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Monday, March 31, 2014

Monday's Miraculous Therapy Moments: Can Hide & Seek Rebuild Positive Relationships Between Parents & Children in Therapy?

Thought for the Day: Exactly a year ago, I wrote a Motivational Monday post called: Motivational Mondays: How To Parent When A Child Makes You Feel Incompetent.  In it I relayed the story of how I helped a mother overcome her feelings of helplessness and incompetence with her daughter, Daniella. I had shared the story with clients of mine to help them with similar frustrations with their child. About a week later, I shared an update about that story's impact on my current client's family. At the end of that week's session, the father asked to meet with me individually. He told me that he had been losing his temper with his daughter & with his wife. He knew it was inappropriate & making things worse at home. He wanted to learn how to control his behavior. Much has transpired since last year and I'd like to share how family therapy and a therapeutic version of "Hide and Seek" is helping not only to rebuild a more positive relationship between a child and her parents, but also to enhance the child's self esteem.

Much of therapy with children is performed via the language of play. For many months I got to know my client, let's call her Mary, via play therapy. Mary is a bright, inquisitive, 8 year old whose ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity) and learning differences have led to underachievement and frustration in school. At home she has also been a handfull to her dedicated but often frustrated parents. Mary, the 2nd of three children, demanded constant attention. Unfortunately, she tended to get mostly negative attention at home and in school. One-on-one in play therapy, Mary was delightful to work with; however, working with her individually and with the parents, individually or as a couple, they were only making slow progress. I felt it was not enough.

I decided to meet with Mary and her parents together in family therapy in hopes of speeding up the process. Although there were many behavior modification interventions that seemed to help in the family sessions, I believe a simple therapeutic twist to "Hide and Seek" has made a huge difference. 

One of the earliest games we play with are children is "Peek-A-Boo." What parent has not delighted in the smiles and giggles of a small infant who discovers the joy of hiding and being discovered by removing a napkin placed in front of their face. Gleefully we say, "Peek-A-Boo, I see you." The infant or toddler loves being discovered over and over again.

As the child grows, "Peek-A-Boo" is replaced by "Hide and Seek." Kids love hiding and being discovered by their parents who often pretend that they had no clue as to where they might be found. Daniela's running away was a dangerous game of "Hide and Seek," but she too wanted her parents to find her and let her know that they loved her and would find ways to help her grow and thrive.

In play therapy, Mary often played her own versions of "Hide and Seek," hiding small stuffed animals all over my office. We took turns and tried to find new hiding places each time. As we played, she was showing me how clever, inquisitive and smart she was, and I would praise her creativity. When we began family therapy, I decided to use this playfulness with her parents. The game, however, had a new twist. Mary was to find ways to pleasantly surprise her parents by doing something that she knew would be appreciated. Her parents' role was to try to guess the hidden surprise Mary had pulled off.

The first week, her parents reported that they had a great weekend with their child (usually weekends were filled with battles over completing homework). They did not, however, know what Mary had done to surprise them. Secretly, Mary had completed her homework on Friday before her parents came home. She told them she had no homework that weekend. She was joyous that she had stumped her parents. Each week, she came up with creative ways to please them often without the parents being able to guess, but they were reporting much better interactions and less conflict with their daughter. Last week, their session was changed to earlier in the week. Mary said she had not been able to pull off the surprise yet. However, her mother reported that her daughter was chosen as student of the month at school and the parents had a wonderful parent teacher's conference. It was obvious that Mary's improved behavior was also showing up at school. Mary then claimed this as the week's surprise.

Although she still struggles with parts of school work, focusing and sitting still, Mary and her parents are rediscovering the playful positive child who, , wants her parents positive attention. All children have strengths that they need our help discovering and encouraging. It is just harder for some of them to come out of their hiding places especially when they are challenged and frustrated by emotional or learning differences. The challenge for parents is finding them when the negative behaviors begin to hide the lost hidden child.

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