Posted in Emotion Identification, Emotion Regulation

Feelings Identification and Calming Strategies with an Angry Octopus Supplemental Activity

Remember the post about the Angry Octopus book (by Lori Lite) that teaches progressive muscular relaxation in a way kids can understand?  If not, check it out: Muscular Relaxation with Angry Octopus.

When I find something, like a book or video, that children enjoy, I try to milk it for all it’s worth!  That’s where this Angry Octopus Supplemental Activity comes in… and it’s SO easy.  Just print out or draw (I print out because I’m terrible at drawing) TWO outlines of an octopus.


During therapy (or at home if you’re a parent and want to do this at home), have the child identify 8 things that make them angry and have them write, or write for them, on the octopus tentacles (one thing for each tentacle).  Then have them pick a color that makes them feel angry and have them color in the octopus.  This is their Angry Octopus.

Next, have them identify 8 calming strategies, or things that make them feel calm.  Write these on the tentacles of the second octopus (again, one thing per tentacle).  Then have the kiddo pick a color that makes them feel calm or happy and have them color in that octopus.  This is their Calm/Happy Octopus.

This exercise helps kiddos be more aware of triggers for angry feelings and strategies they can use to calm down when angry.  Bonus!!  They can hang up the Calm/Happy Octopus somewhere (the door of their room, the refrigerator, etc.) as a reminder to use their calming strategies when they are overwhelmed with emotions.



Posted in Uncategorized

Using Ignoring in Therapy When A Child Refuses to Engage

Every therapist has been there… we get children who sometimes do not want to be in our office and do not want to talk to us.  Better yet, we get a child who wants to play with all of our toys, but won’t answer questions or engage at all.  One effective strategy I have found is ignoring, but there’s a method to it.  With some kiddos, you can just ignore and remove toys, and they’ll eventually start talking to you because they want your attention.  But I have had some STUBBORN kiddos, who will just sit and stare at the wall.

One strategy I’ve used in that scenario is to ignore, but have a grand time playing (without them) with whatever toy they’ve chosen.  Here’s an example:

I had a kiddo who did NOT want to tell me about his day (it had been a bad day).  He had chosen to build something with K’Nex pieces and we had already started building.  He refused to answer my question, so I scooted the pieces away from him and reminded him that if he wanted to play, he needed to talk to me and answer my question.  I then began building something else with the K’Nex pieces… while talking to myself about what I was going to build and (pretending that I was) having a blast!  At first, he ignored me, but after a minute or two I saw him start to peek at what I was doing out of the corner of his eye.  After a few minutes, I reminded him that he was welcome to build with me as soon as he answered my question.  Initially, he still refused to talk, so I continued playing, but after a few more minutes, he caved and said he was ready to talk.  I repeated the initial question and once he answered, I showed appreciation and we began building together again.  Were his answer super elaborate?  No.  Did he pretend he was miserable the whole time?  Absolutely.  But he participated and we were able to make some progress.

This won’t work with all kids.  I had a 9 year old sit in my office for almost 30 minutes once and refuse to talk or even look at me.  It happens.  Despite my effort to engage by showing empathy, normalizing, changing the subject, and having him express his thoughts and feelings non-verbally (drawing or writing), he still refused to engage.  It happens.  However, the more tools/strategies we have to draw a kiddo out, the more likely we are to find one that works with a particular child… because they’re all so different and what works for one may not work for the other.

Posted in Parenting, praise

Vague Praise VS Specific Praise

Praise is extremely important with children if you want to shape behavior (increase the good AND decrease the bad).  All praise can be effective, but specific praise is typically more effective than specific praise.  So what’s the difference?  Specific praise includes exactly what the child is being praised for doing.  So here’s an example: when a child makes their bed without being told to do so, an example of vague (or general) praise would be, “good job!” and an example of specific praise would be, “wow! You made your bed without having to be asked!”  Both are praise and both are great, but with the second example, there is no doubt in the child’s mind what they did to make their caregiver so happy.

Vague praise can be confusing, as it can be difficult for kiddos to pinpoint what behavior they are being praised for.  Think about a child playing in the living room.  He is playing quietly, rolling the cars gently, and sharing with his brother.  Mom walks by and says, “nice job!”  The kid will likely LOVE the praise, but he might not know exactly what he’s being praised for.  For playing with cars?  For sharing?  For playing quietly?  It might be all of the above!  In this example, the mom didn’t do a single thing wrong and should be commended for praising her child.  However, being specific can make that praise more meaningful.  Mom could’ve instead said, “awesome job sharing with your brother,” “thank you for playing quietly,” or “I’m so proud of you for playing nicely together.”

More examples of specific praise:

  • “Awesome job asking first before getting a snack!”
  • “Look at you! You finished your homework without help!”
  • “Thank you for emptying the dishwasher.”
  • “Wow!  You put your shoes in the right spot!”
  • “Thank you for cleaning up your art supplies.”
  • “I’m so proud of you for helping your friend.”

Don’t get me wrong – vague or general praise is great!  It is definitely better than no praise at all.  But if you can get in some specific praise, more power to you!

Posted in Emotion Identification

How to Practice I-Feel Statements with a Ball

Everyone, of all ages, could benefit from using I-feel statements to express their feelings.  Often, when people express how they feel, it can come off as attacking, as it can be easy to start with “you,” as in “you shouldn’t raise your voice at me!”  While that statement can be true, oftentimes communication will go more smoothly if you, instead, start with, “I feel sad/angry/frustrated/mad/upset when you raise your voice.”  I-feel statements are less likely to make others feel defensive.

I-feel statements are hard for adults, and kiddos can struggle twice as much!  It takes practice.  And more practice.  And more practice.  Then even more practice!  One way I practice I-feel statements with kiddos is by passing a ball back and forth.  During this activity, children also practice listening and reflecting statements back to others.  Double (or triple) win!

I start with a ball and use an I-statement (not I-feel yet – I give them a chance to warm up with I-statements).  I may say “I like the color blue.”  Then I pass the ball to the kiddo.  He or she will reflect back what I said (“you like the color blue”) then use their own I-statement about their favorite color (“I like the color green”).  Then lots of praise for using those skills.  After a few rounds of listing favorite color, animal, movie, etc., we start with simple “I feel ____” statements.  So I will say “I feel worried” and pass the ball.  The kiddo will then say, “you feel worried. I feel happy.”  And again, lots of praise!!

Once they get the hang of that, we’ll move into more complete I-feel statements, so “I feel ______ because ______.”  So I might say, “I feel happy because I had a cookie at lunch,” then pass the ball.  This kiddo would then say, “you feel happy because you had a cookie for lunch.  I feel sad because I didn’t get to wear my Superman shirt.”  Guess what follows?  Yep, lots of praise!  And lots more practice.

Typically, my next step will be some role-plays with situations they will likely encounter at school or home.  Examples would be using I-feel statements when a sibling took a toy, when they got in trouble at school, or when a peer did something mean to them.  This activity can also be done during family therapy sessions by having the kiddo practice with their parents.

Posted in Parenting, praise

Five Praise Statement Printouts

It’s rare that I get a parent to admit this, but I have had some express how difficult it can be to praise because they aren’t used to using praise statements.  These documents can be a wonderful tool to give parents ideas on how to praise.  I often suggest that parents hang it on the refrigerator… that way they can reference it when needed and it will also serve as a visual reminder to praise!!  I even keep one on the bulletin board in my office – as a reminder to parents and myself.

Below is a handful of documents that were created to give examples of ways to praise – there are so many you can find online.  A lot of them included the same praise statements, but they are formatted differently and it’s nice to be able to choose whichever one is most visually appealing to you.  Choose whichever you like best and put it somewhere to remind you to praise!!



Posted in Parenting

The Number One Thing Most Caregivers Can Do to Improve Their Child’s Behavior

This is my first post geared towards caregivers (rather than therapy ideas) and I thought a lot about what I wanted the topic to be.  I finally decided on what I believe is the number one thing most parents can do/change to improve their child’s/children’s behavior.  Drumroll, please… the answer is attention, but not necessarily just giving more attention.  I could talk about all sorts of tips regarding use of attention, but using praise/attention after your child has done something well is SO effective and usually results in some really positive changes.  The problem is that life for most parents is super hectic.  A lot of parents have a to-do list a mile long, so when their child is doing something good (e.g. playing quietly or sharing with a sibling), it’s easy to let them be for a bit and focus on paying bills, emptying the dishwasher, taking out the trash, or cleaning the bathrooms, but this is when parents should be giving their child some attention!

Think about this in the grown-up world… when I do something nice for someone (e.g., hold the door or help a coworker with a task), I am SO much more likely to continue doing so when I get some appreciation, whether it’s a simple “thanks” or an explanation of why it was helpful.  Most people would agree!!  And most kids have the same mindset; they want attention and they can figure out cause and effect… if they consistently get attention for picking up their toys or for eating their vegetables, they’re more likely to continue doing it.

This  praise doesn’t have to be some complicated discussion.  It can be:

  • A simple “thank you”
  • “Good job” or any other positive statement
  • A pat on the back
  • Just playing with them – yes, simply play with your child after they do something well
  • A high five
  • A hug or kiss


It can be helpful to pick ONE thing you want to see your child do more often, then make an effort to praise it.  If I want my kid to play nicely with his younger brother, then I might walk through the living room every 5 minutes (or more often if you have the time) and comment on what a nice job he is doing.  If I want my daughter to eat her vegetables, then I might give her a high five every time she takes a bite of those carrots or green beans.  Giving praise for positive behavior can be a simple change that makes a big difference!

Posted in Emotion Regulation

Muscular Relaxation with Angry Octopus

Progressive muscular relaxation is a great calming strategy, but can be very difficult to teach to kiddos.  Luckily, Lori Lite has written a book called Angry Octopus, which makes muscular relaxation kid-friendly.  As the title suggests, the book is about an angry octopus, who learns to cope with his anger when a mermaid teaches him how to engage in muscular relaxation.  I’ve used this both in individual and group therapy with success!  You can buy the book here.



There are also some youtube videos with someone reading the book aloud (just search “Angry Octopus”).  The quality isn’t great (at least on the videos I have seen), but it’s an option.