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Are you an oak tree or a palm tree?

Uncategorized Oct 10, 2020

What would you say, are you a palm tree or an oak tree?  Palm trees are flexible and when strong hurricane force winds come, they bend in the wind, sustaining the force.  Oak trees, on the other hand, despite their strength and deep root system, can snap in half in strong wind.  Flexibility promotes resilience during a crisis.  Can you bend and adjust to sustain the wind, or does your inability to cope make you snap?

Back in March the conference I planned to attend on play therapy and trauma was (surprised!) cancelled.  Instead, the Virginia Association of Play Therapists rallied and started weekly Zoom calls for the therapy community to come together and support each other as we took our very interpersonal and hands on work online.  I'm not going to lie, I NEVER intended to do work with children online. I considered it to be the opposite of what I was aiming to do in the play room -- which is to connect and hold space with a child. Well, I had to...

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Help Your Angry Child Calm Down

 

I'm always on the hunt for good children's picture books about helping children managing anger and reduce out-of-control meltdowns.  I absolutely adore this book I found called "Allie All Along", by Sarah Lynne Reul.  This enjoyable read teaches coping skills and gently raises awareness of how a child's meltdowns impact others. 

Not only is this book exciting and true to life, but it also models how to calm down through the patient and understanding character of young Allie's older brother, who seems to only be a few years older than her.  The brother guides Ally through steps to calm down and manage her anger, until she feels like herself again. 

So often a child's explosive anger impacts their family around them.  I love how this book shows the brother's patient guidance for helping his young sister.  In my work with children, I too act as a calm guide to help them learn to calm down -- and I teach these same tactics to...

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A Picture Book for Children Who are Worried About Coronavirus

Is your child feeling anxious or scared about Coronavirus, wearing a mask, or leaving the house during the COVID-19 pandemic?  I stumbled up on this ebook by Jon Burgerman and I loved its uplifting message.  It's perfect for a kid (or adult!) struggling with discomfort during these uncomfortable days. Its honest and uplifting words lend themselves perfectly to calming self-talk  during Coronavirus. Scroll through to read the whole book here!

Click inside to find a comforting message that touches on the following important points:

  • It's normal to feel worried, nervous, or afraid during this strange time
  • Every day life feels different with so many places closed and usual activities cancelled during quarantine 
  • Worry and panic can making you feel physically sick: tummy aches, headaches, and shortness of breath are common symptoms of anxiety
  • There are lots of simple yet powerful coping skills for dealing with stress and anxiety caused by Coronavirus: ...
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Emotions Matter Interview

Uncategorized May 12, 2020

 

 I was honored to participate in an "Emotions Matter" conversation led by children's pastor Lindsey Bush.  Lindsey and I share a passion for children and partnering with parents in supporting healthy spiritual and emotional homes.  Lindsey interviewed myself and my colleague Denise Maxwell (a fellow play therapist!) in order to answer questions from parents about handling heightened emotions, screen time, and promoting play during quarantine.  Here's a few excerpts of our conversation: 

  • What can parents do to help kids process heightened emotions like anxiety, anger, sadness, or disappointment?
A big way parents can help children process heightened emotions is to first process their own emotions. Allow yourself to process, express, and move through your emotions in healthy ways. This not only models healthy emotional expression to your kids, but it also dissipates some of the emotional energy that they may be absorbing in your home.
...
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Healthy Boundaries for Angry Feelings During Quarantine

Part of learning how to manage anger is accepting that we will get angry.  That anger is OK and even healthy! Anger can signal that something is wrong, and needs to get fixed.  But anger can cause bigger problems.  That's when the FEELING anger (which is ok) gets expressed in harmful BEHAVIORS (not ok). 

As we adapt to living together in close quarters, our families may deal with more anger.  It is helpful to set up clear boundaries around what is and is not ok when it comes to expressing anger.  That's where in therapy I love to teach families the simple but powerful guidelines called "The Anger Rules".  The Anger Rules provides space to feel and express anger, but it also protects us from harmful behaviors.  Through establishing clear ground rules about what's not OK in your home, you also teach what is healthy and helpful. This sets the foundation for healthy emotional expression where people can move through their upset feelings without...

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Encouraging Your Child to Happily Entertain Themselves

During the COVID-19 Pandemic, quarantined parents have a lot on their plates. The internet is full of wonderful activities to use to teach and amuse young children.  This is great, but not completely necessary.  Children have the innate ability to play, and it's in that play time that they learn endless skills such as problem solving, independence, confidence, and self-regulation.  Their play can soothe them and help them process their thoughts and feelings about everything they're experiencing during this global crisis.  They need to play.  Parents need a break.  No time like now to help your child happily entertain themselves.

As a play therapist, I'm trained to support a child's natural ability to process and heal.  I don't tell them how to do it, I notice what comes naturally to them, and I support them through it. I use this same approach to encourage independent play in my three young kids.

Here are some tips to get your kid playing happily...

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Valentines and Coping Skills

One of the coping skills I teach in counseling is healthy self-soothing -- how to calm down when overwhelmed by anxiety, anger, or stress.  (Cutting, lashing out, or abusing drugs or alcohol are examples of unhealthy self-soothing.)  In therapy we learn new ways to cope.  We practice mindfully calming our nervous system, stressful thoughts, and feelings through sensory soothing -- literally using our senses of touch, smell, sight, taste, and hearing to ground us in the present moment and alleviate stress. 

Kinetic sand is fun way to practice healthy self-soothing.  Kids are mesmerized by the stuff! It's amazing to see how quickly their energy changes as they dig their hands into the soft and pliable sand. I offer the box of Kinetic sand to teenagers and adults to play with while they talk.  If I notice them wringing their hands or picking at their cuticles while they talk, I offered them this alternative way to self-soothe. One mom told...

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Toys for Babies!

My first son was 7 months old on his first Christmas. Of course we were excited to give him gifts, but let's be real, he mostly loved the crumpled wrapping paper and lights on the tree.  

We give gifts to babies as a way to connect with and love them, and that is exactly what they need-- connection and love.  

So here are my personal favorite toys for babies:

BOARD BOOKS

Reading to children not only helps with developing language and literacy, but also provides valuable nurturing benefits.  Holding a baby and reading to them not only calms YOUR central nervous system, but it helps the baby learn to calm their central nervous system through connecting with you.  (It also gives you plenty of chances to smell their sweet heads.) Hearing your voice and the changing cadence of your tone while reading soothes them and bonds them to you.  Also, reading and pointing out faces and emotions builds emotional intelligence and empathy as young children begin to...

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My Favorite Toy for the Past 3 Years!

Every time we went to the neighborhood park, my then 2 year old son would play "Ice Cream Store".  He would set himself up behind the little window under the play structure and start serving ice cream.  Pieces of mulch served as the ice cream AND the money and we would play over and over again.  Sometimes my older son would drag giant branches over to the little window that would be REALLY BIG ice creams.  This play continued all year, at every playground we would visit (come to find out, they all had similar little windows). 

So when it came time for me to decide what to get him for Christmas, I started looking for a little ice cream play set.  Little did I know that this toy I bought would become everyone's favorite toy (and therefor MY absolute favorite toy).  Not only did my 2 year old love it, but he and his 4 year old brother played with it together for so long that Christmas morning! And then we took it to our extended family's...

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Kids love to play aggressively (and it helps avoid trouble!)

Uncategorized Nov 26, 2019

 

Kids often get themselves in trouble when they are upset. Anger, frustration, and aggression are natural feelings when life doesn't our way.  There's nothing wrong with these feelings, but the problem comes when our behaviors hurt ourselves or others.  Or when we can't move out of the feelings and get stuck in that painful, negative state. 

Kids needs ways to move forward when they are feeling big emotions like anger, frustration, and aggression.  Play is an awesome way to release that energy without causing any trouble.  When selecting toys for play therapy, I'm always on the hunt for toys to give an aggressive outlet, while keeping the small, indoor office space limitations in mind.

Of course, playing outside or playing sports are great outlets.  But, as a therapist I am limited to a small indoor space when I'm working with kids.  (I got my own 3 young kids a trampoline for this exact reason.)

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