Every year at this time, I intake a couple of little clients who are really struggling with back-to-school, and that reminds me that this time of year can be really hard for some kids and their parents. Here are a few exercises that have worked for me and my clients. I think they'd be easy to adapt at home.
A couple of years ago, I wrote about a bravery box exercise for kids who have trouble speaking up at school. It still amazes me that my little client in that case went from being completely non-verbal at school, to three weeks later his teacher saying, "Now we just have to teach him to control his talking a bit, and we'll be perfect."
I've written about transferring the bravery box ideas, which are for grade-school kids, to an adolescent client I had a while back. In both these cases, it's about breaking down a big, scary task (talking at school) into do-able pieces, and rewarding every single bit of success along the way. Instead of focusing on what's NOT happening, we celebrate what IS happening.
I've also talked about the famous calm-down bottle that I've used with kids who have trouble focusing, or who struggle with anger and irritation at school and at home. (I've had some adults tell me that a calm-down bottle is not a bad thing for grown-ups, either.)
Today I wanted to tell you about a couple of activities I have planned for this afternoon as I meet with young clients headed back to school.
First of all, here are two of my favorite children's books: The Story of Ruby Bridges, by Robert Coles, and Through My Eyes, by Ruby Bridges. (Both available here on my resource page, with newly revamped with moving book carousels. Check it out!)
Ruby Bridges was one of the first children to attend integrated schools in New Orleans in 1960. She was a first grader, and had to be escorted to school daily by U. S. Marshals, through crowds of angry white adults chanting words that even John Steinbeck wouldn't quote, simply saying that the words were "bestial and filthy and degenerate."
I usually do a read-aloud of The Story of Ruby Bridges, and then show the pictures from Through My Eyes to show that Ruby Bridges is a real person. (I usually cry, too. I can't help it.)
I've used these books with kids to affirm that yes, sometimes the world is a terrible and difficult place. And yes, sometimes you have to go to school, even when it's hard.
So today, my plan for my little client is that I'll read The Story of Ruby Bridges, and she will choose miniatures to re-create the story in the sand tray. We'll talk about the various actors: who's in trouble? Who's causing the trouble? Who's helping Ruby when she's in trouble? How does Ruby stay strong in this difficult time?
Then, using the miniatures she's already set up, we can re-name them and talk about my little client's world instead. Ruby's not the only person in trouble. Sometimes we get into trouble too, and we have to deal with difficult situations. So, for my little client, who or what is causing the trouble? Who's helping my client when she's in trouble? How can she stay strong in this difficult time?
We'll make little cards for her to take to school, to remind her of who can help, and what she already knows about staying strong and getting through hard times. (We've done coping skills and she assures me that she already knows what to do. Mostly today is about reassuring me and her mom.)
Then, with a different young client, I'll be doing bead bracelets. I've done these a lot, and I like them as a transition exercise. I've often used these as a closing exercise with young clients who are finishing up their therapy. I'll ask them to choose some words that they want to remember from our time together. I'll do the same, and let them know that I'll be wearing my bracelet and remembering our time together, too.
Back-to-school is a big transition, too, so this afternoon we'll be thinking together about what's important to her, and what she wants to carry with her through this school year.
These are my bracelets, with the things I want to carry, today and always.