‘Cory Helps Kids’ books from ChildTherapyToys.com

Last year, Liana Lowenstein–the author and/or editor of several indispensable play therapy resources including Creative Family Therapy Techniques–published the first installment in her ‘CORY’ series, Cory Helps Kids Cope with Divorce: Playful Therapeutic Activities for Young Children. In this book, the title character guides children through the feelings they are having throughout the various stages of dealing with divorce. Cory’s relatibility helps to dissolve any comfort barriers in the therapist-child relationship, thus providing an ideal environment for the games, art, and other creative interventions that are introduced to facilitate treatment. In addition to the story and activities presented, the book also includes detailed handouts to inform and engage parents.

This month sees the release of the second book in the series, and we couldn’t be more thrilled by it’s arrival. Cory Helps Kids Cope with Sexual Abuse: Playful Activities for Traumatized Children utilizes the same innovative and effective format to help children work through the effects of sexual abuse and related trauma. It is an invaluable resource for treating a range of serious issues. Like all of her contributions to the practice of play therapy, this book is marked by her years of experience in the field, and her gift for developing fun, engaging games and interventions.

Of course, both of these titles are available at ChildTherapyToys.com. If you’ve used either one in your practice, we’d love to hear about your experience either here in the comment section, or as a review on the product page. 

Explaining medication to children

Many of the children that we see in therapy will be prescribed medication for their behavioral and emotional difficulties. Sometimes we’ll be in agreement. At other times we may be dismayed that medication is being prescribed at all. We may also discover that some of the prescribing physicians we work with do not spend enough time discussing medication with the parents or child. As a result, prescriptions may not be filled, medication may be discontinued prematurely, or the child may refuse to take the medicine. Some children won’t refuse to take medication, they’ll just lie about it. All medications have side effects and not understanding the side effects of a particular medication may lead to side effects being ignored, missed, or their importance exaggerated. Prescribing psychotropic medications can be difficult, and multiple trials of different medications at different dosages may be required before a desirable result is obtained. Not understanding the process may contribute to both the parent and child becoming discouraged and prematurely discontinuing medication.

As child and family therapists it often falls on us to have a discussion with the child and parents about their medicine. Since we are not physicians we are at a decided disadvantage, but it is unlikely that we are going to see an increase in education about medication being provided by our medical colleagues. Therefore, it is extremely important that we remain current about medications so that we can have reasonably intelligent conversations with our clients about their medicine. I’d also recommend a cautious approach when reading about psychotropic medication on the internet. The internet has no filter and there is a tremendous amount of misinformation available.

When talking to parents and children about medication it is important to keep in mind that it is not our job to convince anyone to take medication, nor is it our job to discourage anyone from taking medication. It is ultimately the parent’s responsibility, in conjunction with their physician to make a determination about what medication, if any, should be prescribed. We can provide a path to understanding, and we can address issues of noncompliance.

When talking to parents and children about medication it is important to keep in mind that it is not our job to convince anyone to take medication, nor is it our job to discourage anyone from taking medication. It is ultimately the parent’s responsibility, in conjunction with their physician to make a determination about what medication, if any, should be prescribed. We can provide a path to understanding, and we can address issues of noncompliance.

The following suggestions are offered:

• Educate the child, in terms that they will understand, about their diagnosis. For example, with children who have ADHD, I compare their brain to a computer. “We know that you have a really good brain. And like a computer it comes preloaded with lots of programs. We know your programs for Spelling, Running, Talking, in fact most of your programs, are really good. But your program for paying attention, well that doesn’t work very well. So, your doctor is prescribing some medication to help that program work better.” Or for a child with depression I might say, “We know that people with even a great life, can feel depressed because of their brain chemistry. Your doctor wants you to take this medicine to change your brain chemistry, which might help you feel less grumpy and irritable. I don’t know if it will help. You’ll have to tell me
after you’ve taken it for a while.”

• Monitor the family’s attitudes about medication. If the child is getting teased by a sibling, or Dad is telling Mom, within earshot of the child, that they just need to “get it together,” cooperation from the child can diminish.

• Be realistic, especially with teens and pre-teens. Nobody wants to be perceived as defective and medication, as well as being taken to a therapist or psychiatrist, can imply that the child has been found to be inferior or defective in some way. Be realistic and understanding of the adolescent’s concerns. Understanding that the adolescent has all of the control in this situation can go a long way to breaking down resistance.

• Don’t exaggerate the benefits of medication. It is likely that the child will have to continue to work hard in therapy, at school, and at home to overcome their challenges. Parents may also need some help being realistic about the medication. Of course, if the child does have a dramatic response to the medicine join in on the celebration and then step back and see if the
dramatic effect really lasts.

• In families where there is a history of substance abuse there may be great concern about taking a psychoactive drug. Elementary school children may not understand the difference between the drug they are being prescribed and the drugs they are being warned about in the substance abuse prevention program at their school. Again, it is important to use language appropriate to the child. With parents I’ll often discuss the incidence of substance abuse among adolescents with mental health problems who did not receive treatment. With an adolescent it may be important to discuss the difference between self-medicating and treatment. Self-medication offers more reward in the short-term, while treatment aims toward long term benefit. Additionally, self-medication typically exacerbates existing problems.

• Use proper names. For example, children with ADHD should not be told their medicine is a vitamin pill. Educate all children, regardless of age, about their diagnosis. Left to their own devices young children have a limited vocabulary for evaluating themselves: fast or slow, smart or stupid, good or bad. Children with behavioral problems are prone to self-esteem issues and understanding why they are having their difficulties can alleviate some of these esteem issues. Additionally, we want to help children avoid externalizing blame for their difficulties onto others. By owning their challenges children and adolescents are in a better position to accept help, support, and work on overcoming their difficulties.

I have also developed a workbook for children being prescribed medication. It is available on my website, childtherapytoys.com and on Amazon. Check out this cool widget for a sneak peek.

Using Connect Four in Therapy

Some children do not enjoy playing board games. Connect Four is a familiar game and can be enjoyed by some of the children who don’t appreciate a board game.  A child’s approach to Connect Four can communicate a lot of information about the child. A child that confidently picks up Connect Four, and quickly sets it up may not only be demonstrating confidence, but an enjoyment of competition and cognitive challenges. On the other hand, this child may be demonstrating over-confidence and impulsively that repeatedly gets them in trouble.  As play proceeds these hypotheses can be examined by the clinician, and additional information gathered.

Prior to playing a game in therapy it is important engage the client in a discussion about how they would like game play to proceed.  Do they want to set it up? Learn the rules? Make up their own rules or modify the standard rules? If it’s a skill based game, such as Checkers or Connect Four, how do they want me to play? I may tell the child I’ve played Connect Four a lot, and usually win.  Do they want me to play my hardest? Some children at that point may give themselves an advantage, for example, dropping in two checkers for my one.

Dodge (2008) suggests client and therapist draw Emoticons on round stickers and attaching the Stickers to the checker pieces (alternatively, feeling words can be written on the stickers). Connect Four is won when one of the players achieves a row of four checkers. The winner is encouraged to create a story that includes the four emoticons on the winning checkers (see post on storytelling in child therapy). The game can be enhanced by creating a notebook with the child that includes a description of the emotions that go with the Emoticons and where the stories can be recorded.

Dodge, Cynthia (2008) “Connect 4 and Oh So Much More.” In Lowenstein, Liana (Ed), Assessment and Treatment Activities for Children, Adolescents, and Families: Practitioners Share Their Most Effective Techniques (available from childtherapytoys.com). Toronto, ON, Canada, Champion Press.

My Conflict and Solution Book

A couple months ago we announced an opportunity for readers to submit their own play therapy ideas, interventions, or articles to the blog. Those chosen will be posted to the blog and the author will receive a $25 gift certificate to ChildTherapyToys.com. They will also be eligible for a $100 gift certificate for the public agency or program of their choice. (Read more here.)

Without further ado, here is a very useful activity submitted by Mayra Arreola, a Bilingual School Psychologist:

My Conflict and Solution Book
Activity Goal: Assist children to develop the skills necessary to identify a conflict, think of solutions, and select the best solution to the conflict.

As an introduction to each counseling/therapy session, the child is asked to share a conflict they encountered and brainstorm about solutions. Once the best solution is selected, the child is asked to fold a sheet of paper in half. On one half they draw the conflict and on the other half the solution to the conflict. They write a sentence about the problem and a sentence about the solution under each drawing. Once there are 10-20 drawings/sheets, a book cover can be made with construction paper, and a book can be created by stapling or using yarn to bond the drawings together inside the cover. The child learns the skills and acquires a sense of accomplishment by creating their own book.

Thanks, Mayra.

All entries are only accepted by email. Send to gary@childtherapytoys.com.

Family Portrait Intervention Technique

Liana Lowenstein’s website (www.lianalowenstein.com) is full of great articles, resources, and other useful information for play therapists. She recently posted a new featured technique called Themed Family Portraits in which each family member is asked to create a picture of their family and come up with a theme for the picture. Then each member shares their picture with the rest of the family, encouraging discussion and communicating the perspective and thoughts of each individual family member.

I highly recommend subscribing to Lowenstein’s newsletter, and also (if you haven’t already) including her invaluable books in your office library. Here’s a list of what she’s published, all available at ChildTherapyToys.com.

Creative Interventions for Troubled Children & Youth – This best-selling collection is filled with creative assessment and treatment interventions to help clients identify feelings, learn coping strategies, enhance social skills, and elevate self-esteem. A wealth of practical tools. For ages 4-16 in individual, group, and family therapy.

MORE Creative Interventions for Troubled Children & Youth – Presents MORE creative interventions to engage children, youth, and families in counseling and help them address treatment issues such as feelings identification, anger management, social skills, and self-esteem. Includes techniques to manage challenging client behavior. A great sequel to Liana Lowenstein’s last best-selling book. For ages 4-16 in individual, group, and family therapy.

Creative Interventions for Bereaved Children – A uniquely creative compilation of therapeutic games, art activities, and stories to help bereaved children express feelings of grief, learn basic concepts of death, diffuse traumatic reminders, address self-blame, commemorate the deceased, and learn coping strategies. Includes special activities for cancer, suicide, and homicide, and tips for caregivers and school personnel.

Creative Interventions for Children of Divorce – An innovative collection of therapeutic games, art techniques, and stories to help children of divorce express feelings, understand marriage and divorce, deal with loyalty binds, parental conflict, and reunification fantasies, address self-blame, and learn coping strategies. Includes tips for parents, and a ten-week group counseling curriculum. For ages 7-12 in individual, group, and family therapy.

Assessment and Treatment Activities for Children, Adolescents, & Families – In this comprehensive resource, Liana Lowenstein has compiled an impressive collection of techniques from experienced practitioners. Interventions are outlined for engaging, assessing, and treating children of all ages and their families. Activities address a range of issues including, Feelings Expression, Social Skills, Self-Esteem, and Termination. A “must have” for mental health professionals seeking to add creative interventions to their repertoire.

Creative Family Therapy Techniques: Play, Art, & Expressive Activities – Edited by best-selling author Liana Lowenstein, this books presents a unique collection of family assessment and treatment interventions. This practical resource illustrates how play, art, drama, and other approaches can effectively engage families in therapy and help them resolve complex problems. An exceptional tool for the seasoned family therapist, as well as the newly licensed practitioner. this book contains innovative ideas that can be readily and quickly implemented for involving children in family therapy sessions.

Assessment and Treatment Activities for Children, Adolescents, and Families: Volume Two – In this second volume, highly acclaimed author Liana Lowenstein has compiled an impressive collection of techniques from experienced practitioners. Interventions are outlined for engaging, assessing, and treating children of all ages and their families. Activities address a range of issues including, Feelings Expression, Social Skills, Self-Esteem, and Termination. A “must have” for mental health professionals seeking to add creative interventions to their repertoire.