Mastering Feelings of Fear and Anxiety

21 Oct

“Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will”   James Stephens


“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” H. P. Lovecraft


Halloween is the perfect time of year to master feelings of fear and anxiety. It is the time of the year when we can take the things that scare us and make them fun so that they are not scary but entertaining. By helping our children master feelings of fear, anxiety and worry we are helping them deal with feelings of depression and anger. Hard to believe but depression and anger often have “core” emotions at the center.  If we can cope with the core emotions, dealing with a difficult situation is easier. By helping your child develop solid coping skills, you are helping prevent future depression and anxiety.



Children work on and master emotions and coping skills when they play and when they sleep. In today’s blog I will focus on feelings associated with fear. Children will try to master their fears through play.  Hence, this is why we see play involving bad guys, monsters, mean people, and lots of hide and seek games.  Allow your children to play-out their fears, help them master the emotions by playing along with them.  If they are playing the role of the “scary character” they are doing this to try and gain an understanding of “why”.  When a child asks you to be the scary character they are trying to figure-out how to cope with a scary situations and feelings. Through play you and your child can find great ways to cope and explore different ways of thinking.


When children begin to feel their new emotions (any time after age 2) they also begin to experience nightmares. The brain is trying to help them master the emotions that are difficult. You can help your child by being an investigator and asking them to tell you about their dream.  Your child can draw their dream or draw the scary part of the dream.  After hearing the dream, reflect upon the different emotions that you understood from the dream, ask your child to think of a helpful ending. A helpful ending means that the scary characters in the dream are dealt with in a positive way. Ask your child what they would say to the character if the character was no longer dangerous.  How about if the character wanted to be friends?  What can your child do in her dream to make the dream positive?  You will be amazed by what you learn and discover about your child.   


Finally, expose your child to toys that represent the things that your child is scared of.  If your child is scared of bugs, buy pretend bugs and play with them.  Read information on bugs, learn about what bugs can and cannot do.  When our brain understands our fears, it knows how to cope, when a child knows how to cope, their feelings are manageable.


Please share with us the different ways you help your child deal with scary thoughts and feelings.


Whispers in the Night

5 Aug

Every single statement you make about yourself,

To a friend or even to yourself

Becomes a truth.



Words are like seeds that we plant in our minds.  They take root and grow.  If repeated enough, words grow into attitudes and beliefs.  Feelings of unworthiness are often buried deep in our subconscious.  Most negative thoughts that we have were developed through the negative words that we heard about ourselves before the age of 7. 

Research in self-esteem tells us that children in educational settings and childcare programs receive more than 300 negative messages per 1 positive message a day.  At home children receive 15 negative messages per 1 positive message a day.  These messages can come from other children, siblings, teachers, caregivers, parents and even television.  What can we do??? 

Minds in Motion 

There is a lot that we can do to prepare our children for the negative messages that they  may receive about themselves and the things that they do.  The following are two strategies that work well and are easy to put into your daily life. 

The subconscious mind will believe anything we tell it if we tell it often enough and with emotion.  Children under the age of 7 are in a naturally repetitive state, so it does not take long to plant positive seeds.  

If a person is able to over ride incoming negative messages with the positive messages that are stored in their subconscious they will have a stronger positive sense of self.  They will be able to separate their behaviors from who they are as a person.  Which means if they make a mistake, a poor decision, or are struggling with their academics: it is just that a poor decision, a mistake or a struggle, it does not become their definition of who they are as a person. 

Positive Self Talk           

Model what positive self-talk sounds like.  Find as many opportunities to positively talk out loud about yourself.  Your child will hear these wonderful affirmations and start to say wonderful things about himself too.   If you are not used to giving yourself positive messages this may feel weird.  Positively affirm your children too.  When your child gives himself a positive affirmation reflect back to him, “you look so happy or proud”.  Here are some ideas to help you get started,

Use I Language  “I am nice, I know how to be a good friend”.

State Affirmations in the present, the subconscious is very literal  “I can swim 3 laps” rather than” I am going to swim 3 laps”

An affirmation is stated in the positive,  “I am even tempered” rather than “I did not lose my temper”

Here are some ideas for positive affirmations for yourself and your child

 1)   “I feel warm and good about myself” , “ You are a warm and sensitive person”    

2)“I love myself totally and completely” , “I feel your love when you are with me”

 3) “I see the good in others” , “You see the good in others”

 4) “I am special”, “You are special”

 5) “I like who I am and feel good about myself”,  “You are wonderful just the way you are”

 6) “I am unique-from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet”        

 Whispers in the Night 

This is my favorite thing to do and it really does work.  When your child is fast asleep, whisper positive statements/affirmations in their ear.  If your child is sleeping on their back you can also tap them on their sternum while you whisper. 

While we sleep our subconscious mind is awake and our conscious mind is asleep.  If we whisper to our children while they are sleeping the words go directly to their subconscious mind.  We want to plant seeds in the subconscious.    

I notice a huge difference in my children when I  do this on a regular basis.  Both boys know that I whisper to them when they are sleeping and will ask me, “what did you whisper last night”.  Sometimes I tell them, other times I say, “what do you think I whispered?”  Their answers always amaze me. 

Whispers can reflect something positive that you saw your child do or they can reflect something that you feel is positive about your child and would like to see more of.  Here is an example, My youngest is sensitive and quick to react.  At night I whisper things like, “You have a tender heart which means you care, you are the boss of your angry feelings, you know how to be positive when you feel angry or frustrated, you know how to take care of your feelings.” 

Have fun planting seeds and watching the natural joy that sprouts and grows.

Nichole Menard B.Ed, M.Ed, CCC

Hide and Seek: Building Brain Power

2 Apr

With Easter just around the corner my thoughts have been revolving around the magical Easter Egg Hunt. Children love waking-up Easter morning to the anticipation of what they will find as they hunt around the house with an Easter basket.  When several siblings are involved, feelings of anxiety over who will find the best treats are evoked and a resulting lesson of sharing and splitting up the loot often follows.  Much like the beloved game of Hide and Go Seek, feelings of excitement, anxiety, and anticipation are sparked in both the hider and the seeker.

The game of hide and go seek can be used to open the learning centers in the brain so as to help our children strengthen their emotional and cognitive development through play. I’ve put together a list of activities that use the concept of hide and seek that are fun. Children will love the games and their cognitive and physical development will thank-you. If you have additional game ideas please add.  Knowledge is power.

 Babies 3-12 months


1) Babies love playing games of peek-a-boo. Nothing makes a baby smile more than hiding ones face and saying “boo”.  Use a variety of props such as towels, large toys, scarves and even mirrors.  Hide behind a hand held mirror, move the mirror down and say “boo”.  Baby will think this is hilarious and will wonder what happened to the baby who was in the mirror. 

2) Play hide and seek with your babies toys. Take a squeaky toy and another of similar size and hide them under a blanket. Ask your baby to find the squeaky toy. Give her a hint by squeaking the toy. Benefit: Strengthens memory skills and concept of object permanence.

This also works well when one parent hides in the house and makes sounds while the other parent carries baby and says, “Where is mommy. I can hear her. Let’s find mommy”.  You are doing the finding but baby is doing all the learning. Baby will love the interaction and the joy and giggles when finding the hidden parent.  When baby starts to crawl, she will love trying to find the missing parent by listening for sounds.

 3) The fully crawling baby will love trying to find a hidden toy.  Get right on the ground and crawl with her.  Add some competition to the game and you will hear loads of giggles and laughter from your curious little munchkin.

 Toddlers 12-24 months

1) Using a hat, take turns dropping blocks into it. You can name their colors or count them as you play. Ask your toddler, “where is the (red) block”.  Your toddler will take out the blocks as you name the colors of the blocks.  When she takes out the red, clap and say, “you found the red block”. Benefit: teaches numbers and color concepts, strengthens listening skills, strengthens cooperation skills, uses heightened anticipation to open the learning centers.

2) Expanding the hat game.  As your toddler moves through her stages of development you can make the hat game harder.  You and your toddler can put a variety of items in the hat. Ask your toddler to close her eyes while you take an item out and hide it.  Your toddler empties the hat and tells you which item you took out, then hunts for it in the house. You can put in some letters or numbers to make learning way more fun. Main benefit is the strengthening of memory and object permanence.

3) Turn a large box on its side, upside down or upright. When my boys were younger they loved to sit in the box. As they got older it was way more exciting to sit with the box over their heads (they would have a flashlight). Fill it with lots of stuffed animals and encourage your toddler to crawl in and explore. Next time fill it with something else, like beach balls or warm sheets just out of the dryer. Hide something like a few wooden letters or numbers, or colored shapes. While your child is exploring you can ask them, “where is the letter “b”, where is the number “1”.  Younger children will grab any letter and bring it to you. This is fantastic because they are recognizing that the item that you are requesting is in the “letter” family of words. As your child grows older they will be able to bring you the letter that you have requested. Benefit: Provides a great tactile experience. Helps child learn same and different, develops vocabulary, helps child work on conservation, strengthens listening skills, will bring out the giggles.

Juniors 2-5 years

 This age group has a strong imagination.  If we use their imagination along with hide n’seek games the learning can be endless.

 1) Go on a treasure hunt in your home, searching for things that come in twos, for example, a pair of lamps, a pair of shoes, or matching candlesticks. Count them as you find them. Benefit: Teaches categorizing and counting skills.

2) Pretend you are solving a case (you are Dora, detectives, superheroes, etc.) There are clues hidden around the house that lead you to the next clue (like a scavenger hunt).  The clues will lead you to letters.  When you have found all the letters, they spell a word that tells you where the hidden treasure or lost key or stolen item is.  Children will love finding the letters and will be excited to sit down with you and figure-out what word the letters spell. Benefit: Teaches that letters together create a word, uses imagination to make learning fun, strengthens listening skills and following directions.

 3) Hide puzzle pieces around the house (24 piece floor puzzle).  Put a letter on the back of each puzzle piece, the letter needs to correspond with something that you see on the puzzle piece or something related to what is happening in your child’s life at the time. For example, if the puzzle piece has blue on it, put a “b” for blue on the back of the puzzle piece.  Maybe a different puzzle piece has a partial picture of a tire, put the letter “t” on the back of that piece. If we link an abstract symbol to something the brain already has information on. learning the abstract symbol is easier and more exciting. Only work with 3-4 letters at a time, more than that and the brain will not retain the information. Your child will feel frustrated and will not like your game. Use lower case letters until your child has mastered lower case. Benefit: Strengthens sequence development, observations skills and listening to directions. Sorting and making the puzzle strengthens math skills and language development.

Research shows that a child’s environment plays a vital role in the structural development of her brain. A child’s experience builds synaptic connections in the brain, increasing the long-term efficiency and learning capacity. Purposeful play opportunities along with child directed play build a strong foundation for future learning.  With a strong foundation, learning is easier, making connections and being creative flows with ease.

The biggest benefit of all the above games and activities is the healthy bond that you are creating with your child.  When parents play with their children, their children feel accepted, understood and loved. You are your child’s most important teacher!

Some additional articles on building brain power.

Texting: Will It Eradicate Authentic Relationships?

5 Feb

My topic this month relates to relationships in lieu of a much loved day of the year, “Valentine’s Day”.  A day filled with chocolate, special surprises and loving words from friends and family.  With technology we have seen a surge in texting.  Phones are no longer used to talk on; they are used to write on.   Gone are the days when children raced to the park to connect, instead they are racing to their i-phones.

Many questions floated into my mind while sitting on the sofa the other day with my children. Watching them text like mad men, flipping back and forth between chat rooms, laughing, nudging each other and pointing out how brilliantly funny they both were.  Call me a dinosaur but I just don’t get it. Chat rooms, texting, facetime, what happened to meeting at the park or talking on the phone.  Don’t their fingers get sore, I have read that texting causes carpal tunnel syndrome, and how about the claims that the radioactive waves from cell phones and I-pods can cause brain tumors.

The inquisitive mind in me finds this rather interesting.  I researched the topic and discovered that I am not the only enquiring mind that wants to learn more about how texting impacts upon relationships.  I discovered that texting gives people another “mask” to hide behind. This makes me think of the role playing games on x-box and how absorbed people can be in the artificial world of gaming.  “Leaving their real life behind to be whatever they want to be”, as recently told to me by a 20 something year old.

 Research on texting writes that people can compose whatever they want and receive all sorts of validation for what they write.  A person can write that their life is so incredible and rosy when inside they do not truly believe this. They need that external validation from others to convince themselves that they are “happy” or that what they are doing or thinking is “okay and acceptable”. 

As I watch my son text, I worry that his generation will not know how to effectively communicate.  I worry that he will seek outside validation instead of believing in himself and trusting his own inner voice.  The devil’s advocate in me says, “Hold your horses I bet your parents thought the same thing when you spent hours on the phone with friends”.  Texting can be a powerful form of communication; maybe we just need to help our children figure-out how to use this power wisely.

Two weeks ago, what I saw answered my nagging questions and gave me a sigh of relief. I was sitting on the sofa with my boys, the oldest consumed in his world of texting.  I felt my son’s body shift, alarm came over his face.  He started to mutter words of concern, at which time his screen phone rang and he ran into his bedroom. Waving at me to let me know that he would be back. I could faintly hear him sharing with someone that he felt worried about her and did she need a friend to talk too. I could hear him making reassuring comments and cracking a few jokes, then “you’re welcome I’m hear anytime you need a friend”. I may not fully understand how his generation connects, but as of that moment I saw the power and the strength between two good friends supporting each other.  Without texting, that moment in time may not have happened.

What are your thoughts?  Is texting a new form of communication that helps our very busy world stay connected? Is it a form of communication that can bring people closer together  or do you see it as a time waster eating-up emotional energy?  Please share your thoughts on this topic.

Play Time: The Benefit of Rotating Toys

31 Dec

Rotating toys and books provides children the opportunity to focus when they play. When the brain is focused it can better master the learning tasks at hand.

There are piles of research demonstrating how valuable play is to the developing brain. I found a particularly interesting study: A longitudinal study was conducted not too long ago that measured the complexity of children’s block play at age 4 and then tracked their academic performance through high school (Wolfgang, Stannard, & Jones, 2001).

Researchers found that the complexity of block play predicted a child’s mathematical achievements in high school. The children who used blocks in a more sophisticated manor as preschoolers had stronger math scores and took more math courses (including honors’ courses) as teenagers. We know that if a subject is interesting and stimulating our brains will want more of it.

More interestingly, the association between block play and math performance remained even after researchers controlled for a child’s IQ. This tells me that block play in itself influenced the cognitive development of these children. Whether it be that it helps the brain understand the foundation under math or it sparked an enjoyment of math, what matters is the end result.

If we rotate toys and books, the brain is given the opportunity to engage fully in what is available without being over stimulated.  A playroom filled with toys can cause over stimulation and “scattered play”.  Unfortunately, scattered play kills the opportunity for the brain to successfully master a concept or skill.  The brain may learn about the concept, but the concept will not be mastered.

What is a Parent to DO?

These are merely ideas pulled from what I did with my boys when they were younger.  Hopefully something resonates with you and is useful.


1) It helps to keep a small book shelf in your child’s room for his/her favorite book selections. These books stay in your child’s room and are great for easy access during bedtime.

2) All remaining books can be organized by theme.  For example books related to spring can be put in a see through container labeled Spring. Within that theme you may want to group the books according to subject: bugs, rain, beach, etc…

3) You will need 1 canvas tote for rotating your books. During Spring use the books in your “Spring” collection.  Maybe the first week the bin will have books related to bugs, the second week the bin will contain books related to rainbows, etc…


1) Think of your toys as objects that your children need to learn from.  Your play area will have 3 categories/themes in addition to 1-2 larger play items.  If your child is under 12months of age he/she more than likely does not yet have a play kitchen or train table. For this age group keep their toy groupings at around 3. Group your toys into the following categories: drama & make believe, building & constructing, puzzles, music & instruments, games.  

2) Every 2 weeks set-up your play area so that 3 groupings/categories are available for play.  Try to coordinate the play with what is happening in your child’s real world.  For example: when Spring is approaching think bugs, gardening, baby animals, etc… Items that are available for play will be placed in canvas bins.  This makes clean-up really easy!  Children can make a complete mess, but when it is time to clean-up it is easy for them to place the items back into the bins where they came from.  Easy Peazzy!! 

3) Larger play items like kitchens or train tables simply remain.  However you can change which items go with the large toy.  For example for two weeks the train table maybe used for the train, the next 2 weeks it is for lego, the next 2 weeks for playmobile.  The kitchen during one week can be used as a restaurant, the next 2 weeks as a store, maybe even Mrs. Clause’s kitchen during Christmas. You will merely switch-up the smaller items that go with the larger item.  If you enjoy costumes, you can have costumes for all the different themes and fun accessories.  When the kitchen is a restaurant you can make menus with your children and pretend money.  The possibilities are endless.

4) Items that are not in use can be stored in labeled bins.  Choose stackable bins that can be placed in a closet or against a wall and covered. I have to admit that our basement contained two shelving units of stacked bins.  Before a play date I would ask my boys which toys they would like to bring out.  We would have a blast looking through the bins and picking out special play items.


Arts and crafts are so important, it is ideal to have your child do something artsy once a day.  To keep it interesting for your child’ developing brain you will need to rotate the art offerings every week.  For example week 1 could be all about ripping and gluing.  Day 1 you could give your child several magazine pages to rip, Day 2  your child can glue the pieces onto paper, the following day you could have your child circle or paint over everything that is blue on their collage, etc… During week 2 we will not do any ripping, maybe we will focus on crayons.  The art station will only have crayons, paper, and coloring books.

Most importantly join in on the fun for at least 30-60 minutes a day. 

If you rotate toys how do you do it?  Was it helpful or a lot of work? Did you see improvement in your child’s ability to play independently? We want to know!!


7 Dec


Parenthood opened many doors to strange lands.  Across unfamiliar terrain I walked, tripping over every bump on my path. Without a map or compass to guide me, I searched and searched for answers. Navigating the way was my brand new ball of energy; he crawled and climbed every waking minute of the day, when he wasn’t moving he was babbling.  

Crawling at 5 months of age, walking before 10 months of age, running before his first Birthday and climbing was his favorite sport.  My little guy never stopped, his naps were short-lived, he had endless curiosity, was persistent to no end, and needed to be in my presence 24/7.  Okay, I have to admit that I was worried and I felt incompetent as a parent, a parent who worked as a Child and Family Therapist. 

On the last day of my never-ending search, I found an amazing book. The title made me stop, “Raising Your Spirited Child”.  Spirited, that described my little guy perfectly and as I read through the book I saw him on every page.

 Learning about temperament gave me a complete paradigm shift. It changed my parenting, my relationships with others, and it changed how I worked with people in my private practice.  We are all born with a combination of nine different temperament traits.  These traits are with you for life.  The combination of these traits and how you were raised forms your personality. If your parenting matches the temperament of your child, your child grows-up with a strong sense of self, positive coping skills and your relationship with your child will feel respectful and mindful.

 Interested in learning more about Temperament, our next workshop runs on Sunday, January 29th. Go to to reserve your spot.

The Power of Play

20 Oct

To play is to learn.  There is extensive research that shows how critical play is to a child’s development and well being.  When an adult participates in a child’s play that play becomes even more meaningful.  Did you know that children under the age of 5 learn best from one on one play with an adult?  You are your child’s most valuable teacher and playmate. 

 A new report from the AmericanAcademyof Pediatrics says, free and unstructured play is essential for helping children reach important social, emotional, and cognitive developmental milestones as well as helping them learn how to manage stress. (

As a play therapist and child development specialist I come across many children who do not know how to play.  You may be thinking, “how can that be, children know how to play naturally”.  Unfortunately due to TV watching, video game playing, toys with little play value, and overscheduled lives many children no longer play effectively.  I often see “scattered play”.  Scattered play is when children spend 5-10 minutes on one play item than move to the next item without starting or finishing any type of play sequence.  A child learns from their play when they are able to spend more than 20 minutes in one play sequence.  A play sequence has a beginning, middle and end.  It is like watching a story unfold, with characters, usually a problem or dilemma to solve, and an ending.  When children play they are practicing problem solving and coping skills, trying on new identities, mastering difficult emotions, trying to understand the world and relieving stress.

What can you do??

1) Provide ample opportunities for unscheduled, independent, child-directed play.  This is the type of play that happens at home, on the playground, or in an organized but unscheduled playgroup. 

 2) Provide your child access to “true toys” such as blocks, puzzles, dolls, action figures, basically toys that spark the imagination.  Remember to have art materials on hand such as paints, crayons, scissors, glue and lots of large paper.

 3) Share unscheduled spontaneous play time with your children, a minimum of 30 minutes a day.  Allow your child to lead and direct the play. Think of it as a movie and your child is the director; they need to do the work, not you.  At home designate a room as the playroom, try not to over load it with toys, this can contribute to scattered play.  Instead rotate the toys bi-weekly or monthly. 

 Most importantly let the dishes and housework sit for 30 minutes and play with your child.  You will have a great time together, develop a new understanding of who your child is and will nurture your feelings of closeness.  You are your child’s most valuable teacher.

 You can discover more about the Power of Play during our workshop on Monday October 24 9:30-11:30, and children are always welcome!

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