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”

A Letter of Encouragement to Myself

10 X0JTVjQzNDkuanBn“I don’t always love Parenthood”

I talk a lot about my life as a mom on this blog. Usually I am sharing joyful moments, techniques, and other positive themes on parenthood. I’ll be completely honest though. While a moment doesn’t go by that I don’t love my kids more than life and want to give everything to them… the truth is that I don’t always love “parenthood.” It’s a HARD JOB, often filled with stress and always requires sacrifice. I work hard as a mom. I give my whole heart to them and desire to give them a happy, structured, opportunistic childhood. I want to raise them with good character and values. This kind of parenting requires a lot of effort and I am thankful to have a wonderful husband and father to my children to share in these responsibilities. Still, all you mothers and father know what I am talking about when I say that being a parent isn’t easy.

Negative Self-Talk = Negative Mood

In the middle of the most stressful times, like getting the kids dinner and bath by yourself, when one of them has an ear infection and the other is testing boundaries like there is no tomorrow, all on an empty stomach and back ache from an injury during your work out… Yes this is me! 🙂 You have to draw strength to continue without biting everyone’s head off! 🙂 I noticed my self-talk was very negative during these moments. I was really making those stressful times even more miserable for myself and spiraling into a state of stress, anxiety, and feelings of hopelessness. I want to look back and know I enjoyed my kids when they were little, not the experience I was having.

A Letter From My “Negative Self” to My “Positive Self”

When things are calm (aka when kids are in bed or entertaining one another) my mind set and perceptions about parenthood are totally different. I decided to write a letter from my calm, joyful self to my stressed, negative self.

I’m going to share this personal letter with you here.

Dear Kim,

I know you are stressed right now and feel like giving up. Raising kids is hard, especially when both of them are so young. Please remember: You are strong; You are a good mommy; Your kids are amazing; And this won’t last forever! Time will go by so quickly… it already has and you want to relish in the precious moments you have with your babies. Give yourself a break if needed! If your kids are in bed 30 minutes later… they will get an extra long nap tomorrow. If water splashes out of the tub, just put a towel down. If the kids are crying and clingy, it’s because they miss you… give them love and nurture them tonight! Take it moment by moment and remember to breath. Your babies are precious and your family is beautiful. There is no reason to stress like you are. Take care dear kimmy and focus on that warm bath and glass of wine you have planned for later tonight!

Your Turn: Writing a Letter to Yourself

Practicing positive self talk and positive affirmations is not a new concept. However, I found it very helpful to write Depositphotos_26703933_mthis. The act of writing itself is therapeutic, such as journal writing. You also have something to reference during your times of stress. We all see things differently when we are in a good mood versus a bad mood. Reminding yourself of your “good mood perceptions” can encourage you to push through and give you positive affirmations that may be hard to come up with during times of stress.

You don’t have to be a parent to use this tool. Whether you are battling an illness, training for a competition, attempting to loose weight, or studying for an exam or overall degree, this can be a useful tool to apply in your life. When you feel strong, confident, and joyful, this is the time to sit down and write down reminders to yourself about how you feel now and the reasons to push through whatever adversity you are facing.

Applying This Tool In Therapy

I find that client’s often describe their moments of distress in therapy as being really bad at the time, but when they talk to me they say things like “I know this is normal…” or “At the time it felt so hard…” Writing a letter to can be an excellent homework assignment. Have the client write a letter to themselves when they are feeling more positive and strong and use it as I have described here.

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No Longer A Super Mom Wannabe
Exploring the Benefits of Unwanted Behaviors
4 Play Therapy Skills I Use In Parenting

10 Ways To Nurture Your Relationships

FamilyDoesn’t it feel good when someone you love rubs your shoulders or surprises you with a warm bath? Hopefully you know this feeling of being cared for and loved. It’s often the little things that make a big difference in our relationships.

I am definitely referring to romantic relationships, but also relationships with our kids can be included here too. In a continuing education seminar I attended a while back, the presenters shared some of their techniques for improving and reparing relationships between caregivers (parents, grandparents, foster parents, etc.) and children. One of the ways they did this was to have the child and their guardian display acts of nurturing. These acts included rubbing lotion on each other’s arms and feeding crackers to each other. So simple, yet so effective.

  1. Rub, scratch, or pat their back.
  2. Prepare a favorite meal and/or dessert.
  3. Communicate how you feel. Tell your loved one how much you love them.
  4. Draw a warm bath. Throw in some bubbles, relaxing scents, or candles too.
  5. Smother in kisses and give great big bear hugs.
  6. Buy them something special. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, but make it a meaningful gift.
  7. Be playful. Life if full of stress and tension. Making a funny face, bumping their hip with yours, or playing a silly joke can remind each other of life’s joys.
  8. Show interest in their day. Ask questions about their day. Show interest in what they have to say.
  9. Stroke their head or play with their hair. Who doesn’t feel special when your head is rubbed or hair is played with.
  10. Make physical contact when you walk by, such as rubbing their shoulders or touching their back.

Try these acts of nurturing as often as possible with your loved ones and notice how they help strengthen your relationship. Feel free to share your experience and ideas as well!

For more information on my clinical practice, please visit 🙂

Kingwood Counseling and Play Therapy

Teaching Children Empathy

Teaching Children EmpathyI am so excited to welcome this guest post by Carol Sepulveda, MSW, LCSW-S. I have known her for some time now and she is a very special lady, helping kids and families everyday. Enjoy!

I have a passion for books and for as long as I can remember I’ve been particularly interested in autobiographies, but not just any autobiography, I’m fascinated by people who have inspiring stories to tell.  I love to read about persons who have lived life’s difficulties and found a way to triumph over their problems.  I enjoy reading about the man who is a recovered alcoholic and works to support a treatment center.  I’m intrigued by the woman, who after years of abuse creates a foundation of hope by opening a counseling center for teenage girls.

These stories and others like them resonate in my core as I identify with what the author’s have to say and vicariously experience their pain and triumph.  Many of us have either been wounded or know someone who is.  We have our own stories to tell and we’d like to share them with someone who will listen and understand.  If we’re fortunate we have that special someone who gets us, if we’re really blessed we’ll seize the opportunity to become one of those persons who through our pain helps others.

Because we’ve experienced emotional pain, we can either identify or relate to others or we can avoid and deny.  I often tell my supervisees that the best counselors are those who have received counseling.  I believe that those persons who have dealt with their own emotional problems are better at empathizing with their clients.  They are better listeners; they listen with their ears and their eyes, they listen with their heart.

By considering what a person feels you confirm the value of that person.  Children become caring and loving individuals when their parents empathize with them.  Research indicates that child neglect is associated with a lack of their parent’s emotional empathy.  A child learns empathy when she sees her mother hug a friend in distress.  He learns empathy when he sees his dad help a neighbor.  He learns empathy when his parents understand what he feels.  A lack of empathy can result in antisocial behaviors and many persons who are addicted seem to have impaired empathy.

So how do you acknowledge or consider someone’s feelings?  How do you let your child know that you really understand?  Well it’s a simple approach really, something that social workers and psychotherapists have always done.  We reflect the feeling.

  • Try not to react, instead be slow to respond.
  • Don’t ask questions, a question indicates you don’t understand.
  • Look into your child’s eyes and try to figure out what he might be feeling.  Is he frustrated, angry hurt or disappointed.  If you get it wrong don’t worry they’ll let you know.
  • Become a mirror, a reflection of your child and state the feeling.  “Last night I scared you.”  “You’re so disappointed, you really wanted that position.”  “You’re sad that the boys didn’t let you play.”  “You’re confused and scared.  You didn’t think I’d do that again.”
  • After you reflect the feeling STOP and allow your child to share (or not) whatever he has to share.

Your child will most likely feel a sense of relief when he knows that you understand.  No longer does he have to live in loneliness and isolation.  You see you’ve just given him permission to feel what he feels.  You’ve also given him an opportunity to open up and share his feelings with you.   He knows you get him.

Carol Sepulveda is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Registered Play Therapist. She is an independent practitioner in Kingwood, TX. She specializes in children particularly Children of Alcoholics and Adult Children of Alcoholics. Carol Sepulveda is author of Papa Get Help, A Story of Hope for Children of Alcoholics. Carol is a parent education facilitator trained in a variety of parenting program. See Carol’s articles in Recovery Today and her research article Child Teacher Relationship Training (Sepulveda, Garza and Morrison, February 2011), International Journal of Play Therapy,

Winning The Bedtime Battles With My Toddler

Bedtime BattlesWe did it! We finally won the bedtime battle with my two year old.

There are millions of parents out there who struggle with getting a child to go to bed, stay in bed, sleep through the night, sleep in their own room… and the list goes on. When you finally find the secret for your own child, it feels like you conquered the world. I want to share what we did to have success in our home. I’ll also preface this by saying these tools won’t work for everyone. You’ve heard it before, but I’ll say it again… every child is different!

Last month, I received this email from a reader, Sarah:


  I have followed your blog for some time and I love all the great tips and advice you give out.
I am currently finishing my last semester of grad school and in May. I will have a master’s in school counseling.  Before this, I taught Emotional Disabled special ed middle school boys and have years of experience with kids from various races.  So I feel that I am pretty vetted when it comes to “knowing” what makes children tick…expect when it comes to my 3 year old.  I know that they go through phases and he is starting to test my husband and me, but HOLY MOLY!!  When it comes to disciplining him, you would think I have never met a child before.  I have excellent classroom management, but I can’t seem to “manage” him.
Bedtime is one of our biggest issues lately.  We let him watch a half hour of Scooby Doo after he has put on pajama’s, brushed his teeth and gone to the bathroom (assisted of course).  When it comes time to go upstairs, you would think we are sending him into a gas chamber.  His new thing is that he is scared.  We have a nightlight in the hallway, one in his room, we play soft music and keep his door open.  He looks for any reason to keep us in the room and screams bloody murder when we leave.  We have even offered the choice of letting him sleep on our floor.  Again, the screaming and tantrum.  He isn’t going to bed late, 8:30, so it isn’t that he is overly tired.  I just don’t want nighttime to become a stressful event.
He has also developed the art of back talk.  We don’t let it go uncorrected, reminding him how he is supposed to talk to us.  I would like to know where my sweet baby went.  Please offer some advice.
This email sounded just like me last month. In fact, I read it to my husband just to give us a sense that normalcy and we were able to laugh a little at the sheer similarity of our circumstances. Misery really does love company sometimes, right? Well, since this email, we have been bedtime battle FREE for at least three weeks so I thought it was time to share my experience here.
What We Were Up Against
Let me put it this way. Every day, I would literally dread the two-hour long bedtime routine and battle to get my toddler resting peacefully in his bed.
  • He screamed bloody murder when we tried to leave his room.
  • He tried to manipulate sleeping in my bed (sometimes we let him).
  • Toddler took forever to fall asleep so we waited in his room until he did so we could sneak out (if he was the slightest bit awake he knew we were leaving).
  • My husband and I both stayed with him through the entire routine (“We are in this together” mentality)
  • Everyone is exhausted at the end of the day so patience was running thin.
  • He  now has to wait his turn for attention since his little sister has arrived.
How We Turned Things Around
I received my regular post one day from one of my favorite parenting blogs, Sleeping Should Be Easy, talking about bedtime battles. I found some good reminders about what I should be doing to help my son go to bed with less of a fight and talked myself into getting serious.
  1. Routine. Routine. Routine. Establishing a routine for kids is so very important and I had let ours slip quite a bit. Like I said, we are tired at the end of the day and we have a new little one in the picture as well. However, giving up on a routine was not the answer. He was going to school at varied times, eating at varied times, missing baths every now and then… you name it. If I could cut a corner, I probably would. Now, we stick pretty close to a routine. Our evening routine looks something like this: Dinner, Bath, Books, 10 minutes snuggle with lights off.
  2. Divide and Conquer. My husband and I were sharing the evening routine, but going overboard. We both helped bath the kids, read the books, etc. This led to no one ever having a break or being able to take care of other necessities around the house. Today, only one person handles the bath and bed time and the other just gives a good night kiss.
  3. Communicate the Sequence of Events. Even though my son is only two right now, he understands a lot. We tell him what part of the routine is next. I even give him time warning, such as “5 minutes left of bath time, then we read books.”
  4. Call in the other parent in the end. This has actually worked miracle wonderfully for our son. At the end of our “snuggle” time, I tell him I am going to get daddy to tell him good night. He understands this well an doesn’t object to  me leaving because he wants to see his daddy. We then wait about 5 minutes before sending in the next parent. By then, he is pretty well tired and falls asleep soon after.

Like I said, these techniques won’t work for everyone, but maybe they will give you some ideas. If you have some toddler bedtime words of wisdom to share, please do!

For more information on my clinical practice, please visit 🙂

Kingwood Counseling and Play Therapy

Two Happy Homes: A Great Resource for Divorced and Single Parents

Two Happy Homes ( is a wonderful website for divorced and single parents. I was recently introduced to this site when I was asked to write an article on a related topic.

familyYou can view my article, titled When Your Ex Bad-Mouths You In Front of Your Kids, in the Co-parenting Community section. Please let me know what you think!

This website features a number of resources for co-parents, including expert advice, a forum for fellow parents to stay connected and support one another, and help with organizing your busy lives. I’m honored to be a part of this community as part of the expert advice section and look forward to writing more on this topic!

If you have an idea related to divorce, single parenting, co-parenting, etc. that I can write on for this site, please let me know!

Connecting With Your Child Through Play, Part 2: Getting Started in Filial Therapy

Connecting With Your Child Through Play, Part 2 Getting Started; Kim's Counseling Corner Last week, I posted an Introduction to Filial Therapy. Don’t let the name deter you from reading further. This is simply a tool that play therapists use to create and strengthen the relationship between parents and children.

Today, I am going to share the first few steps in getting started in this special play time with your child! We will talk about who will be included, where the play time should be held, a time to schedule, what to tell your child, and what play materials you will need. I am so excited about this blog series because I know so many parents and children can benefit from devoting this time together!!

Getting Started:

Who: This play time is recommended for ONE parent and ONE child together at a time. It doesn’t matter if it’s mom or dad. I recommend these sessions for children between the ages of 3 years and 7 years of age.

When: Decide upon a specific play session time. I recommend starting with 20-30 minutes, once a week. Choose a time when you will have little to no interruptions and you can focus your attention solely on the child. You also want to consider a time when your child will be fed and rested to avoid any irritability or fussiness.

Where: Choose a room that has little distrations for you and your child. You will be putting the toys on the floor so consider somewhere with decent floor space. If all the rooms in your house are regularly used, just make sure the space is clean (to minimize the distration of thinking about the mess).

What To Tell The Child: Tell your child that you want to spend more quality time with them and you have chosen the special time, place, and toys to play together. Make the focus on your desire to spend time with them, rather than wanting anything from the child.

Play Materials: Below is a list of toys and play materials to collect, but first I have a few pointers/guidelines.

  1. Store your toys in a special box or bag, away from the child’s other toys.
  2. Do not allow the child to bring in any toys or take any toys from this box of designated toys.
  3. You can find many of these toys at dollar stores and garage sales. Don’t fret about spending a lot of money!
  4. If you cannot find every toy on this list, do NOT let it keep you from getting started. If you have a good amout of the toys, or find good substitute, then you are good to go!
  5. And finally, below is a list of toys to get started.
  • Play-doh
  • Paper
  • Crayons
  • Child scissors
  • Glue (I prefer stick glue)
  • Pencil
  • Scotch tape
  • 1-2 small cars
  • Police car
  • Fire truck
  • Ambulance
  • 2 cell phones (I use an old cell I no longer use)
  • Medical kit
  • Toy swords
  • Handcuffs
  • Kitchen set (couple dishes and toy food)
  • Baby doll
  • Baby doll accessories (such as a bottle, diaper, clothes)
  • Set of animals (such as a lion, elephant, monkey, shark, dog, pig, etc)
  • 2 soft animals
  • Deck of cards
  • Small ball
  • Noise maker (such as a maraca or toy drum)

I gathered a small sample of toys from my play room to give you an example of the types of toys you will be gathering. Happy hunting!

filial 1filial 2filial 3filial 5filial 4

Need to catch up on this series?

Connecting With Your Child Through Play, Part 1: Introduction

Connecting With Your Child Through Play: An Introduction to Filial Therapy

happy familyOne of the most important things we can do as parents is to connect with our child. There are many ways to accomplish this, including regular communication, spending time together, and teaching them new things. Entering their world of play is also an effective way to connect with your child. As a play therapist, one of the tools I use to help the child and their family is something we call filial theray.  I am basically teaching parents some basic tools and skills I use in play therapy to carry over into the home.

The purpose of filial therapy is to create, maintain, or improve the bond between parent and child. If you have not had the opportunity to enter into your child’s (or any child’s) world of play, you are in for a treat! I am going to talk about getting down on their level, reflecting what you see and hear, and interacting in a totally new way with your child. In addition, this one-on-one time with your child may also help to improve attention-seeking behaviors and separation anxiety by giving them positive attention they need and desire.

This is different from “play therapy because there is no interpretation, no evaluation, and no thinking hat required. You are simply being asked to offer your child a special time to play with special toys and a special person (you!).

Child with picture and brush in play room.Why Filial Therapy Works

(Adapted from worksheet by Emily Oe, Ph.D.)

  • The focus is on the parent(s) and the child.
  • The play time gives the parent(s) a different focus by taking them out of the critical role of teaching and correcting.
  • It places the parent(s) in a situation where they can be more objective with their child. They learn something new about their child and develop more realistic expectations.
  • It lessons or removes the stigma of failure (mistakes can be redeemed). The focus is on the future: what they can do rather than past behaviors/problems.
  • It changes parents’ expectations of themselves.
  • The child begins to see their parents differently- as allies on their side.
  • It is a self-correcting means of learning within a moving process.

Benefits to Parents

  • The time with the child is scheduled and uninterrupted.
  • It is an oasis pull-aside time-relaxing- no entertaining.
  • There is less pressure to teach, to do right, to be on the spot.
  • Parental self-confidence is increased.
  • They feel more in control.
  • They are more accepting of themselves and their children.
  • They have less guilt.

What We Will Be Learning (Upcoming Posts)

Who, When, and Where: Getting ready

Tools of The Trade: Toys recommended just for this special play time

Play Therapy Skills: basic skills to use during play time with your kids

Special Scenarios: Setting Limits and FAQs

If you are a parent of a child 8 years and under, this is a great activity for you to engage in with your child or children! If you are a therapist who works with children and families, filial therapy can be an excellent therapeutic tool to use in conjunction with your regular therapy interventions. I can’t wait to get started!!

You May Also Like:

5 Qualities of a Good Child Therapist

Parenting Quick Tip: Mention the Good Stuff Too!

Sibling Rivalry: Treating Kids Fairly versus Equally

4 Play Therapy Skills I Use In Parenting

photo courtesy

If you have followed this blog long enough, you know that being a mom and a child therapist are two important roles in my life, and I love to write about my journey in these roles. I cannot imagine what kind of mom I would be without my psychology background because I find myself applying these skills in parenting.

I have found myself using play therapy skills with my son lately. Namely, tracking his play, reflecting his feelings, and allowing him to master new skills.

1. Tracking Play

Watch your child during some of their play and track their activities, facial expressions, and intentions. I recommend giving this your undevided attention for at least 10 minutes. This can be done anywhere and with any kind of play. When you track their play, describe (out loud so they can hear) what you see.

This activity is good for several reasons:

  • The child is receiving undevided, quality attention.
  • The child is learning words for their actions and feelings.
  • You, the parent, will learn more about how your child plays, and maybe why they are performing those activities.

Example: As my toddler played in the tub the other night, he was filling various toys and dumping the water out into a basket on the side of the tub. As I verbally tracked his play, I sounded something like this: “I see you’re filling the fish toy this time. Oh, you laughed when that one filled up! You are going back to the red toy, and now back to the fish toy. It seems you are comparing these two…”

What I learned: As I tracked my son’s play, I noticed he became even more engaged and enjoyed the attention. I also learned that he was not just pouring water out or sinking his toys under water. He was experimenting!He wanted to see which toys held more water and how the weight felt different. He was learning how much water can go into each toy and then what happened when he poured the water out. He was also comparing the toys. It was a special experience for me to enter his world in this way. I do it all the time in play therapy… why not with my own kids!

2. Following Their Lead

When I say “follow the child’s lead” I mean not to lead the play. Allow the child to decide what to play and how to play with a toy. They may decide that the kitchen set you bought for them is now going to be used as a lab, or that you will be the child and they will be the parent. Allow the child to be creative. Now, I still show my toddler how to play with certain toys or name toys for him, but sometimes I allow him to choose how he will play.

Why is this important?

  • Letting them lead encourages creativity and experimentation in play.
  • It gives them a feeling of having control. Our kids are not in control of much in their little lives. Why not let them have some control in their play?
  • Creative minds are successful minds.

3. Reflecting Feeling

This is a simple, but powerful tool to use with your kids. First of all, notice how your child is feeling- happy sad, frustrated, jealous, angry- and tell them what you notice. Say “I see you are feeling angry,” or “You seem to be jealous that your brother got a sticker and you didn’t.”

Reflecting feelings is good for many reasons:

  • Reflecting helps your child learn words for their feelings, even the complicated ones like jealousy and frustration.
  • Reflecting shows your child you are paying attention to them.
  • Reflecting models the first part of active listening, an important tool in communication.

4. Allowing Mastery of Skills

In play therapy, I typically wait for a child to ask me for help when they are trying to master a skill or have difficulty with a task. Once they ask, I then offer to help, not do it for them.

It’s so easy to insist on doing everything for our kids, especially when we are in a hurry. Right now, my toddler is learning how to put on socks and shoes. This means that he wants to practice every morning, no matter how late I am running. If I want him to learn these skills and build his self-esteem, I will need to make time to allow him to practice.

Why is this so important?

  • It sends a message that you are confident in their abilities and supportive of their learning new skills.
  • It helps build self-esteem.
  • Giving them time to ask for help teaches them to let you know when they need you, rather than assuming you will always be able to read their mind. (Trust me, you will never be able to read their mind when they are a teenager).

I just love being a part of a child’s world, especially when that child is my own!

Parent Affirmation Monday- Curious- 11/12/12

I always love the perspective Kate Oliver brings to a topic in parenting. Being “curious” is a great way to remind us to ask questions before responding to a situation or person. We often assume we know why a person feels angry, or why they responded they way they did… but we can easily be lacking important information. Simply asking questions, being curious, can change our initial assumptions and ensure we respond more appropriately. This idea can also be applied to our relationships with our significant others, co-workers, and parents. Thank you Kate!