Month: June 2018

My Favorite “Non-Therapeutic” Games… Connect 4, Emotions Edition

In case many of my previous posts haven’t hinted enough at my passion for using games in therapy, I thought I should share yet another one of my favorite games I use in counseling children (and even use when I play games with my own kids). I’ve already shared a number of “non-therapeutic” games I’ve adapted in various ways to make them therapeutic: Jenga, Perfection, Sorry!, Checkers, and Find It.

In case you’re new to my site, let me first explain what I mean when I say I adapt otherwise considered “non-therapeutic” games. These are simply classic games that you would likely find in the toy section of most department stores. These games were not initially created for the purpose of using them specifically for counseling, unlike the therapy games you can find on specialty therapy game websites and stores. Classic games are frequently more affordable then specific therapy games, and with some imagination and a little creativity, they can easily be adapted to transform them into therapy games.

Today’s game is another popular one among kids ages 6 and up: Connect 4. I call it Connect 4, Emotions Edition. I use  Connect 4 to help explain and reinforce how our emotions are “connected” to our bodies. Teaching about the mind-body connection is crucial to helping children (and us older folks) recognize that there are physical signs (or sensations) that occur in our bodies when we experience emotions. This awareness helps us better regulate our emotions more effectively before they might become too overwhelming or get out of control.

Prep for the Game

If you don’t already own a Connect 4 game, you can find one at most any department store, such as Walmart or Target. To prepare for this game, write feelings words on round post-its or stickers, then stick them to one side of each game chip. I’ve included a list of a number of emotions in this post if you need some help choosing feelings words.

Choose emotions that are most appropriate for the age group you are planning to play the game with. There should be a combination of common, more well-known feelings words, as well as some emotions that might be new (but not overly complicated) to the child as to also provide you an opportunity to help the child improve her emotion vocabulary.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

List of Emotions

  • adored
  • afraid
  • aggressive
  • alert
  • amazed
  • amused
  • angry
  • annoyed
  • anxious
  • appreciated
  • astonished
  • bashful
  • bored
  • brave
  • bubbly
  • calm
  • caring
  • cautious
  • cheerful
  • chill
  • comfortable
  • concerned
  • confident
  • confused
  • creative
  • curious
  • defensive
  • defenseless
  • delighted
  • depressed
  • desperate
  • disappointed
  • disgusted
  • doubtful
  • drained
  • eager
  • embarrassed
  • excited
  • exhausted
  • fearful
  • frantic
  • frustrated
  • grateful
  • guilty
  • happy
  • heartbroken
  • helpless
  • hostile
  • hurt
  • impulsive
  • irritated
  • jealous
  • joyful
  • kind
  • lazy
  • lonely
  • loved
  • lucky
  • misunderstood
  • motivated
  • nervous
  • optimistic
  • overwhelmed
  • panicked
  • peaceful
  • pessimistic
  • playful
  • prepared
  • proud
  • provoked
  • rebellious
  • refreshed
  • rejected
  • relaxed
  • relieved
  • sad
  • scared
  • scattered
  • shy
  • smart
  • sneaky
  • sorry
  • spiteful
  • strong
  • strong-willed
  • surprised
  • suspicious
  • tense
  • terrified
  • threatened
  • tired
  • uncertain
  • uncomfortab
  • leunsafe
  • worried

How to Play

It’s important to first talk to the child about how our emotions and body sensations are connected. For instance, if I’m feeling tired, my arms and legs might start to feel heavy and like my body is slowing down. If I’m feeling angry, my face might turn red, my heart might start beating faster, and my fists might clench. It’s also important to explain why it’s important to be able to recognize our body signals, as they are frequently our biggest indicator (clue) to the way we feel. A good way to help kids understand this is to ask them to close their eyes and offer or have them imagine a situation that has made them feel ____ (or might make them feel this way). Ask where they now feel different in their body and have them describe it.

In general, you play the therapeutic version of Connect 4 like you would normally play the game. Here are the adaptations:

  • When playing their first chip at the beginning of the game, each player must describe at least 1-2 places in their body that they might feel (in their body) the emotion labeled on their individual chip piece.
  • Any time a player is blocked from placing her fourth chip, which would create four in a row (“connect 4”), the blocked player must look at the emotion word on their opponent’s blocking chip and describe at least 1-2 places they might feel the emotion in their body.
  • The winner of the game chooses two of her winning chips and describes at least 1-2 places they might feel the emotion in their body.
  • The loser must choose four of her remaining chips, or four chips she otherwise already used in game play, and describe 1-2 places they might feel the emotion in their body.

Especially when first introducing Connect 4, Emotions Edition, it’s important to realize that you may likely have to help the child identify where they might feel certain emotions in their body. Many children are not taught to recognize these connections prior to being in therapy, so it can be somewhat difficult especially when first learning this skill.

As always, have fun playing!


Bedtime Tips for the Weary: Strategies to Get Your Child to Go to Bed – and Stay There

Your child’s bedtime is technically at 9:00 pm. It’s 10:30 pm and you find him still wandering around the house, asking for drinks, asking for another story, telling you he heard a noise, and going to the bathroom – again. This is all proceeded by gentleness at first, then arguing, then threats, and then sometimes even tears of frustration. None of it helps, except to ensure that everyone – your child included – get to stay awake even longer.

I know the bedtime struggle all too well. My oldest child, a sweet but very strong-willed boy, used to be the biggest perpetrator of nighttime battles. It started the very day he was born, and some times, even now at twelve years old, he struggles with sleeping. I spent endless nights trying and working to get him to sleep. Then almost as soon as he would fall asleep, he would be awake again – sometimes for most of the night. I finally got to the point where I was so exhausted, I could hardly function. It took years for me to find a strategy that worked for him.

Putting kids to bed is a nightmare for many families. If I met with a group of ten parents, I would guarantee that at least half – likely more – could attest to that. And with sleep being absolutely vital to our functioning, both kids and grown-ups, it’s any wonder why we’re often walking around tired and irritable. No one can function without sleep.

1-2-3 Magic

I found 1-2-3 Magic when my son was around nine years old. 1-2-3 Magic is a parenting model that helps parents of children ages 2 to 12 learn how to “get back in charge of your home and start enjoying your kids again.” To summarize, it breaks down the task of parenting into three straightforward steps:

  1. Controlling obnoxious behavior (e.g., whining, arguing, tantrums, sibling rivalry, etc.)
  2. Encouraging good behavior (e.g., getting your kids to pick up after themselves, eat at mealtimes, go to bed, do chores, etc.)
  3. Strengthening your relationships (to reinforce the parent-child bond)

I highly recommend the 1-2-3 Magic parenting program to parents. It’s very simple to learn and even easier to implement. sells a series of 1-2-3 Magic books that teach us what to do.

Getting a child to go to bed – and stay in bed – is a part of step 2: encouraging good behavior. To do this, the program’s creator, Thomas W. Phelan, PhD, teaches parents seven “start” behavior tactics (“start” because these are things you want your child to start doing). Many of these tactics are used in establishing a bedtime routine for children.

The Basic Bedtime Model

In order to get kids to stay in bed, we first must set up a bedtime routine. First, set a time for when you want your kids in bed, then stick to it. The time may vary depending on whether it’s a school night or a weekend, school year or summertime. Whatever time you choose, exceptions to the rule should be rare. No parent wants bedtime to be open to negotiation every night.

Let’s say you decide on a 9:00 pm bedtime on school nights for your nine-year-old son. Here’s what to do: At 8:15 – 8:30 pm (choose one), set a timer for 30 minutes. Tell him that it’s time to get ready for bed. This means that your son must do everything required to prepare for bed (such as brushing his teeth, putting on his pajamas, getting a drink, using the bathroom, etc.) – on his own. (Obviously, if you have a child who is between the ages of 2-4 or 5, you will need to help them, as they’re not able to totally prepare for bedtime on their own.)

Make the preparation routine perfectly clear. Making a chart or list can be especially beneficial for kids, especially when they’re first starting out with this. When your son has completed all the necessary tasks, have him report to you. If he accomplished it all, be sure to praise him for his efforts.

Now comes my most favorite part, the reward. Whatever time is left between 8:15 pm (or 8:30 pm) and 9:00 pm is time for just the two of you. Read a story. Sit and talk. Stay in the bedroom, and just don’t do anything super exciting (you don’t want to get your kid wound up when your goal is to get him to relax and go to sleep). Kids love this kind of one-on-one time with a parent. As a parent, love this kind of time with my children.

This special time together serves as an immediate reinforcer for the child, and this time with you will help your child relax and get in the mood – physically and mentally – for going to sleep. (That’s our goal!)

When 9:00 pm comes, tuck your child in, kiss him good night, and leave the room.

What if he won’t stay in bed?

Some kids just can’t seem to stay in bed. They’re always coming up with some reason to get out bed. Why? Usually it’s because they’re 1) scared, 2) bored, or 3) both.

If your child is six or under, Dr. Phelan recommends the following strategy to help get your child to stay in bed after you tuck him in.

Put a chair in the doorway to the child’s room. After all the bedtime preparation is complete and you’ve given your kisses and hugs, sit in the chair, making sure you’re facing the hallway (don’t face your child’s room). If you’re able to take turns doing this with your partner, even better. Say nothing after bedtime (after those last hugs and kisses). If your child gets out of bed, put him back (carry or guide him).

Usually after a week or so, they will start staying in bed and going to sleep. Just don’t give in and don’t give up, and for gosh sake, don’t talk or show emotion. Some kids find their parent’s presence in the doorway comforting, even though you’re not even talking.

“If a child gets out of bed after bedtime, the longer he stays up, the more reinforcement he gets for this behavior,” and the more he will want to keep getting out of bed in the future. Therefore, you have to “cut him off at the pass” – the doorway to the room.

If you have a child who is older than six, you may be able to use “charting” – using a behavior chart – to encourage him to stay in bed. There are some excellent behavior charts at

Nighttime Waking

Some kids go through stages where they wake in the middle of the night. One minute you’re sound asleep, and the next you’re awakened by your child standing at your bedside mumbling incoherently.

Nighttime problems are hard. In the middle of the night most of us aren’t in the right mind – and neither are our kids. And it can be aggravating to be awakened from a sound sleep. It can be difficult to always respond appropriately.

Take some of the following tips and follow them consistently and calmly. Most kids will get back to sleeping through the night in a few weeks.

  • Accept some waking as normal. Treat periodic waking as a temporary stage; this will help you be less upset. Of course, if the problem is chronic, it’s not a temporary stage and you should get your child checked out by his pediatrician.
  • Don’t go to your child’s room unless you have to. When should you go? If he’s really upset or won’t quiet down, you’d better check things out. Remember though, many kids will make some noise and then go back to sleep. Give them a chance to do so.
  • No talking and no emotion. This is a fundamental rule in the 1-2-3 Magic parenting method. Talking and emotion, especially anger, wake everyone up. My exception to this rule is when the child is very frightened, such as after a terrible nightmare, and may need consoling. Show empathy, but try to keep words to a minimum.
  • Assume your child has to go to the bathroom. If your child appears at your bedside in the middle of the night, mumbling incoherently, in all likelihood somebody is probably going to have to get up. Even though they can’t or don’t always say it, many kids are awakened by the need to go to the bathroom, so try steering them to the toilet and see what happens.
  • Be gentle and be quiet. Guide kids quietly as you stagger through the dark. Don’t push them around, even though you might be irritated. You want them to remain sleepy.
  • Leave the lights off! Lights wake up kids and parents. Quickly. This makes it harder to go back to sleep. Move around the best you can in the dark.
  • Don’t let the child sleep with you regularly. It’s tempting to let them crawl into bed with you, and I know, it’s the easiest way to quiet them down. But sleeping together can become a habit quickly. Unfortunately, the more you let them sleep with you, the harder it will be to get them to sleep in their own room again without a fight. An exception to this rule might be if your child is frightened by something such as a storm going on outside. It may help to let your kids sleep on the floor next to your bed with pillows and a sleeping bag or blankets. Their fears will be comforted.

Good luck, and good night. Hope you (and your child) sleep well!

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