This series of articles involve play therapy. The names and genders of the people involved change from article to article to protect the identity of those in therapy. The children in these play therapy sessions are between 6 and 10.
This week in play therapy, we learned some games to help our child calm the lizard brain. If you have no idea what lizard brain is, you’ll have to click here to read Play Therapy #2.
Today we learned some games to help our child calm that lizard brain. I’m going to share them with you as they are so great and have worked really well for our child. First, I will say that over the last number of months as we go through this process, the therapist (today we will call Sophie) has been starting the sessions by asking our child (today will be Jill) how the week went. She asks if there were any times when she had BIG feelings. We usually have a few examples where BIG feelings came out. This week was a one hour scream fest because Jill was sick and had to stay home from school. Not sure what the next three weeks of self-isolation for the Coronavirus-19 will do to her but I expect quite a few more episodes of BIG feelings will occur. Anyone else? If you foster or have adopted, I know you get it. Routine is so important for our kids and things like a world-wide pandemic can throw them for a huge loop.
Back to the session. Sophie asked Jill what she was feeling when she was screaming. Jill said she was feeling angry because she couldn’t go to school. Throughout these sessions the focus has been on helping our child to think about how she is feeling shortly after a melt-down and the three main emotions Jill continues to feel are ANGRY, SCARED and EXCITED. Even though the last one, excited, is a happy emotion it comes out as a BIG emotion. It usually starts with hyper, running, and escalates to screaming, yelling, hitting, and it goes downhill quickly. All that from being too excited and not knowing what to do with those feelings. I’ll talk more about those in my next post and I’ll show a photo of the toolkit we made to cope with all three of her biggest emotions.
So to help cope with some of the emotions here are the games we played that we can play anywhere really to help Jill focus, calm down, center her body and mind and regain control of her emotions.
Game 1: I’m sure you’ve heard that bubbles can be great for kids throwing a tantrum. Have you heard of bubble wars as? Big person vs little person. When angry bubbles can be blown fast and hard to push away those feelings of anger or excitement. Then you can slow the breathing down by seeing who can slowly blow the biggest bubble. Big siblings, babysitters, parents, teachers, anyone can use this as long as they keep a few small bubble containers close at hand. I keep a few in my purse and a few in Jill’s toolkit for the car and for the home. If you’re the parent that is thinking about getting bubble soap on your floors then you probably don’t have a child who is melting down quite the same as some of us.
Game 2: Pillow pals. Creating a punching pillow. Find a big, puffy one that your child can use when they are angry. Watching Sophie scream into the pillow was quite amusing to Jill. When Sophie asked Jill to try it, Jill couldn’t do it. This was the same Jill who has no problem screaming and hitting when she feels like it but when told to do it, she couldn’t. She spoke with her face in the pillow and hit the pillow lightly. Hopefully once, she is at home and feels overwhelmed by anger, she will actually try and scream into the pillow or punch it.
Game 3: Light as a feather. When your child is feeling excited, you can try playing the feather game. This is also a fantastic game for parties or when trying to keep kids busy at a restaurant or anywhere really. All you need is a fluffy feather and a piece of paper for everyone. The premise is simple; pass the feather from paper to paper with no hands. You have to carefully blow the feather onto the paper of the person beside you. Its such a fun game but also helps calm an anxious child or even a sad or angry one. I put a feather in a ziploc in my purse along with a ping pong ball which is for the next game.
Game 4: Air ball. All you need is a ping pong ball and a table. You can play with any number of people. The goal is to keep the ball on the table using only air. One person blows the ball gently to someone. That someone gently blows it back. It’s extremely calming for the child to gently blow.
Game 5: Back drawing. Have your child turn with their back to you. Rub their back a few times going from the top to the bottom like you’re cleaning the blackboard. Tell them you are going to draw a letter or a shape for littler ones. They have to guess which letter. After each letter or shape, rub the back from top to bottom to wipe off the letter and reset their senses and get ready for the next letter. Even just the slow back rub, is calming and helpful to wash away the BIG emotions.
Game 6: Blind fold search. Now this is one to play before BIG emotions. The goal is to build trust and remind your child that they can trust you with anything especially taking care of them. Put a blindfold on your child and move away from them. Ask them to follow your voice to find you. You can assure your child that you will not let them get hurt or run into something that will hurt them. Have them walk slowly and follow your quiet voice and end with a hug when they find you. This game also helps remind your child to come find you when they are stressed or scared.
Game 7: Brush touch. I love this one because some of our kids (foster kids) have issues with touch. This is calming touch without actually touching them! All you need is a big makeup brush like a big blush brush. You have the child close their eyes and sit cross legged. Tell them you will only touch them on exposed skin and they will have to say where you touched them with the brush. Jill did not like the idea of this game at first and refused to close her eyes and was acting jumpy and hyper when Sophie started. If the child is too anxious tell them to start with eyes open. Touch them on the nose with the brush and ask where you touched them. Can they tell? Try to get them to close their eyes and slowly touch them like you are putting on a small amount of blush. They can call out where they feel the rub. Hands, feet, chin, ears, forehead; a gentle rub on these spots and you’ll be amazed at how calm the child is after a few touches. Our child was close to sleep by the end of this game when we tried it at home before bed. Such a calming game. This one may work in the car as well. Our child has anxiety when strapped into the carseat so since this game is calming, we are going to try a makeup brush on our next car trip and see if it can help her remain calm.