“The activities that are the easiest, cheapest, and most fun to do – such as singing, playing games, reading, storytelling, and just talking and listening – are also the best for child development.” – Jerome Singer (professor, Yale University)
“The activities that are the easiest, cheapest, and most fun to do – such as singing, playing games, reading, storytelling, and just talking and listening – are also the best for child development.” – Jerome Singer (professor, Yale University)
Like most popular culture, it succeeds at keeping you in suspense enough to watch multiple episodes in a row. In fact, your teens are probably staying up late watching it now (if they haven’t already).
According to Netflix, the premise of the show is
“After a teenage girls perplexing suicide, a classmate receives a series of tapes that unravel the mystery of her tragic choice.”
So, basically a girl (Hannah) commits suicide but instead of leaving a note, she leaves a series of tape recordings explaining how the other kids at her school contributed to her decision to take her life.
Each of them gets a piece of the responsibility or blame. The show combines snippets of Hannah’s life prior to the suicide with interactions of the remaining students afterwards told from the point of view of her “friend” Clay.
**Possible Spoiler Alert
As you might guess, this show has elements that make some parents uncomfortable. Like most high schools around the country, this school has issues that parents don’t always like seen displayed so graphically.
Among the concerns are:
The show opens with a typical house party with kids drinking alcohol (one of many alcohol scenes). Later in the show, a girl is raped while passed out from drinking too much. Those who know about it do nothing.
One main character is frequently smoking weed from a bong and is often high at school.
Another group of kids come to the school costume contest dressed in scuba gear and call themselves “muff divers.”
In one scene, characters refer to Hannah has being “DTF” – which for my friends who have not had the guilty pleasure of watching MTV’s Jersey Shore shenanigans means “Down to F@ck”
And don’t forget, there is the rape and then it specifically shows Hannah’s suicide.
Despite the array of Tweets and the press that says that this show brings positive attention to the topic of suicide, experts are not convinced. In fact, many of the agencies or foundations that focus on depression, mental health and suicide are concerned that this show sends the wrong message about suicide.
This article explains how the show violates nearly all of the recommendations about media coverage for suicide from ReportingOnSuicide.org. These recommendations include NOT sensationalizing the suicide, NOT talking about the suicide note, AND not describing (or showing in graphic detail) the suicide method. ’13 Reasons Why’ gets it wrong on all counts.
Moreover, the show fails to address depression or mental health/illness in any significant way. Among the ’13 Reasons’ is not a history of mental health or depression (the most common risk factor in completed suicides). This is especially disappointing given that the executive producer, Selena Gomez, has been quite vocal about her own struggles with anxiety and depression.
Another big complaint is that it perpetuates the belief that the other students are to BLAME for Hannah’s suicide. While, it does an “okay” job of discussing the concept of survivors guilt, the students involved are mostly more concerned about keeping the story a secret and avoiding any consequences or repercussions.
Due to the content, the discussions and images have reportedly been a negative trigger for some people who watch the show. This is not to say that people who watch ’13 Reasons Why’ will take their life; but more that it can trigger additional feelings of depression, loneliness and hopelessness.
This show has prompted a lot of discussion among my therapist friends about the value of watching the show. There’s really only two main reasons that are cited:
My recommendation is that if your child is remotely interested in this show, that you watch it with your child.
Really, together. On the same couch at the same time! Then spend some time talking about the key points in each episode. Because this show is based on Jay Asher’s book of the same name, there are dozens of book club lists with discussion questions available if you look for them.
The Jed Foundation has also released this great list of talking points.
If you want discussion questions specifically used by child counselors, you can borrow some of the ones that came up in our discussion board. Included are:
’13 Reasons Why’ is basically an updated version of one of my most memorable group activities from my Bachelor’s program at the University of West Florida. I vividly remember being asked to complete “The Drawbridge Exercise” and subsequently being labeled as “oppositional” due to my response.
The Drawbridge exercise tells a story about a woman who is told by her jealous husband not to leave the gates of a castle or she will be “severely punished.’ Shockingly, she leaves. And, of all places, goes to visit a lover. On her way back, a gateman is waiting and says if she attempts to cross the bridge, she will be killed. She then returns to the lover for help and he refuses. She asks several other characters for help and all refuse. Receiving no help, she returns to the bridge and is killed by the gateman.
In class, our group was then instructed to assign levels of responsibility for her murder to all of the people in the story that refused to help her, the husband that ordered the murder and the gateman himself. You are to rank them from 1-6 in order of “most responsible” to “least responsible.”
And that is a great discussion question for the cast members of ’13 Reasons Why.’
Who is the most responsible or least responsible for Hannah’s death? Can you rank the characters in order of blame? Are any of them at fault?
Now, obviously, there is a HUGE difference between homicide and suicide. I think we can all find it easier to assign blame in a murder.
Nevertheless, the concept that there is someone to BLAME is an ethical question brought up in the show. In ’13 Reasons Why’ the characters struggle with feeling like ‘we are all responsible for Hannah’s death” and that “Hannah made the decision to take her life and she is the one to blame.”
It is basically a new age version of “The Drawbridge Exercise.” And it is an interesting discussion about assigning blame or responsibility for tragedy.
But, back to the drawbridge…
Remember…I was 19 years old and thought the world was simple.
I said, “The only person responsible for the woman’s death is the gateman. He is number 1 through 6. Everyone else is zero.”
My instructor did not like that. He thought I wasn’t taking the discussion seriously. I was labeled oppositional.
Mental health experts will also disagree with a discussion question that assigns blame to survivors for a suicide. But, I think it is a good way to bring about a discussion about regrets. In this YOLO / NO REGRETS world that high schoolers are in, it might be nice to talk about how your actions have consequences, even if you didn’t have bad intentions.
Now that I am not 19 (thankfully), I see more gray areas than I did in my college Social Justice class. In therapy there are these things called “duty to warn” and “duty to protect” that hold me responsible for failure to act in cases of potential suicide or homicide or abuse/neglect.
But more than that, I see both sides. Our actions do have consequences. Too often we fail to see how we influence others (in both positive and negative ways). We are ultimately responsible for our own choices, but know this….
HOPELESSNESS is the biggest predictor of suicide. Without assigning blame, make an effort to do what you can to prevent hopelessness in those around you.
*Not sure when take a suicide threat seriously-read more here.
See more from Jennifer Taylor here: Jennifer Taylor Play Therapy.
Thanks to Amy Flaherty for helping us get the sand toys organized. Shelf by shelf she reshaped the room that helps her client’s shape their sandtrays! If you need to organize your playroom and you need ideas for how, this is the post for you! Click here to read more!
Stacy Garcia re-invented the classic board game Sorry! and made it a great fit for her play therapy practice. Stacy believes that any game can be implemented as an effective tool for intervention and to help her clients learn. Read about how she uses Sorry! here.
The Stellenbosch University of South Africa has done a study that shows that the emotional and behavioral health of teens with PTSD can be dramatically improved with therapy intervention. The treatment consisted of prolonged exposure therapy or supportive counselling in up to 14 sessions of 60 to 90 minutes each. The children who received the individual therapy maintained the benefits of the counseling longer then those who received group therapy session. For more information click here.
A new medication is being tested for autistic children that is thought to be helpful in children up to 14 years old. Tests so far on the drug have an effect that “restarts a more normal pattern of neurological development.” More testing is needed on the drug before it will be approved and available to the public. For more information click here.
While medication can be helpful to children with ADHD, a new study has shown that a more effective treatment may include Neurofeedback (NF), a form of behavioral therapy which aims to build skills in cortical self-regulation, in addition to medication. There are still more studies needed for NF training and its effect on children with ADHD. For more information click here.
Play therapists widely regard the use of aggressive toys, including toys guns, as an essential element to the playroom. However, many parents are hesitant to allow their children to play with toy guns. Nearly all schools have banned the use of toys guns (or even pretend shooting) completely.
Over the years, I have had some toy guns (not realistic looking ones, though) and other times I have taken them out. As a therapist, the use of toys guns is not essential, but the use of aggressive toys, is vital.
Aggressive toys are anything that a child can use to get out pent up anger or hostility. These toys can be used to role play fights or battles, good guy/bad guy situation, or other trauma re-enactments.
Aggressive-Release Toys are toys that are okay to destroy or break in some way. These toys help redirect actual aggression into a more acceptable alternative.
Children need a safe opportunity to express feelings of anger. In the play therapy environment, children can use aggressive toys to play out things that are happening with people in their lives. BUT…when it is done with an animal instead of a doll person, it feels safer to the child. It is the same feeling/movements/thoughts but it doesn’t feel as real.
Also, when using aggressive release toys, children get to move their bodies in a way that helps relieve the physical tension that anger brings. Pounding clay, stomping egg cartons, or swinging foam swords helps move the body in ways that release tension and the accompanying noise that the movement makes also helps reduce tension.
Finally, aggressive play helps teach children boundaries. In rough/aggressive play, children learn how hard to swing without actually hurting the therapist, or how fast to move without falling down. They learn how to “take a break” if someone needs to rest and how to start back up again. I have witnessed siblings learn how to set rules for “fair fights” using foam swords and how to negotiate cheating.
It depends on what research you read. A few studies have shown that aggression may increase temporarily after playing with aggressive toys. This DOES seem to be more true when you are talking about playing violent video games (different story there). But, long-term, there is no reliable evidence that toy guns create more aggressive kids.
In fact, the opposite holds more true. If a child has an appropriate place to express and display anger, then they are less likely to use anger with their peers (or parents). Telling children, “Don’t get mad” is not nearly as helpful as teaching them what to do when they are mad to diffuse it. The use of aggressive release toys helps teach children what to do with their angry in a way that will not get them in trouble.
In fact, many therapists find that children will turn neutral toys like blocks or their fingers into guns, knives, or bombs in order to communicate their needs with whatever is available. The expression often goes:
If a child needs a gun to represent something going on in their life, they will find something and turn it into a gun (either in shape or with the noises that they make) to communicate that need.”
Regardless of your use of toy guns, there is never a bad time to talk with children about what to do if they find a gun while playing. Just recently, there was an incident here in Memphis where a child picked up a gun and shot his brother accidentally.
There are many factors in that case that have nothing to do with aggressive play or aggressive toys. And yet, the underlying fear is that if we let our children play with aggressive toys, things like this will happen. So…
Recently, I polled a group of play therapists and they overwhelmingly reported that they not only had toy guns in their offices, but that they found them to be an essential component of a play therapy space. However, those that did not have toy guns felt that the same benefits were achieved through the use of other aggressive release toys (like ropes, knives and swords) without the complications.
Moreover, representing reality in the playroom is important. The truth is that many children have parents that work with weapons (law enforcement and military) and others have been exposed to very traumatic events involving drug raids, shootings, or other community violence.
To deny access to those items or experiences seems to somehow convey that those feelings, thoughts or experiences are shameful, wrong, or not important. The playroom is a place to overcome those feelings and any toys that facilitate that process are okay in my office.
Do you allow your children to play with toy guns?
Thanks to Jennifer Taylor for this great post!
To check out Jennifer’s website, click here!
“Whoever wants to understand much must play much.” – Gottfried Benn (German physician 1886–1956)
Thanks to Clair Mellenthin for her submission about spring cleaning. Clearing out and letting go of physical, emotional, and mental baggage can make for a cleaner playroom and a happier you! Check out Clair’s tips to a happier, freer space here!
The Southern Sandtray posted 50 free sandtray directives! These are great ideas for building trays with a variety of topics and subjects. Try some or all of these directives with your clients.
The autism spectrum is very broad and interventions vary dramatically from child to child. two key factor that rings true for all intervention plans is: the earlier the better, and make it a team effort! All parties- parents, teachers, and treatment providers- must be in communication and working together to make the treatment effective. Consistency is key.
According to research done by researchers at the University of Rochester Mt. Hope Family Center and the University of Minnesota Institute of Child Development, children benefit from their mother’s therapy. Research has shown that mothers with depression who participated in interpersonal psychotherapy became better at reading and understanding their toddler’s temperament, essentially making them better parents, while the toddlers became less fussy and angry, making them easier to parent. The relationship thrives which is better for mother and child’s development.
Some pediatricians have started asking their young patients to complete a questionnaire about depression. Early detection of depression in children and teens is crucial to ensure that they receive the care and support they need. Childhood depression is much more common than healthcare professionals knew in previous years. It is important to recognition of mental illness as well as awareness for physicians to always question and screen for mental illness in their young patients.
With the wonderment of spring upon us, I have been thinking a lot about spring cleaning and the importance of doing this not just externally, but internally as well.
It is a great time to clean out your play room and go through your toys, dress ups, and art supplies.
Make a list to restock, repair, and reuse different items.
Once the outside is taken care of, now it is time to do some spring cleaning on the inside.
Think about cases or experiences you are carrying around with you and apply the same level of care and cleaning to these different issues. Are there things you are ready to discard, repair, or replace?
One of my favorite ways to do this for myself is to create a collage of my “two wolves”– the different parts of me that are in constant battle with each other.
When we can put the internal conflict into a tangible, distinct, separate space from us, we can see it in a different way and gain insight into why there is the conflict taking place and what parts of self we are neglecting or indulging.
Spring is a time of renewal. I hope that you will find a renewed sense of purpose, confidence, and drive in your work with our little ones (whether they are three or ninety-three years old!).
Thanks to Clair Mellenthin, LCSW, RPTS for this submission! You can get more from Clair on her website.
“Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.”
– Kay Redfield Jamison, professor of psychiatry
Thanks to Leah Davies for the insights and tips into aggression in girls. Aggression, or bullying, with girls is often different than aggression in boys, as boys tend to cause physical harm, where aggression in girls manifests itself as covert or relational aggression. Relational aggression is when a person uses manipulation to withhold friendship as a form of punishment, or creates problems within the relationships of others in an attempt to control or punish others. Because girls typically value their personal relationships with other girls, this type of bullying can be very damaging. Davies explains how schools and parents can increase awareness of the issue as well as prevent further bullying in the classroom.
Sandplay Therapy is a unique and effective tool for children in therapy. It’s a great resource for younger children who dont have the vocabulary to put into words how they are feelings. During sandplay therapy, chidlren and adults use various toys and objects to create a scene in their sandbox. The scene is then interpreted by the child’s therapist and talked about with the Child. “Through play, children work through many types of life lessons, conflicts and mysteries,” said S. Sugatt, a licensed clinical social worker.
Arunima Basu’s article highlighting the symptoms and concerns for children who have been or are being abused. Some tale-tale signs of abuse in a child are isolation, lack of interest in usual activities, sleep disturbance, and chronic stress. Basu tells us that it is the responsibility of the family of the child to watch for the signs of abuse and communicate with the child so that they understand what inappropriate behavior is and can identify when it is happening to them.
Research has shown that childhood trauma can reshape the brain and behaviors of children. “Previously, what were labeled as behavioral and learning-related issues, such as non-compliance, learning disabilities, depression, oppositional disorder and even Attention Deficit Disorder, are undergoing a reexamination as the understanding of the effects of traumatic stress on a child’s brain grows,” said Theresa O’Neil of Second Wave Michigan. Rather than ask what is wrong with the child, we should be asking what happened, and how can we help.
Veronica Mackey also shared tips on how to stop bullying on campuses. Mackey introduced James Gavsie, an author, martial arts and bullying expert. According to Gavsie, without continuous support and instruction on the topic of bullying, schools will never see the changes needed. Gavsie provides insights and tips on how teachers and parents can stop bullying and implement programs at schools to keep bullying under control.
It is easier to build strong children than repair broken men. That is the motto of ToyBank, a company that has set up 277 toy libraries and game centers in Maharashtra. ToyBank understands the strong mental and social benefit children can have from playtime with peers. Board games and toys are used as tools to help children learn about academic subjects, such as math and reading, as well as learn about themselves and their own bodies and feelings. The games are determined based on the needs of the children. ToyBank does not use games that promote violence or lifestyle toys.
“Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul”
– Friedrich Froebel (founder of the concept of kindergarten)
Parenting a child with obsessive compulsive disorder can seem like an impossible task at times. Children with OCD can have a difficult time understanding why they have the impulses they experience and how to manage them. For parents, it can be hard to answer their questions and help them navigate the unknown. Natasha Daniels has shared some great tips on parenting children with OCD; how to help them understand the disorder, and actions to help manage it.
Cognitive Restructuring is an effective tool in play therapy. It is a combination of play therapy techniques including games, art, and bibliotherapy, paired with discussions about the child’s feelings throughout the process. Donna Hammontree explains how using cognitive restructuring helps children better understand their own thoughts and feelings, and shows them how those thoughts and feelings effect their actions.
What is Play Therapy anyway? Play Therapy (PT) is a specialized practice defined by the Association for Play Therapy. This article helps define play therapy practice with information on the who’s, what’s, when’s, where’s, and why’s. “PT uses the child’s natural inclination to learn about themselves, relationships and his or her environment. Through PT, children learn to express feelings, modify their behavior and develop problem-solving, communication and social skills, ” says registered play therapist Adrianne Albarado Ortiz.
Brigham Young University is working to research autism with the goal to better the lives of the families that touched by the disorder. BYU uses a combination of disciplines to research autism from different angles including psychology, physiology and developmental biology, statistics, molecular biology, BYU’s Counseling Center and BYU’s MRI Research Facility. “The work is often painstakingly slow, ” says Cynthia Glad of BYU. “The sessions aren’t always successful, but when they work, the resulting images are very valuable. Findings are presented internationally and at the BYU Autism Translational Research Workshop.”
Counselors of Child Protective Services are undergoing a more rigorous psychological evaluation to ensure that they are fit to work and protect the children in the communities they serve. There is no higher priority than the safety of the children, many of whom have gone through traumatic events leading up to the intervention of CPS in their young lives. “The new testing regimen involves a more rigorous psychological test than that relied on in the past, as well as a face-to-face interview with a forensic psychologist,” says reporter Lauren Novak. “They will set a ‘high bar’ on traits such as empathy, maintaining appropriate boundaries with children, managing anger and stress and a proper understanding of the impact of abuse and neglect. The process also screens for indications of inappropriate sexual proclivities.”
Want your child to fess up? Try not showing anger. Sounds obvious, but it can sometimes prove easier said than done. But a new study shows that children are more likely to confess their misdeeds when they know their parents will show understanding and calm evaluation of the issue, rather than un-managed anger. “Convey that you’re going to listen without getting angry right away,” says researcher Craig Smith. “As a parent, you might not be happy with what your child did, but if you want to keep an open line of communication with your child you can try to show them that you’re happy that your child has told you about it.”
Ideal for: group or in family sessions
Instructions: In this game you assign one group the role of puppet, and another group serves as the puppet masters. You will have the group act out a situation. The puppets are doing the actions, but each have a puppet master that will be their voices, so the puppets’ actions have to be guided by what the puppet masters are having them say.
Ideal for: group or family session, must be done in pairs
Need: Play-Doh, Legos or another building material
Instructions: The therapist gives each member equal amounts/sizes of play-doh or Legos. The therapist has one person make a sculpture that the other person cannot see. Then they have the builder describe to the other person how to recreate their sculpture. At the end they compare to see if their sculptures are the same. Then you have the participants switch roles. The therapist should ask questions such as: What was difficult about being a listener? What was difficult about instructing others?
Ideal for: group or family session
Instructions: The therapist chooses three people to create a scene. Two people are given one generic line. Throughout the scene, they can only say this line. The other person may say whatever they want. You give the participants a general character and scene, such as: two customers and an employee at McDonald’s. During the scene, you can say freeze to help characters that are stuck. Afterwards, you can talk to members about how it felt to have their control limited or to be the one in charge of moving the scene forward, etc.
Ideal for: individual, group or family sessions
Need: Deck of Apples to Apples cards, In a Pickle Cards, Story Cubes or other cards with nouns on them,
Instructions: Each person during their turn chooses a card at random. They must use the noun on this card to start, continue, or end a story. They must not negate anything the person before them has said. In a larger group, it is also good to include the parameters around the story getting violent or lewd.
Ideal for: group or family in sets of two or three
Instructions: Group people into twos or threes. Ask each of them to think of a story concerning something that has happened to them that is about five minutes long. Then you assign each person in the group a role: listener or teller (and if there’s a third person–observer). The Teller will have five minutes to tell their story. During this time, the listener can’t talk, but has to show they are actively listening to the story. After the five minutes, the listener has two minutes to summarize the story they just heard, and the teller has to show active listening skills. Then, during the last minute, the teller has to summarize the listener’s summary. Afterwards, the facilitator can ask questions such as: How did you know the listener was listening? How was it to listen without being able to talk? How did you show you were a good listener? How was it to tell a story without being interrupted? What was it like to be an observer and what did you notice? Then each person can take turns taking on the different roles in rotation.
Communication/Feeling Identification Activity:
Ideal for: clients needing to identify different cues regarding how people are feeling or the environment around them.
Need: Pictures from magazine or photos of people interacting with one another in natural settings: library, trick-or-treating, cooking dinner, etc.
Instructions: Show kid(s) one picture at a time. You can ask them to identify the who, what, why, when and how of the picture, asking them to point out which contact clue led them to know something about the people in the picture. For example: drinking orange juice could signal breakfast time, or the color of leaves on a tree could signal season. You can also ask about what emotion each person is feeling and how you know this from their body language, facial expression, proximity to one another, etc.