Parents as Soothing Agents

When our little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it is our job to share our calm, not join their chaos.
— L.R. Knost

Parents and caregivers are critically important in helping children regulate their emotional states. Often, however, it is the very tantrums and meltdowns that spike parents' own anxiety reactions, leaving them unable to respond effectively as soothing agents. You might find yourself attempting to calm your child down through persuasion, coaxing, arguing them out of the anxiety, or rescuing them from the emotion. What if parents stopped trying to change behavior, and changed how they thought about parenting? Parents have the power to adjust their own thoughts and feelings about the struggles of parenting and about what a child's behavior is trying to communicate.

Dr. Dan Siegel proposes "Connection before correction." Parents need to first listen to the child, acknowledge her feelings, and offer guidance. The acronym SOOTHE (developed by Goodyear-Brown, Ashford, and van Eys) helps parents remember strategies to responding to emotional symptoms.

S = soft tone of voice, soft tone of face

0 = organize the child's experience

O = offer choices or a way out

T = touch or physical proximity

H = hear what the child is needing

E = end and let go

Elevation of a parent's voice will only feed the escalation of a child's tantrum. "If parents can choose to lower their voices, use a soothing tone, and remain calm, they will be anchoring the child's experience beneath the current level of escalation." (Paris Good-Year Brown in Play Therapy with Traumatized Children).

A lack of structure intensifies anxiety and dysregulation. Consistent schedules and soothing routines help to organize your child. Offering a narrow range of choices to a child helps to manage the emotion that arises during a decision making process, as well as provide a positive sense of control. A simple touch or physical proximity is meant to reaffirm children and keep the parent child relationship intact. Hearing what your child is communicating is discerning what the child's need is. This discernment will guide your response. Does your child's behavior communicate a need for attention? power? to feel adequate? rest? a snack? Lastly, Dan Siegel (2003) talks about the toxic ruptures that can occur between parents and children when upset occurs but it is never processed. Parents need to acknowledge their right to their own feelings of anger and exhaustion, but also let go of it, and remain responsive to their child after the meltdown has occurred.

Once connection is built, parents can move to the next step and discuss the issue. Helpful questions that encourage connection are: "What happened? How did this anger feel inside your body? How did this feeling make you react? What would be another choice for next time you feel sad?"

If you are interested in more helpful tips, we recommend "The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind" by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. "Peaceful Parenting, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting" by Laura Markham)

How does the counselor involve parents?

Parents are a vital piece to the child's process in play therapy. Here at the Playroom Lubbock, the parents and I work alongside each other during the course of treatment. I usually tell parents when I first meet with them that when they sign their child up for play therapy, they are also signing themselves up for a form of counseling or treatment as well. Vulnerability and personal growth for the parents is just as important to the child's therapy process as is the child's play "work" in the therapy playroom.

One of my favorite authors and speakers, Bob Goff, recently provided this anecdote. One of his favorite things about visiting England was the red double decker buses. When he first saw one he was so excited that he took a picture of it. (See red picture). He was so close to it he lost sight of what it really was. Sometimes we need to back up our perspective so that we can see the whole picture. This is what the process is like for parents. I walk along side them in this process, backing up to see the whole picture, gaining insight, adjusting perspectives.

To help ease your concerns or perhaps fears of your role in the process, I will outline below how I involve parents.

1. Initial parent consultation session. This is the very first session with the counselor, but without the child. It lasts an hour. We will discuss history, concerns, and what progress you would like to see made with your child. I will also explain the therapy process as well as my practice policies and your privacy.

2. Follow up parent consultation session. These typically occur after every 3 sessions that I see your child. Before the session I will send a confidential electronic Parent Report Form where you have the opportunity to rate the stress level, rate the overall progress level, state what changes have occurred in the child's life, and voice concerns or questions you still have.

During the parent consultation meetings you, the parent, will have the opportunity to discuss changes, progress, and concerns.

The counselor (I) will cover these 4 topics: Positives, Themes, Goals, and Strategies

Positives: I will give you positive feedback regarding your child's behavior, emotions, or progress of therapy.

Themes: I will loosely discuss play themes that I have observed over the last few sessions. Play themes are dominant or recurring themes within a child's play. I observe a child's feelings during play, intensity of play, the child's level of including the counselor, a child's level of connectedness, self control, problem solving capabilities, etc. As discussed in the initial Parent Consultation and in your Informed Consent forms, I remind parents of the value of the therapeutic relationship and the trust that develops between the child and me. I will only talk about a child's play to parents in vague terms, not giving many details or specifics. I ask that parents trust that I will communicate to them any "red flags" or concerns that I have regarding the child.

Goals: Based upon parent/school feedback, parents concerns, my observances in the playroom, and the play therapy process, I communicate goals or areas that I would like to see improvements in your child's behavior, emotions, self concept, etc..

Strategies: We will discuss strategies for you to use at home to facilitate and support the goals. These strategies may be in the form of suggesting a book to read or may be more direct suggestions of ways of responding or interacting with your child.

I value the parent child relationship and fully acknowledge that the parent is more of an expert regarding his child than I am. Many times parents will ask me, "Why is that? or What does that mean?" Many times there could be a biological, neurological, psychological, or developmental explanation. Other times, I may not know "why." And I will never pretend to know "why." Sometimes the answer is "I do not know. Let's trust the process."

First and foremost I want to communicate to both the parent and the child: I am here. I hear you. I understand. I care. Relationship is the vehicle for change.

For further reading, check out Collaboration with Parents in Play Therapy

 

Just Be

Be Happy. Dream Big. Seize the Day. Smile. Dance Your Heart Out. Love Laugh Learn. We see these messages everywhere from art prints to pillows to advertisements. These messages are wonderful; they really are. Perhaps they are something to aim at, to shoot for, to attain. But here at The Playroom Lubbock, we want you to

Just Be.

Come as you are.

 

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Why Just Be?

When you walk through our doors, the question is not "How can the counselor or therapist treat, cure, or change my child?" The question is: How can the counselor provide a relationship which my child and I may use for our own personal growth? That personal growth (whether it is developmental, emotional, or behavioral) starts with acceptance. We accept you where you presently stand with both your gifts and your baggage. We will see, hear, and value you and your child just as you are and with the potential of becoming all that you were created to be. So, parent and child: just be you. "Being you" creates a pathway to vulnerability.

Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.
— Brene Brown

Through the acceptance and safety of the therapeutic relationship, you and your child will hopefully walk out of our doors for the last time ready to: Be Happy. Dream Big. Seize the Day. Smile. Dance Your Heart Out. Love Laugh Learn.

Collaboration with Parents in Play Therapy

At The Playroom Lubbock we provide optimal and collaborative therapy solutions. Collaboration begins and continues with parents/caregivers. Parents or primary caregivers know their child best. 

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How does collaboration with parents/caregivers work in Play Therapy or Child Counseling?

Before play therapy sessions with a child begin, the counselor will set up an initial parent consultation appointment (without the child present). During this consultation the parent will have the opportunity to share concerns and background information about the child.  The counselor will explain the therapy process/procedures and will provide a few forms to sign.

Parent consultations (again, without the child) will continue after each 3rd session with the child. These consultations allow the counselor to address the parent's concerns, allow parents to have a better understanding of the child, allow the therapist to share information regarding the child without breaking confidentiality, and allow both the counselor and parent to communicate progress.

At The Playroom Lubbock, we seek to also strengthen the parent/caregiver role. We believe parents and caregivers are a vital resource to understanding a child and for a child's progress. 

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