of suffering from the above concerns than their Neuro-typical peers.

It is not my intention to cast judgement on the techniques and therapies designed for children on the spectrum. Many moons ago, I was a Behavior Interventionist, myself and saw first-hand that the strategies are very effective. It turned out not to be my passion but I still applaud the incredible patience of the workers that put in hours upon hours to increase children’s vocabularies, extinguish tantrums, predict sensory meltdowns and teach through positive reinforcement.

I think for me, the reason I fell in love with play therapy so hard and fast is the empowerment piece. It shows children that all of their emotions are valid and that they are, in fact, the greatest experts of their own experiences. I would never presume to know what it’s like to feel pain from too much eye contact or confusion when trying to understand a teacher. My clients know they are the leaders in the play room, they choose what happens at their own pace and it is always safe and supported.

To witness the magic of a child healing themselves and having fun while doing it, is something I will never get enough of. No one can know what it feels like to be in the skin of that child except that child. So let’s give them the space (usually less than one hour a week) to show us and let them feel that they are still accepted and loved, just the way they are…….…and be amazed by what happens after that!

 

By Vicky Wallace,

Owner of Springfield Kids Play Therapy

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Adoption and Fostering

Building Trusting Relationships – 5 Therapeutic Play Activities that parents can use at home

  1. Simple collaborative art

Child drawing

How to Introduce it – Keep paper and crayons/colored pencils around so they are easily accessible. The trick to these activities is that they should seem spontaneous and informal. You may have been waiting for the perfect moment all week to try these out; but to your child, it will seem like you just came up with a fun doodle game out of nowhere.

 

How to do it – Draw a line anywhere on a piece of blank paper and slide it over casually to your child, hand them a crayon and gesture to the paper. Maybe even give a choice of colors, saying ‘purple or green?’ this gives them less of an opportunity to decline. Depending on the age of the child they may understand that you mean to just draw one line each at a time or they may begin scribbling or making a picture, or they may scrunch up the paper and throw it at you……Whatever happens, you follow their lead.

With the turn taking game of one line each, you can gradually make your lines closer to their lines or even join up with their lines and watch what their next move is. If they start to back away on the paper, give them space, making your next line further away. If they cross out your lines, you could be playful and cross out one of their lines. Or make nurturing, protective marks around what they have drawn to contain the emotions. Go with your intuition on this.

Child wanted to do his own picture all by himself with caregiver watching

child's drawing

If they start to make a picture, try working  on it too. If they are scribbling angrily, you can validate this feeling by doing the same right beside them. If they tear the paper up, try once more and then let it go for another time. If they scrunch it up and throw it at you, this could be a great opportunity for a spontaneously fun paper ball fight! (Be careful about this one, in cases where the child has a history of physical abuse, they may be triggered by things being thrown at them, even in fun)

These games can also be adapted for more than two people. Sometimes this can be more successful with foster siblings involved, sometimes other issues come up. Whatever happens, be curious about and respectful of the child’s reactions as these directly reflect their feelings.

Collaborative art is a great starting place to invite and validate these feelings and to reach out to your child in a safe, no-pressure way.

Examples of turn taking with single marks (shows different stages of  trusting relationships)

IMG_20181016_145401 IMG_20181016_145350

 

2. Telling your child’s story with metaphors

 How to Introduce it – The easiest way is if you want to or have already established, a bed time routine where a story is included. For younger children, you can invite them to sit down with you for a story anytime they appear in a calmer mood. If the child is an adolescent with good enough reading skills, you can even give them the story to read on their own and later ask if they want to draw the pictures together.

How to do it – Write an age appropriate story that is based on how your child arrived in your home or on a difficulty your child is currently experiencing (like being anxious in crowds or scared of the dark). You will be switching out all the people with animals. If your child has a favorite animal or stuffy, make that your child’s character and make your family a different family of animals. If it is a blended family for example, step children, foster or adoptive children, then make each of these people different animals from each other. Set the scene for your story in a home that would be suitable for such animals. If you choose a family of rabbits, for example, they would live in a cozy burrow and maybe your child is a field mouse.

Make the theme very simple for your first story. The new arrival is a different animal that has to live in a home that they are not used to and maybe feel a bit afraid or uncomfortable in that home. The other animals can have some feelings too, maybe they are excited or worried that the new animal will not like them. You can describe how the family of animals prepare for the new arrival, maybe cleaning the home, choosing items they might like (maybe getting it wrong because they are a different animal) or switching rooms so the new animal gets the softest bed etc. (acts of nurturing or at least, good intentions)

You can elaborate on the descriptive elements but keep the plot and themes quite simple for the child’s age. The story can involve the family trying to do something fun and maybe part of it was not so fun for the new child. Then it turned out better than they thought because they found a commonality after all.

Your story definitely doesn’t have to end happily ever after but it should have a hopeful ending. If your child has an issue with any part of the story as you are reading it, or later on. This is a great opportunity to ask them what changes they would like and revise the story together. (This is a story about the child’s experience so try not to get too attached to all your hard work!)

child's drawing 2

Please note:

 The following example story is designed for a child, adopted or fostered at an older age by a heterosexual couple with two biological children. Please apply genders, ages, number of adults and children to represent your own family. Change animals and setting to ones that will most interest your child.

If your child was or is very young, you can leave out a lot of the negative feelings and just emphasize the love and acceptance piece.

Example Story:

……It was springtime and all the buds were starting to show on the flowers, the birds were singing and happily making their nests…….All this happiness was kind of annoying to little squirrel. She wished the birds would just stop singing and the sun would stop shining so much.

In fact, sometimes it made her so angry that she threw acorns at trees just to make herself feel better. If squirrel admitted it though, she actually felt scared because she was soon moving to a new home and she didn’t know if she would even like it. She had been told that she would be living with a family of birds, which meant that she would have to climb all the way up to the highest tree every day to get to the bird’s nest. She was worried that she would forget which tree the nest was in and then she might have no home at all! She was also scared the birds would fly away and leave her all alone in the nest! Lastly, she was definitely not okay with the thought of eating mushed up worms!

bird in a tree squirrel crying

Moving day had arrived! The family of birds were so excited that little squirrel was coming to live with them (forever) Mrs. (or mommy) Bird had been storing some acorns because she had heard that squirrels really liked to eat acorns. Mr. (or daddy) Bird had told brother and sister bird to be very nice to little squirrel because he knew that she might feel a bit sad to start with. Brother and sister bird had squished in together so that there was now lots of extra room in the nest for little squirrel. It was finally time to move in but by the time old Mrs. owl had shown little squirrel to her new nest, she was nearly in tears.

Everyone was a little nervous but the bird family greeted little squirrel and told her she was most welcome in their home. That night little squirrel had a hard time sleeping, she had liked the acorns Mrs. bird gave her but didn’t want to say thank you and she did have a very soft bed but she didn’t know why brother and sister bird were sleeping so far away from her!

In the morning, Mrs. Bird brought worms for brother and sister bird and more acorns for little squirrel, she asked if little squirrel wanted to try some worms and little squirrel said shyly, ‘maybe later’.

After breakfast brother and sister bird wanted to play hide and seek and little squirrel thought that sounded fun so the three of them set off into the forest. Little squirrel wasn’t sure if the birds knew the same rules she did so they decided to talk about the rules first before starting.

Rule number 1: Once you are hiding in position, no flying or scurrying away! Rule number 2: If you are the seeker, you can’t climb up or fly up to a high tree to get a ‘bird’s eye view’! That’s cheating! The birds thought it was cool that Little squirrel called it a ‘bird’s eye view’ even though she was a squirrel. Rule number 3: Count really loudly!

Once the rules were agreed, the two birds and little squirrel had a great day together, starting with hide and seek and then making up some fun, new games together that none of them had played before.

Little squirrel heard Mr. Bird calling them back to the nest for dinner. Brother bird shyly gave his new sister squirrel a hug and sister bird said maybe Little squirrel could try some worms for her dinner. Little squirrel thought for a minute, ‘hmm, maybe’ and then she saw an acorn fall from a tree and picked it up, ‘but maybe tomorrow’ and they all laughed.  The End

 

3. Exploring Questions using make believe

How to Introduce it – This works best while engaged in another activity. Driving to school, going for a walk, eating dinner, brushing teeth etc. Use spontaneously and curiously, without any expectations.

How to do it – Asking questions about how your child is feeling, what they think about something or what they did today can often be met with resistance, blank stares or a feeling of intrusion. Using fun, made up scenarios can help your child let down their guard and not consciously have to connect to their feelings. Although their answers can tell you a lot about how they are feeling as well as build safety and connection. Be prepared to have a creative answer of your own to each question you ask….you can ask one or two more qualifying questions afterwards if the child is responding well but don’t overdo it.

Here are a few examples:

  1. ‘What animal do you chose to be today?’ As you are dropping them off to school or getting ready in the morning.

If they answer, you can say ‘oh, good choice, what is your favorite thing about that animal?’ or you can put a feeling to it and ask if they are a happy ‘crocodile’ or ‘is that crocodile kind of angry today?’ etc. ‘That’s ok to be angry, the crocodile must be careful not bite anyone though. Maybe he will be a happy crocodile tomorrow?’

If they don’t have an answer or they ask you for yours then you can tell them your chosen animal and why. ‘ I think I’m going to be an armadillo……and you can make it silly with a funny voice/face or a more serious answer. ‘ I feel like a bear today because I like how much they get to sleep in the winter and I’m so tired. They can also be a bit grumpy and so can I but they take really good care of their cubs and always keep them safe’

This question works with any category that the child may have an interest in and some knowledge about ….cars, dinosaurs, food etc.

  1. If you could have any super power what would you want to have?
  2. Would you like to live in a cottage in the countryside or a mansion in the city? Some of these will allow you to build some stories around but follow the child’s lead on this. If they stare at you and say ‘why’ or you are weird. Just shrug it off with a smile and say you were just curious.

Some of these questions will simply be a conversation opener, help the child to relax and let them know that you want to know things about them and won’t judge the answers. Some of the questions may lead you to get a lot of insight into your child’s thoughts. For example, if they choose a tiny bug and say it has to hide in corners so nobody can see it or squish it, this tells you the child is feeling vulnerable and unsafe. Or if they say they would love to be a tiger (or other powerful, magnificent animal) and then say but they could never be that animal and choose a toad instead; it implies they may have a lowered sense of self-worth.

 

4. Family Game Night with a Twist

board game 1    board game 2         board game 3

How to introduce it – For this one your child will need to be willing to play a board game with you so it may take time to be able to use this technique. If your child turns their nose up at family game night, you can introduce them more casually and spontaneously. Most games, including board games can be adapted to be more therapeutic. Winning, losing and taking turns can all be triggers for children so be mindful of how your child is doing. You can choose games that don’t have a clear winner or loser to start with and just focus on the turn taking piece. Here are a few suggestions below:

Feelings Twister

Stick ‘Feelings’ words over the colors and practice making the expressions of happy, sad, angry and calm when you land on those colors. Ask your child which colors should match which feelings. For myself, I would choose red for angry, blue for sad, green for calm and yellow for happy but your child may very well have a different idea. If your child is triggered by close proximity and touch, then try taking four turns each with only one person on the mat at a time.

Charades

Write out or draw a picture of the titles and pick them out of a hat. These can be accomplishments like ‘winning a trophy’ ‘getting an A on a test’ or ‘winning a race’ or disappointments like ‘loosing your shoe’ ‘hurting your hand’ or ‘having an argument with a friend’. If you look at the titles together before you play then you will both have a better chance of guessing correctly which always feels good!

Truth or Dare board game

You can use a basic board game with a dice or spinner and something to use as counter pieces. Make your own cards beforehand. You can decide to assign truth to odd numbers and dare to even numbers or you can place stickers along the board game that say either truth or dare. Truth cards can be things like….. ‘What are you most afraid of?’ or ‘name something that you love about yourself’ ‘what are you proud of?’ etc. Dare cards could say……. ‘Turn to the person on your left and give them three compliments’ or ‘do a silly dance for 10 seconds’ ‘wear a funny hat or make a funny face for the rest of the game’ Don’t  make the requirements too difficult or embarrassing and keep them age appropriate. You may need to explain what a compliment is and give an example.

5. Home-made seasonal calendars

child drawing 3calender

Holidays and special occasions are often a difficult time for children in foster or adoptive homes. There may have previously been a lot of uncertainty and disappointment around the holidays and there will certainly be new and unfamiliar traditions. Making a calendar is a great way to help your child prepare for what is to come. When things are predictable, they feel safer and are less likely to cause your child anxiety. You can even create and plan for some new traditions with your child.

 

Start out with talking about your main traditions and plan out where these will go on the calendar. If it’s for Christmas, it might be when you will be getting and decorating your tree or putting up your lights. You might be planning to do some Christmas baking, shopping for family members or making some home-made gifts. Maybe you will do a walk around the neighborhood to see the Christmas lights and then have some hot chocolate at home afterwards. Also, make sure to talk about what Christmas Eve and Christmas day will look like so your child will know what to expect and it will be more enjoyable for everyone.

Keep it simple and don’t overload yourself with a huge wish list. Remember, the holidays are stressful for everyone so less is more. The important part is talking about the plan first and then letting your child make as much of the calendar as they are able. Egg cartons are great for this, your child can draw and cut out a small picture on cardstock for each door with a number on the front for the date. You can put whatever you want inside each section. It could be a recipe or shopping list for gingerbread houses, or a small wrapped chocolate in each one. Whatever works for your family. If  your child gets overwhelmed around the holidays, consider doing a smaller countdown for getting ready for Thanksgiving, Halloween and Easter as well.

 

Sorry, I couldn’t resist and no I have never attempted making any of these but if you and your child enjoy making crafts you might want to give one a try. The website is http://www.1dogwoof.com

calender ideas

 

6. Bonus support

If you would like a bit more guidance bringing these types of activities into your home; I should let you know that Springfield Kids Play Therapy hosts Family ‘Play’shops on the first Sunday of every month, 1.30-3 pm. Anybody can join but space is limited to a small number of families. You can register by clicking the link on the homepage and the cost is just $25 per family.

If you have any concerns, please do contact me before you come and we can discuss any additional information you think I should know about your child. If your child gets triggered by crowds or strangers etc; it is also possible to arrange an individual Family ‘Play’shop. This is often referred to as Filial Play therapy.

My role in this type of therapy is to encourage the relationship between a caregiver and child by facilitating play activities that build trust and attachment. Alternatively, if you would like to use the space and my support for a supervised access or a transitional visit then an individual ‘Play’shop could also be appropriate for this.

 

Thanks for reading and I hope this was helpful!

Kind Regards,

Vicky Wallace, Play and Expressive Arts Therapist

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www.springfieldkids.ca

#112-1890 Cooper Rd (Orchard Plaza)