Read Your Child to Emotional Security

How often do you read to your child?  How much do you read each time you read to your child?  Reading has been shown to be the single most predictive variable for success in school……but what if that is a very narrow view of the importance of reading?

 It is true that reading to your child from an early age will help them learn language skills crucial to effective communication.  Those language skills are also the foundation for learning math and science.  Having a child within the deaf community I have witnessed the importance of reading in the development of language first-hand.  What if that was not the most beneficial picture of what reading can provide our children?

 I would like you to take a moment to reflect on the last time you spent reading with your child or children.  Was it hurried because you’ve had a long day and just need the kids to go to bed so you can have your down time or catch up on household chores?  Were you clenching your jaw because you’ve asked your child 20 million time to put on their pajamas, and you know you are speaking clearly, yet they are still half naked trying to have a conversation with you…or doing anything but putting those jammies on?  Did they asked you to read yet another book and you’ve surpassed your threshold for needing your adult time?

Bedtime routines can be exhausting, which includes the ritual of reading to your child.  I would like you to take a moment to consider a new view of reading to your children.  What if reading, as the most important predictor for academic success, does not simply teach your child language skills but also helps your child form secure attachment to their primary caregiver, YOU.  Children who are securely attached to their primary caregivers, often their biological parent(s), typically thrive in school.  They also demonstrate healthier emotional regulation which leads to few problems in school, like being sent to the principal’s office.

How can reading help with emotional regulation?  Well, we know from various research studies that appropriate physical contact, such as snuggles, releases neurotransmitters that reduce cortisol levels and help us relax.  If you snuggle up to read, your presence alone is a stress reducer and natural antianxiety therapy for your child.  At my house, we have a special reading chair, complete with special blankets.  The first blanket is a fleecy warm blanket to feel a little cocooned.  The second blanket is a less comfy, heavier blanket to provide a small amount of “deep” pressure which contributes to a feeling of calm.  This dual blanket system is a similar concept to a weighted blanket without spending the money for such an expensive item.

Another way that reading may help children regulate themselves is the routine of reading before bedtime, or whenever you choose to read.  As you read, the neurotransmitters mentioned above can make you both a little drowsy, or at least very relaxed.  Often what happens is the breath of parent and child synch up.  A calming affect! In my experience, the rhythm of my breathing can put my child to sleep if they have had a stressful day.  The rhythmic sound of your voice can also be soothing.  Having a regularly schedule time where these things happen helps the body anticipate this time and creates a healthy habit for calming our minds and bodies every day.

 Okay.  We have talked about the biological factors that can help your child regulate themselves.  Now, let’s talk about YOUR creative role in the self-regulating process.  First up are your inflection skills.  You’re what skills?  Your inflection skills!  Reading teaches children about emotions when we read with inflection in our voices.  This is not a natural skill for everyone, including me.  Eventually I got the hang of it, and you will too.  Use different voices for characters.  You probably won’t be a Robin Williams.  It’s okay though.  Your child will not care.  Give your characters inflections that represent the emotion the story reports for them.  The best way to achieve this goal is to imagine yourself in the story.  Your child will likely develop an understanding of a broad range of emotions and develop emotional flexibility. 

You need to select a large variety of story lines as well.  Different story lines will further the development of emotional flexibility.  Different story lines will also expose your child to more circumstances than they are likely to experience on their own.  Experience is the best teacher, when you can get it.  The second-best teacher is a story.  Children develop some of their problem-solving skills through reading stories that present various problematic circumstances that require a solution.  Ask your child what they think happens next before you turn the page to teach them how to think of solutions on their own rather than being handed instructions.  Ask your child what the characters are feeling before the story tells them. 

 As they mature, select more complex story lines so your children will continue to be challenged to solve problems.  Make sure you pick story lines that include an interpersonal relationship problem.  It does not have to be a dramatic problem, just a problem that creates an interpersonal relationship decision.  The more problem-solving capacity a child has the less likely they are to be emotionally rattled by the unexpected, such as activity transitions or someone else’s behaviors.  They also become skilled in assessing their environment for non-verbal communication, which also helps with emotional flexibility and regulation.

So…what book are you going to pick up next at the library?

15 Things to Do With Your Kids This Summer


  1. Homemade play dough dyed with Jell-O packets (off brand or dollar store).
  2. Homemade stress balls using homemade play dough (cooled) & balloons.
  3. Hula hoop obstacle (like a tire obstacle) using different sized hula hoops.
  4. Assign everyone a different colored object (marble, bead, pom, etc.). Whenever you hear one of your kids fill someone’s emotional bucket with kindness, put the appropriate color in a jar designated for them.  Have a special activity planned for whoever fills their jar first.  Make it harder to earn throughout the summer to inspire creativity.
  5. Dye rice assorted colors using food coloring and water. Use Inside Out as your inspiration and talk about the different feelings we might have when spending so much time together.  Ask them to decide which feeling they are ready to work on and give them a baggie (or small container from the dollar store) with that color rice as a reminder.
  6. Shaving cream art using poster paint dripped onto shaving cream. Run a toothpick, fork, kabob stick (the wooden ones, not a sharp metal one) though the paint.  Lay paper over the paint and gently tap, then remove and scrape off the shaving cream with a straight edged item/tool (like a spackle knife).
  7. Make homemade bubbles and dye them different colors.
  8. Grow an avocado or other food item that is passed its prime instead of throwing it out.
  9. Go to a fruit orchard in Augusta or Marthasville instead of a huge commercial operation. The kids can have more freedom to run and play safely, without hypervigilance. (Centennial Farms; Theirbach)  In Marthasville there is a family owned pizza parlor where the kids can sign the wall.
  10. Ride the Katy Trail and make up a story as you ride.  Each person must contribute a new piece of the storyline.
  11. Zoo scavenger hunt.  Rarely are all the animals out on the same day, so they must try to find one they did not see the previous visit.
  12. Backyard obstacle course using items from the pool: jump over pool noodles, bean bag toss into diving rings, who can shoot their water gun the furthers, toss water splasher balls into beach buckets, and partner to move a beach ball a set distance without using hands or feet (they really have to talk to each other and problem solve this one).
  13. Roll the Dice. Assign each number an action, then roll the dice.  They must do the action associated with that number until the one who rolled the dice says stop.  Up the challenge by adding more dice.
  14. Left, Right, Center Shuffle. Circle = forward. Star = backward.  They must move in the direction rolled.  Start with one dice and add one dice at a time to up the challenge.
  15. Have your child select a white flower and select a dye that matches the emotion they struggle with most.  Every time they feel that emotion they put a drop of dye in the water. Talk about how the flower did not change at first but over time the dye overtook the flower, a drop at a time.

4 Activities to Help Your Child Talk about Their Anxiety

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Anxiety is a common experience for children, yet they often do not have the words they need to talk about it.  Activities that provide tactile and visual input can help children process their emotions.  Here are four activities that will take your child(ren) through a series of steps to help them understand their anxiety, know what to do about it, and be motivated to persevere in overcoming their worries.

These activities can all be found in their original format in two books.  The first book is What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety by Dawn Huebner, Ph.D.  The second book is Creative Coping Skills for Children: Emotional Support through Arts and Crafts Activities by Bonnie Thomas.  The versions of these activities outlined below are modifications based on my real-life implementations.  Conceptually these activities address the same targets, though the versions below apply my experience to improve their practical effectiveness.  To learn more about the original formats of these activities, please obtain a copy of the books listed above.  If you would like to purchase either book, they can be found on

The Story of the Tomato Plant:

First, I ask the child if they remember ever growing something.  After we talk about their experience (or lack of), I transition into asking them if they have ever grown a tomato plant.  Next, I take the child through the story of growing a tomato plant and have them draw each stage of its growth.  We talk about the need for nutritious soil, water, light, attention, etc.  The child draws each stage of growing the plant: the shoot that peeks through the soil, the stalk that grows, the flowering plant, the fruit bearing plant, etc.  Talk about what type of tomato they grew.  Was it a cherry tomato, Roma tomato, or a big, softball-sized tomato?  At the end, I talk about how one little tomato seed, when nurtured, produces an overwhelming amount of fruit, and even invades areas of our life that it shouldn’t.  The example in the book listed above is that they end up making tomato ice cream and tomato cookies to use up all the fruit their one tomato plant produced.  You can come up with your own unconventional uses for tomatoes to make the dramatic effect relevant to your life.  I explain to the child that planting a seed of worry is much like planting a tomato plant.  A small amount of worry can grow so big it invades areas of our life, including places it is not helpful.  Anxiety can help keep us safe if we are in a dangerous situation, though anxiety about everything is hurts us.

Worry Pizza:

After completing the tomato plant story, it is time to identify the child’s specific worries.  I use the worry pizza for this step.  I help the child identify four things: “I worry a lot about this…”, “Sometimes I worry about this…”, “I worry a little about this….”, and “I never worry about this….”.  It is important for children to see that even when they are worried there are things in their life they can feel secure about.  They can have worries and feel safe at the same time.  Recognizing what they can feel secure about begins to chip away at their worry. 

I have turned the worry pizza into a craft project, which allows the activity to be scaled up or down depending on the developmental age of the child completing the task.  If your child cannot read or write, you can talk about the headings and simply glue the pieces on the pizza to help the child visually see their worries and coping skills.  If your child can write, you can have them write on the pieces before adhering them to the pizza.  The directions are as follows:

1.  Cut a circle out of construction paper that is approximately the same color as pizza dough. Use as much of the piece of construction paper as you can.  Divide the “pizza” into four sections as if you cut the “pizza” into four slices.

2. Cut a piece of construction paper that represents crust on a pizza. On this “crust” write the following four headings for the “slices” of pizza: “I worry a lot about this…”, “Sometimes I worry about this…”, “I worry a little about this…”, and “I never worry about this…”.

3. Use a 1” circular hole punch on red or dark pink construction paper to make “peperoni”. Ask the child to write each of their responses to the first three “crust” headings (I worry a lot about this, Sometimes I worry about this, and I worry a little about this) on a separate circle and have them top their “pizza” with their “pepperoni” in the appropriate category.  Each individual worry should have its own “peperoni” circle.  The pepperoni can overlap if needed.

4. Use a 1” square hole punch on yellow and white paper to create cheese for the sections: I worry a lot about this, Sometimes I worry about this, and I worry a little about this. On each piece of “cheese” the child can write the coping skills that they would use for each section of the “pizza” and glue them to their “pizza” in the appropriate section.  The “cheese” will be glued over the “peperoni”.  If a child I am working with has difficulty identifying coping skills, or needs ideas for coping skills to try, I have a copy of a coping skills bingo game and let the child look through the accompanying cards for ideas.

5. For the fourth section (I never worry about this), use a 1” hole punch to cut construction paper in colors that represent fruit you would find on a dessert pizza. For example, peach for peaches, red for cherry, blue for blueberry, and a light tan or off-white for apple.  Have the child write the things they do not worry about on their “fruit” pieces and glue them in the never worry section.  Use slightly diluted white poster paint to drizzle over the “fruit” to represent the icing used for dessert pizza.  You could even use brown 1” squares to make a chocolate dessert pizza.

This activity allows children to cognitively explore their worry while physically engaging with the topic (tactile learning).  They can hang their “pizza” up where they can easily view it to remind themselves of the things they do not worry about and coping skills to use when they do worry.  The “dessert pizza” section reminds them that in the midst of their worry there is security.  I refer to this as the sweetness in the storm.

Wish Fairy:

A wish fairy allows children to dream, which helps them with multiple skills. First, wishing helps them identify what they want.  The discrepancy between what they want and what is happening can cause anxiety or worry in children.  Second, wishing develops creativity, a crucial component to learning how to solve problems effectively.  Third, wishing engenders hope and can balance out their worries.  To make a wish fairy:

1.  Use an old-fashioned clothes pin for the fairy’s body. Have the child decorate their fairy’s body.

2. Make the fairy’s wings. I found a pattern I like on Pinterest by searching for fairy wings.  Have the child decorate their fairy’s wings, then ask them to write the things they wish for on the wings.  Another way to construct wings is to have the child trace their hands and come up with one wish per finger/thumb.  Cut out the handprints and glue them to the fairy’s body as if they were wings.

3. Allow the child the option to use embroidery thread, or other similar thread, for hair.

After the fairy is completed, talk to the child about how the fairy gives flight to their wishes.  This engenders hope that they can conquer their worry.

Butterfly Instructions:

Butterflies are a symbol of new beginnings.  It is important to tie this activity back to the worry pizza’s coping skills, especially if the child wrote down any new coping skills they want to try.  My butterfly activity is unique because it is used to encourage the use of coping skills as part of the new beginnings message.

1.  Use an old-fashioned clothes pin as the body of the butterfly. Let the child decorate it.

2. I use a specific butterfly wing pattern I found on Pinterest for the butterfly wings since it allows me to give instructions to keep particular sections white so they can write in those sections at a later date.

3. Have the child decorate the outline of the wing and leave the inside white or at least able to be written on at a later time.

4. Glue the wings onto the clothes pin body.

5. If the child accidentally cuts off the antennae of a pattern you can glue on pipe cleaners instead.

Tell the child that butterflies represent new beginning, so every time they successfully use one of their coping skills from their worry pizza you would like them to write it on a section of the butterfly’s wings.  That way the butterfly can help give their new, good choices wings to fly (and grow).



6 Steps to Helping Your Child Control Their Anger

I often work with children who struggle with anger.  When I am working in a group setting, we construct the components of my Anger Menu as a group, then I send the kids home with the assignment to complete an Anger Menu specific to them with their parent/guardian.  It is good for the kids to see the different ways their peers struggle with anger so they understand they are not alone.  It is also good for them to see the different ways that their peers control their anger and invest in self-care.  Seeing what their peers are doing on the solution side of the equation helps them become more creative in the ways they problem-solve or prevent their own anger.  The kids are able to learn from each other rather than feel adults are constantly nagging them.  I, of course, ensure the suggestions are ethical, healthy, and legal.

My Anger Menu is a modification of the Anger Menu activity utilized by Angela M. Cavett, Ph.D, RPT-S.  The menu I designed is conceptually based on Dr. Cavett’s though it is executed differently.  I designed a menu template that is a tri-folded piece of standard printer paper with a menu-inspired layout.  The menu has six headings that help you walk your child through the process of identifying their anger patterns, how to calm themselves down, who to enlist help from when needed, and how to prevent getting angry in the first place.  These headings are: Smoldering Starters, Fiery Sauces, Entrees, Cool Treats, Soothing Sippers, and Antacids.  Let your child/children decorate the front of the menu without judgement as long as it meets the above criteria: ethical, healthy, and legal.

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Here is what should go under each heading:

Smoldering Starters: What triggers you to become angry or irritable?  For example, a tone of voice, unexpected assignment, being behind in schoolwork after being sick, someone takes something of yours (classmate, sibling, parent, neighbor, etc.), poor lighting, too much noise.

Fiery Sauces: What is the catalysts to full blown anger or rage?  What takes you from irritable to rage?  For example, someone continues to tap on you, person does not give you your item back after asking nicely, someone threatens to take away a privilege/item/activity, you receive a bad grade on an exam after being sick, being teased on the playground, losing a game, feeling rejected, someone cuts in line, etc.

Entrées:  Things you do when you are in a full-blown rage.  For example, punch a wall, thrown furniture or other objects, hurt another person (student, teacher, sibling, parent, etc.), hurt yourself, sweep everything off of a desk or other piece of furniture, etc.

Cool Treats: What calms down your anger?  What things help stop your anger?  For example, taking deep breaths, taking a time out, a fidget toy, walking around, exercising, listening to music, drawing, etc.

Soothing Sippers: What can you do every day to lengthen the time between a smoldering starter and an entrée?  What self-care activities can you do that build up your emotional resilience so you do not become angry so easily?  For example, yoga before and after school, read something you enjoy, play fewer video games, give yourself quiet time before and/or after school, listen to positive/happy music, draw, journal, develop a positive hobby, etc.

Antacids:  Who can you call on to help you when your anger becomes so strong you cannot stop being angry on your own?  Who is another person who can help you calm down if you cannot calm yourself down?  Who can you call on to help you problem-solve?  As is sometimes the case with the foods we eat, anger can become so strong we need outside help to neutralize our anger.

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