Improving Routines and Behaviors for Toddlers Through Elementary

Morning routines, evening routines, and even weekend routines… this is an ongoing challenge for parents of young children. We know the importance of keeping kids on a consistent schedule, but it can be quite stressful making the process smooth. As a mom of two young kids and a child therapist, including one toddler, making this process easier was important to me. As a therapist, I also saw this to be a struggle for many parents of the children I was seeing.

The Challenges with Routine

  • Distractions. The temptation for the kids to want to play instead of eat dinner, and for me to watch the news instead of prepare dinner, is one example of how distractions affect us at my house.
  • Stress. Getting yourself and the kids ready in the morning is no easy task and often very stressful. You do “what you have to do” just to get out the door on time.
  • Change. There’s no getting around the fact that changes in your family/life happen and adjustments have to be made. New babies are born, job schedules change, kids start new extra curricular activities… all requiring a modification to your routine.
  • Lack of Energy. I don’t know any parent who feels they get enough sleep and with all the activities of life today, disregarding a routine is very tempting, especially when you kids are resistant (bath, bed, etc.).

Continue reading “Improving Routines and Behaviors for Toddlers Through Elementary”

Rory’s Story Cubes… Why have I not found these sooner?!

I was scrolling through toys for my kids a couple weeks ago and came across Rory’s Story Cubes. I thought they sounded fun and wanted to try using them in session so I purchased them for around $7 plus shipping on Turns out… I love this game!

About the Game

There are 9 cubes in the box about the size of your typical dice. Each cube is white with a black picture, different one on each side of the cube. The player,or players, roll the cubes and tell a picture from the story.

Ways To Play and Use In Therapy

1. One person rolls all the dice and tells a story using the pictures on the tops of the cubes while the other person listens. I used this on a young male client and young female client (both middle school age ranges). These were individual sessions and not as a group. I asked the child to roll the cubes and tell a story about their life and try to incorporate some difficult things they have been struggling with. At first, I wasn’t sure how effective or easy this would be, given it takes some thought and creativity. But the stories, and process of telling the story was great! It allowed the children another medium to describe what they were experiencing and I learned more about them as well. For example, one child rolled a cube with an alien face and used this to describe their parents and why they saw them in that way.

2. Two or more people roll the cubes and take turns telling a part of the story with one cube at a time. This will allow the therapist to incorporate themes or characters in the story and see how the client responds.

3. Incorporate superheros and villains. This idea is directly off the Rory’s Story Cubes website and I love it.

1. Describe your superpower.

Each person takes a turn to roll 3 cubes.

Use these to describe your superpower. (And a name, a name is very important).

2. Create a backstory.

Next everyone takes turns to roll all 9 cubes.

Use these to give your hero a backstory. Remember to add a flaw or weakness, this is what makes your hero human.

3. Create a Super-villain

All superhero teams need an arch-nemesis or super-villain to go up against. To create a super-villain, roll all 9 cubes then, as a group, use the 9 images to describe this villain. give him/her or it a unique ‘calling card’ a modus operandi, so for example The Joker always leaves a card, Bomb Voyage from the Incredibles leaves bombs etc.

Give him/her/it a name and a reason for doing what they do. How does the villain justify their actions?

Now that you have your characters, you are free to create all kinds of super-powered stories featuring the heroes and their arch-nemesis.

Story Cube App for iOS and Android

While pulling up the website for this post, I found out there is an app. Why not? There seems to be an app for everything these days. I downloaded the app for $1.99 and it’s pretty cool too. You shake your phone to roll the cubes and move them around as you wish with a touch of your finger. There are also different themed cubes you can purchase for another $1.99 each with themes of voyages, clues, enchanted and prehistoric. Below are pictures I took from my phone using the app.

Does anyone else have any suggestions for using this game? I hope you enjoy it as much as I have! 🙂

For more information on my clinical practice, please visit 🙂

Kingwood Counseling and Play Therapy

A Simple Game For Building a Stronger Family

stronger familyJohn Gottman, PhD, who is basically the king of marriage therapy in my opinion, gets couples to play a game to enhance a couple’s Love Maps. The general concept is that each person in a relationship has a “love map” in which they store information about their partner. The relationships that last have partners with “full” love maps. In other words, they know a lot about their partner’s dreams, fears, goals, hopes, quirks, likes, dislikes, and so on.

This concept of the love map has me thinking lately… I wonder if this can apply to families as well? Are happy families also in tune with one another on a deep emotional level as well? By pulling from the idea of Gottman’s love map for couples, I have come up with questions for families. This game can be played with children from preschool on up, but questions may be modified. If you don’t like these, or think of more great questions, go ahead and change it up a bit. And if you have good questions, please share with the rest of us! 🙂

Step 1: As a family, decide upon 10 numbers between 1 and 40.

Step 2: One family member at a time takes a number and the corresponding question from the list below and asks another family member to answer. The person asking may choose who they want to ask this question. If other members want to voluntarily share their answer, they may do so only after the first person chosen has answered.

Final Tip: There is not much to this game other than answering some questions, so I recommend doing it over pizza, during a winter camp fire, before starting a movie, or just before bed time.


  1. If you were an animal, what would you be and why?
  2. When do you get angry?
  3. What are your three favorite past times?
  4. What is your ideal vacation and who would you bring?
  5. If you received a $5000 gift, how would you spend it?
  6. If you could be the top player in any sport, what would it be?
  7. Describe one of you happiest memories with your family.
  8. What do you like most about yourself?
  9. What do you like most about your family?
  10. What is your favorite season of the year?
  11. What do you desire most for your birthday this year?
  12. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  13. Where do you see yourself in 15 years?
  14. What book or magazine are you currently reading?
  15. What is your favorite board game?
  16. What is your favorite card game?
  17. What talents are you most proud of?
  18. Share a time when your feelings were hurt.
  19. Tell about a time when you felt proud of yourself.
  20. Tell about a time when you felt supported by one, or more, person in your family.
  21. Tell about a time when you stood up for someone or something.
  22. What do you feel challenged by lately?
  23. Where is your favorite room in the house?
  24. Where do you feel safest?
  25. Say three words to describe how you are feeling right now.
  26. If you could be invisible, where would you go?
  27. If you could have a super power, what would it be?
  28. What are your three favorite foods?
  29. What do you like most about yourself?
  30. If you discovered a burried treasure, what would you hope to be inside?
  31. If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?
  32. If everything in your life changed except for one thing, what would be the one thing that stayed the same?
  33. If you could have lunch with a famous person, who would it be?
  34. What is the greatest change that has ever taken place in your life?
  35. What values have you learned from your parents?
  36. Who do you most desire to be like?
  37. What is your favorite cartoon?
  38. Talk about a time when someone helped you.
  39. Talk about a time when you helped someone.
  40. What is your favorite section at the zoo?

Mom, Dad, and Toddler Adjust To New Baby

Last night, my toddler was not the one who cried at bedtime… it was me! You see, I have been missing out on Max’s bedtime routine since our new baby arrived, which has always been our special quality time. I love to snuggle and rock him to sleep- no distractions or anything else demanding my attention… until now. With our new baby, everyone is adjusting to new routines and expectations. Going from a family of three has been just as much as an adjustment as welcoming our first baby, except that we are facing totally different changes this time around.

Separation Axiety– I recently answered questions on separation anxiety for a blog called SleepingShouldBeEasy. Ironically, just a couple weeks after this was posted, Max began a severe phase of separation anxiety. He is attached to his daddy like super glue and becomes extremely upset when he leaves his site. In fact, if he cannot get to his daddy, he often escalates to a full blown tantrum. It breaks my heart to see my little guy having such extreme emotions and not knowing how to handle them.

My husband and I agreed to handle his separation anxiety with a few key concepts in mind. For more detailed information on dealing with separation anxiety, please visit the link above.

  • Respond with Empathy, Compassion, and Calm- Max is obviously having some very strong emotions, mainly fear and anxiety, so I respond with as much love and compassion as possible. When he is upset, I reflect his feelings and offer to hold him or stay close to him. Sometimes, he lets me know he wants to sit by the door and not be bothered. I respect that too and he usually calms himself down in 15-20 minutes. For Max, I have found that trying to distract him sometimes makes it worse. If I try to distract him and I see it upsets him more, I take that as a cue that he needs to work through his feelings without my intevention.
  • Be Patient- Despite how it may feel (to you and your tot), this is a common phase for kids and it will eventually pass. Stick with your calm and empathetic response, or whatever has proven to work best for your child.
  • Support the Other Parent- My husband feels bad leaving lately and has sacrificed his own activities to avoid leaving Max. This is fine to an extent, but I want my husband to take care of himself too. Even though it’s hard for me when daddy leaves, I encourage my husband to take some time out. It’s like the old airplane analogy that says during an emergency, you have to give yourself oxygen first in order to give oxygen to others. If we don’t take time for self-care as parents, we will burn our and not be able to continue giving to our family the way we want.

Sharing and Dividing Time– Oh man, this is a biggy. I love my husband and I love my two kids so making time for all of them is important. Up to this point, I have been able to devote a significant amount of time to my toddler , but now, I am faced with dividing my time and Max must accept this reality as well.

I am personally adjusting by dealing with feelings of guilt over not being able to give 100% of my attention to my toddler. Yesterday I was feeding little sister and Max was trying his best to get my attention by trying to climb on my lap and stealing the tv remote and running off with a “come and get me” grin on his face. It broke my heart to see his attempts, but the newborn’s needs were first at the moment. Once she was done eating though, I set her down and gave Max some undivided attention. It may have been less time for him overall, but was pure quality!

Finding Time as a Couple- My husband and I thought finding time together was difficult with one child, but it’s even more challenging with two kids (both under two in our case). It’s important for couples to maintain a positive and healthy relationship, no matter the circumstances. We can’t really plan a date night at the moment, so it’s important to connect in other ways, such as making sure to give a goodnight kiss, leaving an unexpected note on the counter, and even sitting next to one another in the living room. This last one may seem silly to mention, but I have noticed it’s common for us to sit on different sides of the room because we are working on laundry or entertaining a little one and don’t think about how little time we spend next to one another. Physical closeness can make a difference!

Establishing a Routine- We used to be able to tag team on the duties with one kid, but now that we have two, everything is different. Now, it seems we each take one kid… so who does the housework? These are all things that will be worked out, but still worth mentioning as a major part of the transition.

So far, these are the biggest things we are experiencing as part of the transition. I have no doubt that more challenges will arise, but I’m confident that all of us will manage as long as we work together as a team and as a family! If you have gone through a similar transition, I would love to hear from you!

Related Links:

The Counselor Mom: New Siblings

Kids Health: Birth of a Second Child

You May Also Like:

Using Signs to Teach Your Toddler About Feelings

Brain Rules for Baby

Defining Commitment In Your Marriage

Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A Challenge for Adults and Kids!

I recently attended a conference where I had the honor of hearing Carol McCloud, author of “Have You Filled a Bucket Today?” and many other children’s books, speak about the wonderful concept of bucket filling. Her website is I loved the ideas she shared on doing good things for other people (filling their bucket). It’s along the same idea of the “Pay it forward”  movement. A person’s bucket refers to their mental and emotional self, which includes self-concept, self-esteem, joy in life, confidence, and so forth.

While these books are geared towards a younger population, the concepts and challenges are made for adults as well. She touched on many key points, but a few stood out to me:

  • Go out and fill buckets! Give compliments to people, encourage them. When you are out for a meal, look around your table and see if there is someone who looks like they may not be having a very good day and do something nice for them, such as paying for their meal. Overall, try each day to fill the emotional buckets of other people.
  • Avoid taking from another person’s bucket! We take from others when we criticise or bully them, or anything else that brings someone down rather than builds them up. Those who have a need to take from someone else’s bucket are really just trying to fill their own empty bucket!
  •  Fill a bully’s bucket too! Those individuals who take from others (bully, criticise, or treat negatively) are the people who usually need the most bucket filling. They are lacking love and acceptance in their own lives. Unfortunately, treating others negatively never gives us what we are lacking. According to Carol McCloud, we can never fill our own buckets by taking from the bucket of another person. Even though it feels like they don’t deserve it, do something to fill this person’s bucket by giving them a compliment, smile, or other positive gesture that helps everyone feel better.
  • Remember your loved ones. So, what about filling the buckets of people we know and love? What kinds of things can we do for our husbands, mothers, and friends to show them how special they are to us. In the conference, we were asked to choose one person and write down 1o ways they fill our buckets. I chose my husband. Some of things I wrote were making me laugh, supporting my passion for counseling, being a good dad, and his loyalty. Doing this really makes you think about how much your loved ones do for you and how much they mean to you. Carol encouraged us to think of more gestures we can make to show them how special they are. I made a committment to try to make my hubby lunch several times a week. This simple gesture takes me 5 minutes in the morning, but shows him he is special and worth it! What can you do to fill the buckets of your loved ones?

I am so encouraged by her testimonials of how good deeds really make a difference in other people’s days. My goal is to fill a stranger’s bucket at least one time this week, and continue to find ways to fill the buckets of my friends and family. I challenge you to do the same!

You May Also Like:

Staying Connected As a Family

Creating a Calm Down Box

Is It Possible To Choose Our Mood?

Fostering A Healthy Infant Attachment Bond

As I count down the days for my baby girl to arrive, I am preparing in many ways. I have a co-sleeper crib next to my bed, a rocker in my room, new clothes washed in baby detergent and folded neatly with her new baby blankets. My hospital bags are packed and my family is on stand-by for the final call. And me, well I’m preparing my heart and my mind for all that goes into having a new baby… the amazing and the challenging. With all this preparation, some may call nesting, I’m reminded of all that I know about the early months of a new baby’s life. There are medical issues to be on alert for, feeding and sleep schedules, developmental milestones to record, and the list goes on. But what about all that information is most important for my new baby?

What does she need most from me more than anything else during her first several months?

Lucky for me, it so very simple… love, love, love!! Babies need plenty of nurturing to build a secure attachment (bond) to me, her dad, and eventually in her future relationships in life. Early attachment is so important that I am constantly reading new research to back up the importance of building these healthy attachments as infants and the struggles of children and adults who did not form these attachments as infants.

According to,

secure bond provides your baby with an optimal foundation for life: eagerness to learn, healthy self-awareness, trust, and consideration for others. An insecure attachment bond, one that fails to meet your infant’s need for safety and understanding, can lead to confusion about his or her own identity and difficulties in learning and relating to others in later life.

When babies develop a secure attachment bond, they are better able to:

  • Develop fulfilling intimate relationships
  • Maintain emotional balance
  • Feel confident and good about themselves
  • Enjoy being with others
  • Rebound from disappointment and loss
  • Share their feelings and seek support

I’ve added several links at the end of this post where you can read more about infant attachment theories and research.

So how do you ensure you are giving your baby what they need to develop a healthy attachment bond?

  1. Get to know your baby. Pay attention to their facial expressions, likes and dislikes, how they respond to you and other stimuli, and what they are trying to communicate to you. Many moms learn pretty quickly the different cries of their baby and what they mean.
  2. Respond to your baby.  This is a key component to building healthy attachments. We want our baby to develop a sense of security that their needs will be met and you will be there when they need you.
  3. Maintain consistency with your baby. Your baby will learn to trust their world and believe they can count on others through your consistency. This means being reliable when they need you to meet their basic needs, as well as needs for emotional connection.
  4. Play with your baby. Talk to your baby. Listen to your baby. Laugh with your baby! By your positive interaction, they are learning more about you, as well as developing a positive perspective of this big, new world they have entered.
  5. Hold your baby. Give your baby plenty of snuggle time. Caress their baby fingers and toes and rock them close to your heart. This closeness helps to create an ever lasting bond with your baby and encourages healthy emotional and physical growth.

I have condensed a huge topic into a very small post, but I have included what I feel are some of the most important points of early infant attachment. I encourage you to continue read more on the topic of early attachments with these resources I have listed below. As a reader, if you have any other suggestions or comments on this subject, please share!!

Zero To Three National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families

VIDEO: Creating a Secure Attachment

About Attachment Theory

Secure or Insecure Attachment in Infancy Largely Shapes Who We Are Today

Attachment Parenting International

Early Day Care and Infant-Mother Attachment Security

Attachment Security in Infancy and Early Adulthood: A 20 Year Longitudinal Study

You May Also Like:

Preparing for Postpartum Depression

Brain Rules for Baby

Add Humor To Your Life’s Survival Kit

Is It Possible To Choose Our Mood?

What To Say To Someone Who Is Grieving

I talked with a friend recently who has experienced a personal loss. As a therapist, I know the best thing I can do is to  offer support and sympathy. As a friend, this was difficult because I wanted so badly to have the right words to “make them feel better” and even an urge to “fix” their problem. It got me to thinking about how difficult this situation is for many people. What do you say to someone grieving a deceased loved one, or to someone fighting a terminal illness? I am even referring to people experiencing difficult life struggles, such as the loss of a job, divorce, or finding out your child has a terminal illness or disability. These all entail grief in some way and are highly distressful.

The unfortunate news is that we all will be put in this position many times throughout our lives. The good news is that knowing what to say and do is actually pretty simple. Let them know you care. That’s all. You don’t have to have magic words, or a solution, or an explanation. Just tell them you care.

Examples of what to say:

These examples convey to the person that you are sympathetic to their personal sorrow and that you want to be supportive for their needs.

  • “I’m truly sorry for your loss.”
  • “I’m here whenever you need me.”
  • “Although I can’t know exactly how you feel, I understand how difficult this must be for you.”
  • “I’m off all week if you need me to come over. Just call me.”
  • “Let me know when you are ready to talk or have lunch. I’m here for you anytime.”
  • “Your ‘loved one’ was such an amazing person and my life was blessed by their friendship.”
  • No words- just a sincere and warm hug or touch will do.

Examples of what may NOT be the right words:

These examples can convey that you think you know exactly how they feel, are trying to fix their problem, trying to find some reason for what happened, or minimize the grief. As a grieving person, these comments don’t typically feel good at the moment. But remember, everything has a time and place too.

  • “It was their time.”
  • “Maybe God is trying to teach a lesson in all this.”
  • “I know how you feel.”
  • “You can always have another child.”
  • “At least you had 10 good years.”

In the past, I have said some things that were not the best, but they were all with a good heart. If you have said some things in the “not good” example list, please don’t beat yourself up. It’s most important that you cared enough to even be there any say something. For the next time you are confronted with a grieving friend, remember to keep it simple and just be there for your friend or family member.

Have you ever experienced a loss or gone through a difficult time? If so, what were some of the most comforting words or actions you received from others?


Supporting A Grieving Person

What Not To Say To A Grieving Person

Things To Say To A Grieving Person

You May Also Like:

Helping Your Child Or Teen Through Difficult Times

Our Times Of Struggle

Staying Connected As A Family

Parenting: What Makes It All Worth While For You?

As I get ready to welcome our second child into this world… let me start over. I’m READY to have this baby already! My legs hurt, my stomach feels stretched to the limit, I’m swollen, and I can’t sleep, sit, eat, walk, or bend over comfortably. And this is my second time around! As I waddle through my house cleaning up after our “toddler tornado” made landing this evening, I couldn’t help but ask myself why people choose to be parents. What makes all this sacrifice worth it? Then, all I have to do is think of my son’s face and I’m immediately filled with this warm, fulfilled, perfectly-in-love feeling and my question is answered.

Let’s face it though. Parenting is hard. It’s got to be the hardest thing I have ever done. And yet, people CHOOSE to be parents all the time.

If someone were to ask you today: “Would you rather have a lot of free time, extra money for vacations, use your personal days at work for your self, have all the time you want with the person you love, and go out for social events guilt-free whenever you want… OR none of the above? There would have to be a phenomenal reason for giving all that up right?

So, what is that reason for you?

For me, it’s those small moments when I see my child master a new skill, or run into my arms as if I’m the greatest person in the world. It’s getting to be close to him and feel his face and hands as he falls asleep. It’s just the mere thought that he is the most special gift I could ever receive.

As a parent, these moments are mixed in with crazy dinner time, never hearing a word of the news, and attempting conversations with my husband, all while clapping for my child’s latest trick. But the point is the moments are there. If I were ever given an opportunity to have all that great stuff I mentioned above in exchange for never having kids, I would say “Not in a million years!” I would choose the sacrifice any day!

Staying Connected As a Family

With such busy lives, it becomes way too easy to lose connections with those you love most. This is especially true in your marriage once careers and children enter the picture. As your kids get older, their lives also become cluttered with social priorities and families often feel disconnected from one another.

The Laugh, Love, Reconnect Jar is a great idea featured on the Happy Family Movement Website. Family members write down activities they want to do together, such as doing 10 minutes of an 80’s workout video or camping in the back yard. The ideas are placed in a mason jar and opened when they are ready to explore new ideas for family time.

I love this concept and thought of a few variations to share as well.

  • Write down things you love about family members throughout the week. Pick a day of the week, such as on a Sunday evening, to open the jar and read them together.
  • If you notice someone doing something you appreciate, such as spotting your teenage son putting his dish in the dishwasher or your husband fixing a bike tire, write it down and put it in the jar. Pick a day of the week and read them together.
  • Record special memories by writing down a moment during your week or month that you really enjoyed or made you feel good inside. These can be big or small moments, from remembering a special moment with your preschooler at breakfast to going to the zoo as a family. Write the memory down as soon as possible. At the end of the month, or even once a quarter, open your jar together as a family and read them allowed.

I feel good just thinking about the opportunity for bonding when the special notes are read together! Some days and weeks are more stressful than others and we can get wrapped up in our own lives. Taking time to write down special thoughts and memories about one another is a great reminder throughout the week about what is most important.

You may also like:

Defining Commitment in Your Marriage
Living In The Moment

Self Care Quick Tip (with a little comic relief!)

I know this feeling well! If you have read my posts, you know how I feel about taking care of yourself. I encourage you to find time for that “Me Time” you so deserve. Not only is it good for you, but because you are a model for your family.

Ask yourself if you want your daughter to grow up and sacrifice her health for the laundry, or your son to work weekends instead of spending it with his family. Remember, they learn by what we do, not necessarily by what we say!


You may also like: Living In The Moment, Deep Breathing, and No Longer a Supermom Wannabe!