Over the past year, COVID-19 has impacted every part of our society, including the way we deliver mental health services. As a therapist who works with children, adults, and families, I’ve been able to witness both the benefits and challenges of providing therapy exclusively via video and phone. I have found teletherapy to be especially meaningful and eye-opening when working with children and adolescents, who have both a natural ability to adjust to the screen-time and an increased need for stimulating and engaging activities. In this post, I’ll provide an overview of five activities I’ve found both accessible and effective when working with children and adolescents:
1. Movement Activities:
After staring at screens all day, children (and adults!) benefit from using their bodies to regulate by either releasing energy or restoring it through movement and breath. One of my favorite body-based activities with kids and adolescents is the Mindful Kids card deck, where I ask the person to choose a color in order to pick an activity to do together. Activities include playful breath work, mindfulness prompts, and games to do with groups or families.
2. COVID-19 Education and Social Stories:
Children and adolescents feel safest when they have structure and clear expectations for their days and weeks. With the constant transitions and changes resulting from COVID-19, individuals understandably feel an increased amount of stress related to the unknowns, especially as students transition back to school. Using play and social stories to educate students about COVID-19 and what to expect for school helps children increase their sense of self-mastery and emotion regulation skills. By screensharing social stories and books through video therapy, children can learn how to cope ahead and problem-solve in a structured, safe environment. I have especially enjoyed the social stories that can be downloaded from Autism Little Learners by Tara Tuchel.
3. Emotions Activities:
By using a little creativity, just about any game or activity can be transformed into an exploration about emotions and coping skills. For example, using games like Uno or Candy Land allows you to create color-coded prompts and activities that can be customized for any age group or presenting issue. Online resources like Uno Freak provide opportunities to play games while tailoring questions or activities around emotion regulation, self-esteem, communication skills, etc.
4. Online Games:
With the age of technology, just about every game you can think of can now be played virtually in real time with someone else. One of my favorite games to play with children and adolescents over video is Jeopardy; and who doesn’t love this game? Through Jeopardy Labs, you can search for pre-made games based on a topic or create your own. In my work, topics around friendship skills, emotion regulation, and communication skills have been especially helpful to play with kids and adolescents. Once you choose your theme, then let the fun begin; you can either play on the same team with your partner, work on opposing teams for points, or even include the family so that it’s therapist vs. family.
5. Family Activities:
Because of the nature of quarantine, video therapy has sometimes allowed for an increased ability to include families in sessions. These family sessions have proved to be especially fruitful and rich, as family members navigate both new stressors and an increased amount of time around one another. Helping families develop teamwork mindsets and supportive relationships within the system is often a goal of therapy, and one of my favorite activities using video therapy to do so has been family scavenger hunts. By asking families to find items such as “something that makes you feel safe” or “something you like to do with your family”, this activity promotes both movement throughout the house, a window into family interactions, as well as an opportunity for meaningful discussions between members. I’ve witnessed how both the content discussed as well as the process of working together and navigating conflict has benefited families.
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