JOINT JOURNALING: A powerful communication tool between parent and child

As parents, we strive to help our children understand who they are & what they believe in. We want our children to understand and recognize their feelings, to be able to calm themselves when they’re upset, and to have the coping skills to overcome struggles. We need to help them grow into their authentic selves feeling loved and accepted.  Self-awareness exercises like the one I’m describing today, can help kiddos come to know themselves better.

A fun and useful exercise between parent and child is to pass a journal back and forth nightly.  Pre-teens and Teens really seem to do well with this concept.  My own daughter and I do this and I’ve learned so much about her sweet little 12-year-old soul.  I believe talking and journaling are not mutually exclusive – but they are mutually beneficial!!  Journaling has become a tool in our toolbox to be sure there is an open door communication policy and in helping my daughter come to “know” herself better.

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If you choose to employ a journal, you’ll find you communicate a little differently when you write, because you have time to think.  It’s also quite possible that the child will “hear” you better when you write.  And, you might notice that she’ll be braver when she writes.  Sometimes writing and reading gives you just enough distance… to be totally honest!

This exercise can be especially important when children have difficult topics, memories or feelings they are struggling with. Remain aware that your questions can bring up strong feelings/memories for foster/adoptive children.   Remain aware that addressing these strong feelings in writing gives you ample time to process and formulate your best response.

When kiddos reach middle school, it’s becomes very typical for them to communicate through writing.  They don’t call each other, they text!! It’s exciting to see how your journal paves the way for your child to talk to you as they do their friends.

Mutually, you will find meaning in this exercise and will come to appreciate the time capsule you are constructing.  Everything, from what you’re writing about, to her handwriting and the expressions she uses, captures her in this moment.  Your journal pages can be more powerful than a photograph.

You’ll need to decide a couple of key things: 

Who is allowed to see this journal? For trust to be built, you both must honor this decision.  The journal is just between my daughter and myself in our house.

How will you pass the journal back and forth?  We leave it under each others pillow on most nights. 

When can you expect a response?  Sometimes life gets in the way and we just let each other know that we weren’t able to get our entry done.  We leave a sticky note that says “Response needed ASAP” if it’s urgent. 

Do you want to use a fancy journal or just use a standard notebook?  Either works great; although the blank journal or spiral notebook allows for more flexibility and the ability to come up with your own questions/topics.  We’ve used all three, including a wonderful journal called Just Between Us: A no-stress, no-rules journal for girls and their moms.  You can find it HERE.

What to write?  It’s up to you!  There are no rules for this activity.  Of course, you should do what feels right for you!  Some days you might feel like there’s nothing to say.  Don’t be afraid to doodle or share an inspiring quote instead. Consider using the below list of questions as journaling prompts.  As you get started, it might feel more comfortable to stick to the more “superficial” of these topics.

  • What are your strengths?
  • If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
  • What are your goals for this school year?
  • Who do you talk to when you have a problem? How do they help?
  • What do you like to do for fun?
  • What are you worried about?
  • What do you wish you parents knew about you? What do you wish your friends or classmates knew about you?
  • If you could have one wish, what would it be?
  • What do you feel ashamed of?
  • Where do you feel safest?
  • If you weren’t afraid, what would you do?
  • Have you ever felt like a failure? How did you cope?
    How can you tell that you’re getting angry?  What does your body feel like?
  • What’s something that adults say to you that’s really stuck with you? Do you think their right?
  • What do you do when people don’t seem to like you?
  • What is your proudest accomplishment?
  • What things feel “in” your control? What things feel “out” of your control?
  • What do you like about your school? What do you dislike?
  • What do you do when you’re stressed out?
  • What’s something nice you can say about yourself?
  • What’s your happiest memory?
  • What do you do when you’re feeling down? Do you think it’s okay to cry?  Do you think it’s ok to yell?
  • What is your favorite book, movie, band, food, color, animal?
  • What do you like about yourself?
  • What do you like talking about? What do you find it hard to talk about?
  • What are three things you might like to be when you grow up?
  • Who are your best friends? What do you look for in a friend?  What are challenges you face in friendship?
  • Before you fall asleep, what do you think about? What do you dream about?  What’s the first thing you think of when you wake up?
  • Have you ever let fear stop you from doing something you wanted to do?
  • How are you and I the same? How are you and I different?
  • What do you need to know about crushes and dating?
  • What are things you’d love for us to do together?
  • If you could do one crazy thing without consequences, what would it be?
  • What do you love about school? What do you not love about school?  How do you feel about your grades?  What has your greatest learning experience been?
  • How do you feel about the activities you’re involved in? What takes up too much of your time?  What do you wish you could spend your time doing?
  • These are Compliments I want to give you… What compliments would you like to give me?
  • What have you learned from our journal?

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In the event that you know journaling is NOT your thing, these questions have a lot of value as talking points too.  Talking with your children is one of the most critical steps of healthy parenting. Speaking honestly and clearly, responding calmly, and listening carefully will occur only if children are provided with models and opportunities to practice. Kids need to learn to share more than just their belongings…

~Stacy Dinkel, M.A.

 

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Doodle Therapy: Painting in Nature

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Sometimes turning a kid loose with paints feels a little too hazardous inside the house – with walls, furniture, etc. which may be accidentally embellished. Consider taking those paints outdoors for a wonderful sensory experience.

Sensory integration activities are unbelievably fun and a necessary part of development for any child, whether they have a sensory processing disorder or not. Sensory integration activities are activities that should be used with any child if normal sensory development is one of your goals (hint… it should be).

Without the chance to get their hands dirty and engage in free play, young nervous systems don’t have a chance to fully develop a tolerance.

Experiential hands-on activities that prove helpful in sensory integration include:

Finger painting, or even painting with pudding

Working with play dough

Working with shaving cream

Sand Play

Gardening

Baking and cooking

With Sensory processing disorders, children with tactile sensitivities or tactile defensiveness will shy away from play activities where the substance stays on their hands. These activities (finger painting, sand play, shaving cream) are all types of “tactile input” that children most frequently have difficulty interpreting correctly. Therapies allowing children to play in a nonthreatening space while pushing their tolerance levels – creates a safe environment to help them be increasingly open to new things.

For any child (whether they have a sensory processing disorder or not) our goal is to introduce tactile experiences slowly and gradually as the child is ready to experience them – so a defensive/aversive reaction is avoided. A child with tactile defensiveness should never be forced to touch anything they do not want to, as this will cause further apprehension and avoidance. In these instances, it is up to the parent to encourage, explain, understand and communicate with the child as we attempt to introduce touch sensations to them in a safe and non-threatening way.

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For this activity, you will allow your child to utilize nature as their canvas. Provide paint (washable tempera), brushes or sponges ~ and encourage the use of their hands. Help your child to locate and begin painting on trees or any flat surface areas (such as large rocks).  Using their hands allows the child to enjoy the rough bark on the tree, finding patterns within it. Enjoying the soft smooth texture of the paint working between their fingers is also important. Beyond sensory integration, this activity also offers the chance to strengthen hand and finger muscles as well as helping the child understand firsthand how to mix colors.

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***No trees were harmed in this project. By using Washable Tempera Paint – it will wash off in any rainstorm – or by using a garden hose.

As an alternative to paint, you can also use chalk on trees or flat surfaces as you find them:

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In summary, children find joy and excitement in the smallest of things and playing is their greatest natural talent. Finger painting is an emotionally satisfying form of creative expression and there is much value within encouraging young children to be artful (inside or out-of-doors).

Doodle Therapy: A Worry Box

A Worry Box: A Tool For Helping Children Process Their Anxieties 

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For millions of children, worry and anxiety can be a real but absolutely normal problem. Worries that fall within what we consider to be “normal” limits – can still negatively impact a child’s ability to play, interact with others, focus on schoolwork and even sleep. However, for children coming from adverse backgrounds – more intense worry and anxiety can occur. This stems from an acute stress response, which ultimately causes the child to respond with more intense hypervigilance and fear.Today, I’ll be sharing a creative activity and tips to help you begin addressing the worries of the child in your care.

Typical symptoms/signs of worry and anxiety can include:

  • Expressing irrational fears or concerns about their own safety or the safety of others.
  • Feeling nervous, sad or angry
  • Having difficulty falling and staying asleep.
  • Feeling too concerned with the opinion of others, perfection or people pleasing.
  • Excessively worrying about or refusing to go to school.
  • Experiencing symptoms such as frequent upset stomach or headaches. (These, of course, can be signs of other ailments. Be sure to consult your child’s physician.
  • Feeling overly self-conscious, doubting themselves or having unrealistic expectations of themselves.

To be diagnosed as an anxiety disorder, the above symptoms must cause severe distress in the child’s life and interrupt normal functioning. Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by excessive, exaggerated anxiety and worry about everyday life events with no obvious reasons for worry. People with symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder tend to always expect disaster and can’t stop worrying. Daily life becomes a constant state of worry, fear, and dread. Eventually, the anxiety so dominates the person’s thinking that it interferes with daily functioning. These symptoms will be present for most days for at least 6 months. It’s important to be aware that extreme worries may require services from a professional to fully overcome. Please also discuss any overt concerns or questions about your child’s anxiety with your CHI social worker.

If I should notice these types of symptoms in my child, what should I do?

The most important thing that you can do is talk with your child, remembering that an anxious child will likely have a hard time expressing themselves. They may not know what “it” is that they are specifically anxious about. It is helpful to ask questions and get the child to be as specific as possible about what worries him or her.

This is where a Worry Box can help. Writing worries down on a small piece of paper encourages your child to get right to the point of what is bothering him or her. Then, by creating a time and place to talk about his or her feelings, the Worry Box can help you open up lines of communication that are otherwise difficult to establish. That communication can go a long way to helping your child be able to manage worries better and give you an insight into how he or she is thinking and feeling about life. The Worry Box contents can also be supplied to a counselor or therapist when accessing a professional for assistance.
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 How Does the Worry Box work?

  1. Keep your Worry Box in a convenient place, like the child’s bedside table or on a dresser.
  2. Instruct your child that whenever they have a worry, he or she should simply write down this particular burden – and put it in the box.
  3. Every night, open the Worry Box with your child and review the worries they’ve made note of. Talk about each worry, how he or she is feeling and share some ways to handle the problem causing the worry. With each review – you might find some of the worries have gone away on their own, while others might not and continue to be a talking point.
  4. If the worry has gone away, discard the written worry. Cheerlead your child for handling it! If the worry has not gone away, keep it in the Worry Box for another review.
  5. If the child makes it through a day without any “worries” celebrate this accomplishment.  Touch base that this has been an honest achievement though.  If the child is withholding or internalizing the worries – there may be an issue with feeling safe enough to make their report.

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This common and effective therapeutic journaling technique used by child therapists can help your child learn to manage his or her worries better in three ways:

  1. By writing down their worries, your child can get a clear idea of what he or she is worried about. A Worry Box is a great facilitator of conversation and relating. Children who use a Worry Box know they will review the worries soon with an adult they trust, so they can express worries by writing them down and getting them out of his or her head for a while. When you bring out the box each time, explain that the first step in helping a worry is – acknowledging it.
  2. Second, the Worry Box sparks conversation between you and your child. Often, children can be uncomfortable or scared to bring up a worry out of the blue. The adult will get insight into what is on the child’s mind and the child will learn that the adult is “safe” for sharing their worries.
  3. Third, over time, your child may begin to learn better ways to manage his or her worries. A Worry Box helps your child recognize that some worries that are a waste of time and that by writing and talking about worries with a trusted person, your child can also find help to reconcile them. They celebrate progress as the worry is diminished and “thrown out.” They learn that the parent is a safe and non-judgmental resource to review their fears with.

How do I help my child? I’m just not sure what to say?

  • Help your child identify his or her worried (or irrational) thoughts by writing them down on a piece of paper.

For example: “I am afraid someone is going to break into our house.”

  • Help your child reframe his or her thoughts into positive or rational thoughts when you review worries with him or her.


For example: “I am safe, Mom and Dad won’t let anyone hurt us.” 
“We have a security system.” 
“The dog would always alert us and we can call the police.”

  • Help your child develop a healthy plan to help him or her reduce anxious feelings. 


For Example: You can use the Worry Box; Listen to calm music; Practice deep breathing; Read; or Do some Yoga poses. Teach your child to be assertive (if a child is worried a friend doesn’t like him or her, encourage your child to talk to that friend)

How to make a worry box: This is quite simple. All you need is a box ~ you can use a shoebox or purchase a fancier shaped cardboard box at a craft store. Let your child choose embellishments to decorate the box with. Stickers, paint or drawings will do the trick. For the example, we used magazine pieces collaged to the box and individual magazine letters to label it.

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You can overtly label the box “My Worry Box” or your child can choose to be more discreet about it – so that the box doesn’t draw unwanted attention from friends/visitors. Place a pad of sticky notes or notecards alongside the box, which can be used to make note of the worries as they occur. Place the worries inside the box as they are written.

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If you have more than one sibling experiencing worry and anxiety – you can have the children create separate boxes or utilize a combined box. The parent will want to decide whether to address the worries separately or as a group. I would advise addressing them separately so as to – isolate the “worries,” keep them from spreading to the group, and to give individualized attention and support in overcoming the worry. If presented in a group setting: The parent should divert the other siblings from advice giving that is not helpful. Focus on the feelings of the person who wrote the worry, how the rest of the group relates and if they have ever experienced the worry themselves. You can then talk as a group about coping and turning our worries around. 

 ~Stacy Dinkel, M.A.

 

Doodle Therapy: The Family Playdate

Did you know that May 10 is National Family Playdate Day?  (Okay, I’ll be honest. Neither did I — until I saw it on Facebook!)

But, apparently a group has deemed May 10 to be a Family Playdate Day – and in theory, it’s a really great idea for all of us to make meaningful plans for time together as a family.
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Today, within one simple project my little family built two stepping stones.  We played as a family. We were artful (& Messy).  We had fun.  We had great conversations.  AND, we managed to create two lovely gifts to be given to the “Nana’s” in our lives in honor of Mother’s Day.

There are numerous benefits to spending quality time together, but for families touched by fostercare and adoption, the following are really important:

1. Participating in family oriented activities are meaningful and focused opportunities to bond and connect as a family.
2. Promising your personal time at least one day out of the week can help members in the family gain a sense of self worth and belonging – and to assign a true value to “family time.”
3. While spending time together, family members learn how to listen and work cooperatively together.
4. Children that do not have a sense of family values are more likely to be influenced by friends that do not necessarily have their best interests at heart.
5. Parents often admit to frustration when it comes to communication. Parents can use this time to relate to their children and actively listen while everyone is together. Using creative projects like this is a good way to create a “release” and to open up discussion about what is going on in each members life.

Our Stepping Stones project can make a great Family “Playdate” for any family. The outcome can be made to embellish your own lovely garden – or can be a memento/gift given to Mothers, Grandmothers or Birth Mothers in celebration of an important milestone, in celebration – or just to say “I love you” any day of the year.

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All that’s needed for the project pictured is a stepping stones kit. My family used two kits with the goal of making a stepping stone for the grandmother on each side of our family. We actually abandoned the templates, combined the embellishments from the two different kits and just did what we thought looked nice by laying out our “plan” on the table. (If you’re especially crafty, you can make your own stepping stones without a kit – by simply using concrete ).

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If you haven’t been inspired to make stepping stones, here are a few other options that you might consider for your own Family Playdate(s):

* Start a garden together and teach the children about growing their own foodstuffs. This also encourages healthy eating!

* Plan a meal from new recipes or even from another culture, assigning each family member a job. Set the table according to the cultural traditions and share a discussion about similarities and differences.

* Plan an outing to the park together and play games, go on a nature hike or make a picnic together.

* Create a Scavenger Hunt or “I spy” list of items which can be found outside. Head out on a family walk and use cameras and/or iPhones to record group shots next to each item found.

* Create a “We bicycled 100 miles” chart and record each mile rode together as a family. Use a smart phone app to track each of your bike rides so that you know your mileage. This can also be done during walks or jogs.

Basically, just choose a project that is easy enough for every family member to participate in. Encourage children to use their unique talents to make the project special. The most important thing – is that it should result in lots of fun!

What ideas do you have for a Family Playdate?

~Be well and Be Creative!  Stacy Dinkel, M.A.

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If you are interested in creating stepping stones like ours, we used the following kits: photo stepping stone kit   and mosaic stepping stone kit .

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An Introduction to Doodle Therapy

Hi!  I’m Stacy Dinkel and I’ve been on board in some capacity at Chrysalis House, Inc. for twelve+ years.  Regardless of the role I’ve filled at this agency, I’ve always relied on my creativity to serve those I work with.  I’ve always been “artsy,” following in my own Mama’s footsteps and interjecting creativity into everything I do, (whether it be in art projects, social work OR parenting).  Although I have a Masters in Counseling – my undergraduate degree is actually in Art Therapy.

Enthusiastically, I’m introducing a new series on this blog, which we’ll be calling Doodle Therapy.  The Doodle Therapy posts will use creative activities as a means to connect with your own family in a variety of creative ways. I do not claim to be a registered Art Therapist, nor will we be assessing any artistic projects in a therapeutic way.  Yet, this series will be designed to encourage CHI families to get creative together, using art as a touchstone for conversation, growth and healing!!

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Art as “therapy” is a topic that always raises eyebrows and questions.  While art can absolutely be used to develop an understanding of the person who makes it — the process can be extremely useful in helping people grow, rehabilitate and heal too.  Despite what you believe – art therapies require no talent.  Drawing, painting, clay work, etc. are all methods of expression easily available to us all, regardless of age or artistic ability.  The purpose is not to create great “art” but to explore and express yourself! Art can be a profoundly relaxing activity; ultimately reducing stress and anxiety.  Another side benefit is that you can also simultaneously begin to resolve overwhelming emotions, crises and traumas.  Mindful questions and talks about what has been portrayed can be a super important part of the process and extremely useful to parents and children.

As a parent of an adopted child, art can be an excellent opener to talking about the hard stuff  (which can include past abuse, current anxiety, grief & loss, fears or even what the child can expect in the future).  Consider these Doodle Therapy exercises a “tool” you’ve added to your parenting toolbox! Don’t hesitate to bring topics to your CHI social worker or a therapist, if you feel they need further address.

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Today, let’s think about how available art is to your children – as you may want to consider making it a more prominent resource.  Do you have art supplies readily available to your kiddos?

Crayons, pencils, markers, scissors, chalks, paints, Play-Doh, etc. are all tools you can utilize in future exercises regardless of your child(ren)’s age.  Many parents have a fear of allowing children free reign to these items – and many choose to restrict them to sessions of well-supervised use.  Whatever the case – you know your child best and know whether they may initiate haircuts or create unwanted wall murals!  If you believe your child(ren) can handle free access to art supplies, you may be surprised at what they have the potential and freedom to create.

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Throughout this past weekend, I asked my kids to draw pictures of themselves and to help each other in the creative process.  My kids started out drawing one another and then swapped pieces back and forth until they decided they were complete.  My daughter has taken interest in caricatures, so we tried to take my son’s piece in that direction (I helped with the outline).  I left their artwork and and supplies on a table for the duration of the weekend. This strategy served several purposes:

  1. It was a 4 day weekend and art was a great time filler that they came back to repeatedly.  (Art can offset boredom!)
  2. It was a means of encouraging cooperative and positive interaction between the two siblings.    (Art can facilitate relationship building and bonding!)
  3. It prompted many discussions about what they like about themselves and each other – and how to depict that in picture form.  (Art can involve self esteem building!  You can create a better awareness of self and others!)
  4. The artistic experience simultaneously hones other skills too – fine motor skills, technical skills, creativity, an eye for composition, confidence to try new ideas, etc.  Through creating and reflecting on art processes, people can cope with symptoms, facilitate the ability to label and express emotions and enjoy the self affirming pleasures of being artful.

& finally… it offered me a project to post here as an introduction to this new series!  My kiddos are Kenzie (9) and Rylan (6), and they’ll be assisting me in demonstrating future Doodle Therapy projects.  My daughter’s nickname is “Doodle,” so she’s especially qualified for her new position.

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Please join in the fun!  Your first Doodle Therapy assignment is:

Have your child(ren) create a self-portrait, a portrait of a sibling ~ OR ~ Create a family portrait.  

This can be done individually or as a collaborative family process by working together as a team! To alleviate frustration and encourage relationship building – this is a great project for siblings/parents to support each other through any rough spots.

This project is about finding your way artistically and enjoying the experience.

Be well and Be creative!

~Stacy Dinkel, M.A.

P.S.  Because we’d like to promote your ability to play along, I have set up a Flickr (www.flickr.com) group specific to this series.  Please consider joining the group and submitting projects that your children have completed as result of our Doodle Therapy series.  This will be a closed group, available to ONLY those who are invited to participate.  To Join: Please send an email to myself at: stacy@chrysalishouse.com requesting to be “invited” to join this group. 

Please note:  If confidentiality is a prominent concern, please refrain from posting pictures which specifically include your child(ren).  In this event, you may simply submit a photo of only the art itself.  Agency use of your photos is not the focus of this group – we are merely wishing to encourage and join you in your creative journey as a family!  CHI will never use your images without first requesting permission to do so!