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Monday, November 17, 2014

Putting a Stop to Stealing

Stealing seems to be a common problem I face in counseling.  Many kids struggle with the urge to take things that do not belong to them and I have found few resources online that address this issue.  It seems that there are many reasons that children steal, some who simply want what they do not have and others seem to be trying to fill a deep need.

Today I created a new game to help children identify their motivation to steal, identify alternative ways to have their needs met, to develop a plan of action when tempted, and to have empathy for others.  I also included thankfulness to help children remember how much they already have.  Through combating irrational thoughts and identifying emotional drives, children can overcome the urge to steal.  

You can find the game on my website or in my Teachers Pay Teachers shop.
Also look for this game and our other resources on Ebay and Amazon.

Friday, October 31, 2014

My Favorite Anger Management Techniques from Pinterest

Pinterest is full of counseling ideas!  The only problem is that you have to wade through tons of ideas to find the brilliant ideas that really work.  These are my favorite Pinterest links, which I think you will like, too!
Free Printable Book and poster to go with our "Don't Be An Angry Bird" anger management lesson
First, there is the free “Don’t Be an Angry Bird” book.  This is my go-to tool when I first begin working with kids who have temper problems.  I love that it gives them lots of coping skills to immediately start using.  It is also cute and holds their attention.  I have had so many kids come in and ask for another book because they lost the first one.  This tells me they are using it!
Escape from Anger Volcano Counseling Game
Another favorite is “Escape from Anger Volcano”.  I paid $7 to download it from Teachers Pay Teachers.  If you don’t have an account with them, get one now!  There are so many good resources. This is a great game and the kids I work with LOVE it!  The down side is that it takes quite a bit of ink to print and some work to laminate the board and all the cards.  It is worth it, though.
No-Temper  Treasure Island Game
Similar to Escape from Anger Volcano is No Temper Treasure Island.  It was made by Marco Products.  I paid around $15 plus shipping for it.  The picture above is poor quality, but the game board actually looks pretty decent.  Every time a player lands on a jewel space on the board they get a card.  Who ever collects the most jewels by the end of the game wins.  It teaches coping skills, empathy, locus of control…  This one also has been a hit and often requested.

Get your angries out
I also really like  There are some interactive videos on there that help kids get a better understanding of anger and how to cope with it.  There are lots of articles and resources on the website as well.  

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Trail of Fears

There's no better time than October to address fears and anxiety with children.  They are surrounded by monsters, ghosts, and triggers to fears.  For some children this is a fun and enjoyable time of year.  For others, it is full of fear and anxiety.  Children often struggle to separate fantasy from reality and anticipate the villains from movies to appear in their rooms at night.

This game incorporates CBT to help children challenge irrational thoughts and to learn coping skills to overcome anxiety.  I always love to play games in sessions, as children will answer questions asked by a game that they would hesitate to answer if I asked it directly.  And it is fun!

You can find it at my website, or my Teachers Pay Teachers store:
You can also find our games on Amazon and Ebay

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Feelings Graph

Don't you love simple, yet very insightful interventions when working with kids?  The feelings graph is a go-to tool for me.  I frequently use feelings charts during session, and they are certainly useful.  However, the Feelings Graph goes much deeper.  Instead of asking kids "What are you feeling today?"  I'd rather ask "How much are you feeling of these emotions today?"

This simple intervention is helpful in a lot of ways:

  1. It allows children to show how much of each feeling they are experiencing.
  2. It helps children take time to really pay attention to what is really going on inside.
  3. It is a great assessment tool.  It can help you as a clinician to identify what feelings are taking precedence and identify what to focus on first.
  4. It can show progress.  If I have a client fill out a feelings chart during one of our first sessions, I can pull it out again a couple of months later to help the client identify how their feelings have changed over time.  It can be a motivator.
  5. It allows even very young children to express their emotions without relying on verbal language skills.
  6. It helps children make sense of why they feel the way they do.
  7. It can help initiate important dialogue about what has been going on.  The client may be willing to color in the boxes, but is hesitant to initiate conversation about something that is troubling them.
Feel free to make your own feelings graph, or if you would like to save time you can head over to my website at for the download.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

How to "POP" negative thoughts.

It's October and the weather has been beautiful!  One nice days I find myself looking for reasons to take kids outside to enjoy the day and break out of the monotony of everyday life.  This week I brought a bubble blower and told my clients to imagine that the bubbles were negative thoughts.  They had a great time "popping" negative thoughts and ridding themselves from upsetting feelings.

After a few minutes of popping bubbles, we sat down and made some cards with various thoughts.  We wrote things like:

  • "I can't do anything right." 
  • "I don't have any friends."
  • "I am great at math." 
  • "I'm going to fail my spelling test."
  • "I am able to do great things if I try."

I encouraged the children to come up with new ideas to put on the cards.  Some children really struggled with this and others were writing down ideas faster that I could!  For those who struggled, I took some extra time to help them grasp the concepts.

I made one index card that said "Keep" and one that said "Pop."  I had the kids sort through the stack of cards into the two piles.  Once they were sorted, we worked on changing the "pop" stack into healthy self-talk.   They were able to identify that the best way to get rid of negative thoughts is to fill their minds with positive thoughts.  I also had the kids process how they would feel thinking the various thoughts and how the positive thoughts change their mood.

I love activities like this because children will forget the things I tell them, but when they see bubbles, they will remember to pop negative thoughts!  I want to them to always have triggers to carry with them to help them to remember to use the coping skills they have learned in counseling.  I hope this intervention works in your practice as well!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Feelings Candy Land

I love to play Feelings Candy Land with my clients!  We all have a good time and it provides a great platform for processing feelings, teaching kids how to use words to express emotion, and to identify problem areas that need to be addressed in future sessions.

I use Feelings Candy Land for several different reasons:
1. To help children identify feelings words and how to attach them to experiences.
2. To help children process feelings in a non-threatening format.
3. To establish rapport.  I think that it helps children normalize feelings when they realize that their therapist has feelings, too.
I created this simple PDF download as a simple guide to demonstrate how to use Candy Land in therapy sessions.  Here's the link to the free download:
Be sure to type "CANDY" in the discount code field.


Friday, October 10, 2014

Cognitive Distortions

I am super excited to introduce you to this game.  I created it about 6 months ago and have been playing it with clients since then.  I originally created it for my own use, but figured since I put in the work, I might as well share it with others. The reason I created this game is because there are very few CBT games available.  Those that are available come with a hefty price tag!  My goal is to help clinicians get resources without breaking the bank.  Take a look and let me know what you think!  I value your input.

This game highlights seven different cognitive distortions: global labels, blaming, mind-reading, magnifying, filtering, controlling, and catastrophizing.  There are 2 sheets of game cards (24 cards) for each of the 7 cognitive distortions.  3 cards are purposely left blank so that you have the opportunity to customize the game with some of your own questions.

Cut lines are printed on the cards.  It is recommended that you laminate the game cards and game board before using them so that they will be more durable.

The game comes with 6 pawns and 1 die.  It also includes instructions.  To play, you begin at the center of the board and follow the trail to the top left corner of the board.  Each symbol on the board represents a cognitive distortion and will have cards with a matching symbol.  The player draws a card with the corresponding symbol to the space they land on.   The first player to reach the end wins.

Please keep in mind that this is a process oriented game.  There may be questions that trigger an emotional response from your client.  Please feel free to take your time and allow children to ask questions and discuss times that they experienced these cognitive distortions.  The goal is for them to learn and to correct negative thinking.

Are you interested in purchasing the game?  No printing required...just purchase it online and I will ship it to you. Visit my store at for either a digital download or a hard copy.
It is also available on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Please keep checking back.  I have more games in the works.  I have 1 for elementary aged children that is also cognitive behavioral, but in simpler terms. I also have one that I use for children that have been adopted or are in foster care.  It addresses abandonment issues.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Intro to Counseling Workbook
I enjoy having hands-on, interactive activities for my elementary-aged clients.  I think that it is important to discuss issues such as confidentiality during the first session, but let's be honest.  It's dull. The concepts can be confusing for young children.

I have also found that children come come into the first therapy session with many anxieties and questions.  They may not know what counseling is, much less why they are there.  If they do not understand the benefits of counseling, they can be resistant to participate.  I included in this little workbook a short description of many aspects of counseling to allow children to understand what to expect.

The workbook certainly does not cover all aspects of counseling.  It is designed to be used as a guide to lead the therapist through introductory information in a format that can help hold the attention of children.  It prints on 2 pages, front and back and becomes as 16 page booklet (when cut and folded).

Interested?  It is available at my website, or head on over to my Teachers Pay Teachers store to download it.  Enjoy!

Affirmation Cards

I have found that children are quick to learn positive thinking skills, but are also quick to forget them!  Affirmation cards can help children remember to put positive thinking skills into practice.  I encourage clients to put them in places that they will see throughout the day to trigger positive thinking.

Step 1:  Discuss with the child how positive thoughts lead to positive feelings and negative thoughts lead to negative feelings.

Step 2: Role play various scenarios of using fearful thoughts, angry thoughts, sad thoughts, happy thoughts and help your client identify how they would feel in those situations.  

Step 3: Help your client identify thoughts that trouble them, such as: "I'm ugly," "I'm stupid," "No one likes me."  Explain how to challenge negative thinking with positive thinking, such as "I don't like my chin, but my eyes are beautiful," "I struggle with math, but I'm great at reading," and "Johnny is mean to me, but I still have lots of friends."  

Step 4: Make affirmation cards to reinforce positive statements.

Step 5: Place cards where they will be seen throughout the day.

Please visit my Teachers Pay Teachers page for the FREE! download:

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Become a YES! Parent to Avoid Power Struggles

I know I may ruffle some feathers by recommending telling your children yes to avoid power struggles.  Am I crazy?  Maybe.  Here’s the deal.  Parents often give children “No” as a pat answer without really thinking through the situation, considering the feelings the children, or giving the kids a chance to problem solve.  We can avoid major power struggles by changing our answer to “Yes.” 
1.       Are you saying “No” to rescue your child? 
“Can I sleep in a tent in the backyard tonight?” “No, you’ll get scared.”  Have you ever had a situation like this?  Sometimes we feel like we are rescuing them from a scary situation by saying no.  The problem with this situation is that the child is not learning much and the parent becomes the party pooper who won’t allow any fun. 
An alternative answer would be something like “How about we try it on a Friday night so that you don’t have to wake up early.  Bedtime is at 9:00.  If you are asleep by 9:30 you can stay out there.  If not, you get to come in and sleep in your room.  Chances are if your child gets scared out there, 30 minutes is plenty of time for them to come running.  The point is, if you are afraid to let them try something because they will get scared, allow them the chance and they will make the decision to draw towards safety without you forcing them to do it.  Power struggle averted!
2.        Are you saying “No” because you can’t afford it?
“Can we go to Disney World?  My friends got to go, and I want to go!”  You know your budget and you know it’s not likely to happen.  What do you say?  Here are 2 options:
“No, honey, we can’t afford it.  Sorry.” This is an honest, straight forward answer, but hard to swallow for a child.  The child walks away disappointed and feeling like they can’t do anything to change the situation.
As an alternative, try: “I would love to go to Disney World.  It would be an amazing vacation!  Here’s the problem.  It would cost $3000 for our family to go.  Our vacation budget is $500.  Any suggestions on how to make it work?”
This scenario doesn’t say yes, but it certainly doesn’t say no.  The child has the opportunity to understand why you can’t immediately say yes and is in the position of problem solving.  He may say that he will do extra chores to earn the $2500 needed to go.  After 5 weeks and only making $25, he may have a new found respect for the value of a dollar and give up the dream.  On the other hand, he may surprise you by putting together a 5 year plan and may come up with some entrepreneurial skills!
3.       Are you saying “No” because his or her behavior is a problem?

“Mom, can Sam come over to play after school?” The question sparks vivid memories of children running around like wild hogs destroying your home. You may be thinking “I’m never going through that again!”  You have an opportunity to allow your child to learn to monitor their behavior and set limits with their friends.  This could be a good life skill.
Try this: “Last time Sam came over you made some bad choices and our house was a mess!  I’m willing to give you another chance, but here are the rules.  If the rules are broken, Sam will be loaded into the car and quickly delivered home.  Do you agree to my terms?”  I would also include something along the lines of you are responsible for cleaning up the messes that your friends make.  Do you still want to have them over?
Are you catching the leverage you have by saying yes?  Sure you can have the ice cream, after you eat your meat loaf.  You are welcome to play outside with the neighbor kids just as soon as your homework is done.  You bet you can watch your favorite show as soon as your room is clean.  When your child hears yes, they feel hope.  When they hear no, they feel angry!
4.       Are you saying “No” because of time constraints?
“Mom, can I play football this year?”  You know that he will have to practice after school at least 3 days a week, which conflicts with your work schedule.  No sounds like a logical answer.  But simply stating no does not give him the chance to use his problem solving skills or to own the situation.  One basic principle in successful parenting is allowing your children to own their problems and you own your problems.  If you are willing to allow him to solve his problems and come up with solid solutions, he will learn to overcome obstacles in life and will become a more productive adult. 
How about this: “Sure you can play football.  How are you going to get to practice?”  He may already have some ideas.  He may choose to ride his bike, catch a ride with a neighbor, or walk.  He may realize that the schedule is too much of a problem and decide for himself that it won’t work.  The goal is to allow him to figure it out.

Am I saying that you should always say yes and never say no?  Absolutely not.  There are times for no.  However, when you say “No” as a pat answer and your children are hearing it all the time, they will get frustrated and want to challenge you at some point.  Children need to learn the consequences for their choices while they are young and the ramifications for those decisions are small.  Saying yes, even when you know your child will fail, will allow them to work through feelings of disappointment, frustration, and failure while you are still there to help them through.  If they aren’t allowed to make these choices until they are adults, the consequences will be much more severe.

Monday, August 4, 2014

What is your child thinking?

As parents, we often assume we know what our kids are thinking, or it never occurs to us to ask.  We are often surprised and humored by the various things that slip out of their mouths, which are evidence of what is going on in their little minds. 

A few weeks ago I was driving in to town with my kids. I noticed the yellow hue of my son’s teeth in the rear view mirror and glance back to see the nasty fuzzies growing on his teeth.  Ewe.  So I casually ask him how long it has been since he brushed his teeth.  He stated, “2 weeks.”  I’m thinking “2 weeks???!!!???” and I’m totally horrified.  At first a choke a little and forget that I’m driving, then have to self-correct to keep from running off the road.  Sheesh. 

So I’m experiencing a huge parenting failure.  As I see it, I have 3 options: 
1.  I could whip the car around and head home prepared to put on my best drill sergeant parent act and attack my son’s face with the toothbrush ASAP. 
2.  I can shame my son for his failure to care for his body and project all of my negative feelings on him.
3.  I can put my counseling skills to use and figure out his motivation.

I went with option 3.  So I tell him, “You know, buddy, when my teeth are dirty it really bothers me.  It leaves a bad taste in my mouth and feels gross.  I can’t imagine going 2 weeks without brushing.  Does it bother you having dirty teeth?”  He says, “Yeah, it’s gross.”  So I prompt, “Then why not brush?” He says, “Because I want my teeth to fall out.  Then I’ll get money.” 

Wow!  I never saw that one coming.  I had the opportunity to explain to him how gum disease is a slow process blah, blah, blah.  I also inform him that the payout for dirty teeth is only a small percentage of what it will be for clean teeth.

Point being, thoughts motivate behavior.  If he believes his teeth will fall out and he’s going to make a bunch of money, he’s motivated to avoid caring for his oral health.  However, once his thoughts were corrected, he now willingly (most of the time) brushes his teeth.  And I’m a lot more consistent with making sure he does so! 

Kids don’t think like adults.

Kids process information in different ways than adults.  They are just beginning to form logical thoughts.  Through trial and error, they are forming conclusions about the world around them.  They are also prone to misbeliefs such as “magical thinking” and feeling invincible.  They tend to believe that they can fix problems that are beyond their control and tend to feel guilty when they fail to fix problems.  We see this commonly with children who experienced divorce in their family.  They believe they have the power to get mom and dad to fall in love again or to fix the problems that caused the divorce.  When their attempts fail, they feel responsible.

Kids also have misbeliefs that because they are young, they are invincible or that they have superhero strengths.  It is fun to see the wild ideas that kids come up with for how they are going to save the world and what they would do if a bad man came to hurt their family.  But we know the truth is that children are vulnerable.  These false beliefs help them to emotionally deal with things that are beyond their control. 

What are they thinking?

So how do you know what your kids are thinking?  How do you know if they are forming false conclusions about the world around them?  How do you know if they have internalized false beliefs that could impact them into adulthood? Have you experienced traumatic events that may have impacted how your children view life?  Here are a few tips:

1.        Ask open-ended questions.  Try to avoid questions that begin with “why,” especially if your child might feel blamed.  Also try to avoid using “yes, no” questions, as they shut down the question.
2.       Play games with your child.  Kids communicate through play, especially younger children.  They will communicate through play things that they may never have been able to verbalize.  If they communicate something that has you concerned, you make want to seek guidance from a professional training in play therapy, as you can’t take everything communicated in play at face value.

Playing things such as “Feelings Candy Land” or “Feelings UNO” with your kids can allow them to openly communicate feelings as part of a game rather than being put on the spot.  Simply pick a feelings word for each color and have them tell about a time they felt that way during their turn.  (IE, I like to use red for angry, yellow for happy, blue for sad, and green for scared.)

3.       Keep an open dialogue with your kids.  If your kids aren't comfortable talking about petty issues, they probably will be more uncomfortable talking about the deeper issues.  However, if you are in the habit of talking daily with your kiddos, they will respond better to your prompting questions or may openly ask you about what is on their minds.  They are relying on your experience to help them make sense of the world!  This is why table time is so important.  Taking 15 minutes to sit down and eat with your kids can make a huge impact in your relationship with them.