Bibliotherapy, Play Therapy

Reading is healing.

Reading is healingReading is not only one of my favorite coping skills, but also one of my favorite interventions with kids in therapy.  Reading storybooks out loud to children is a wonderful and gentle way to normalize issues that they are facing, comfort them, give them attention, and instill hope that their problem won’t last forever. I cherish the moment a child’s eye widen with hope when they see themselves in a story; the moment they realize they are not alone if a real book exists about the same problem.   What a gift to know you are not the only one struggling and that others have overcome exactly what you’re facing.

Here’s a few of my favorite story books that address hard issues in gentle ways:

You’ve Got Dragons  – A boy talks about dealing with and overcoming “dragons”, a purposely vague problem that lends itself to mental health issues like depression and anxiety,  hard changes in life like divorce or moving, or even just the heartache of growing up.  We often expand the “dragon” theme into an art activity and working metaphor for the issues we are working on in counseling.

Jack’s Worry –  A wonderfully illustrated book about how a young boy learns to understand and overcome his overwhelming feelings of anxiety. This simple and yet powerful book appeals to both young and older children dealing with anxiety.

Living with Mom and Living with Dad –  The pain of missing a parent can be a taboo topic for kids of divorce to bring up with their mom or dad.  This sweet book gives words to the mixed feelings that come up and validates a child’s sense of self during transitions in living arrangements and family structure. Reading this with your child will give them permission to open up about feelings and thoughts they may otherwise feel they need to protect you from knowing. The book includes large flaps to lift that encourages engagement.

Do you like to read too? Do you have a moving story you love to read to your children? I’m always on the lookout for more books to add to my collection.


Coping Skills, Mindfulness, Play Therapy, Relaxation

Squishies and Self-Soothing

Have you heard of Kawaii Squishies?


Like an adorable update to the classic stress ball, Squishies are a soft toy made for squeezing. Unlike the classic stress ball, Squishies feel irresistibly soft and are addictive to hold.  Described as “slow rising stress relief”, the toy slowly inflates back to its orginal shape while also giving off a light scent.

In therapy we practice “5 senses soothing”, a mindful awareness technique that promotes emotional regulation and relaxation.  By focusing on the present moment– what we see, hear, feel, taste, and smell– we experience a shift into a calmer physiological state.  This is a powerful tool that works to soothe both kids and adults affected by stress, anxiety, or trauma.  Engaging the five senses is also a quick way to help a child (or parent!) recover from a meltdown by first distraction and second shifting into a calmer, happier state.  You don’t need a prop to engage your senses in the present moment, but having powerful visual, smell, or object certainly helps.

That’s why when one of these Kawaii (“cute” in Japanese pop culture) squishies made its way into my counseling office last week, I was delighted. The toy is colorful and cute, pliable and soft to the touch,  and lightly scented.  That’s three senses right there!  It is also mesmerizing to watch flatten and inflate — another relaxing element.  I enjoyed playing with it so much that I knew I needed to get a few for my office and home.  They are small enough to stick in your bag and keep on hand as a fidget toy for yourself or your child.  With all the various sizes and styles, I think they would make great stocking stuffers too.


Coping Skills, Mindfulness, Positive Parenting, Relaxation

Calm down quick with Birthday Cake Breathing

If you’re like me, deep breathing isn’t always as simple and effective as it sounds. When feeling anxious, I have had the tendency to over-think and over-stress (surprise!) just how to breathe. “Is it in through my mouth? Or nose? Do I hold it? I feel like I’m gonna pass out!” Can you relate?

Anxious feelings can be closely tied to not getting enough oxygen due to habitually taking short, shallow breaths. Therefore, simply pausing and taking a long, deep breath is a powerful way to calm your nervous system and move through feelings of stress and anxiety. But what’s an easy and quick way to do this when you (or your child) is already overwhelmed and melting down?

A fun technique I’ve come up with for myself and my clients is called “Birthday Cake Breathing”. The fun visualization of the birthday cake and the special ritual of blowing out candles doubles as a powerful relaxation technique to switch your brain out of its anxious thoughts and feelings and into the rich imagination that helps soothe you — and quickly!

Here’s how to do it:

  • Imagine that it is your birthday and your favorite cake is being placed in front of you, lit with cheerful, glowing candles.
  • Using your senses and imagination, really picture it.  What flavor is the cake? What colors do you see? What shape is the cake? What flavor of frosting? How does it smell? Is the room dim? Are the candles striped and maybe dripping? Do the little flames dance under you chin as you look down at them?
  • Taking a deep breath in through your nose, imagine that you are inhaling the scent of that cake in front of you.  Really smell it.  Anticipate how it will taste too! (Notice how quickly your brain can focus on something other than your anxiety? Keep going!)
  • Now, blow that same breath out slowly through your mouth, as if you are blowing out the candles on your cake. (Try holding out your fingers and pretend they are candles to blow out.)
  • Repeat- deep breath in through your nose while you inhale that scent, blow out the candles.

And that is it!  This is such a fun and simple way to truly experience the power of deep breathing, with an added relaxation visualization to enhance the experience.  I practice this with kids and adults alike.  And what if you don’t like cake or don’t want to think about your birthday?  Switch it up!  Picture a steaming plate of spaghetti or something else to you can smell and then blow.  A Yankee candle is another idea.

Give it a try and let me know what you think!  Switch it up to suite yourself or your kids.  And have fun with it, as engaging our imaginations to think about fun things is a great way to snap out of an anxious or stressed moment.