Category Archives: Tough Kids

Using Therapeutic Storytelling with Children: Five Easy Steps

Books

Everybody loves a good story.

Good stories grab the listener’s attention and don’t let go. I’ve been reading and telling stories for as long as I can remember. Whether its kindergartners, clients, or college students, I’ve found that stories settle people into a receptive state that looks something like a hypnotic trance.

Nowadays, mostly we see children and teens entranced with their electronic devices, television, and movies. Although it’s nice to see young people in a calm and focused state, the big problem with devices (other than their negative effects on sleep, attention span, weight, brain development, and nearly everything else having to do with living in the real world), is that we (parents, caretakers, and concerned adults), don’t have control over the electronic stories our children see and hear.

Storytelling is a natural method for teaching and learning. Children learn from stories. We’re teaching when we tell them. We might as well add our intentionally selection of stories to whatever our children might be learning from the internet.

Way back in 1997, Rita and I wrote a book called Tough Kids, Cool Counseling. One of the chapters focused on how to use therapeutic storytelling with children and teens. Although the content of Tough Kids, Cool Counseling is dated, the ideas are still solid. The following section is good material for counselors, psychotherapists, parents, and other adults who want to influence young people.

In counseling, storytelling was originally developed as a method for bypassing client resistance. Stories are gentle methods that don’t demand a response, but that stimulate, “thinking, experiencing, and ideas for problem resolution” (Lankton & Lankton, 1989, pp. 1–2)

Storytelling is an alternative communication strategy. For counselors, it should be used as a technique within the context of an overall treatment plan, rather than as a treatment approach in and of itself. For parents and caregivers, stories should be fun, and engaging . . . and told in a way to facilitate learning.

Story construction. Even if you’re an excellent natural storyteller, it can help to have a guide or structure for story construction and development. I like using a framework that Bill Cook, a Montana psychologist, wrote about and shared with me. He uses the acronym S-T-O-R-I, to organize the parts of a therapeutic story.

S: Set the stage for the story. To set the stage, you should create a scenario that focuses on a child living in a particular situation. The child can be a human or an animal or an animated object. The central child character should be described in a way that’s positive and appealing. Because much of my work back in the 1990s involved working with boys who were angry and impulsive, the following story features a boy who has an arguing problem. Depending on your circumstances, you could easily feature a girl or a child who doesn’t have a particular gender identity.

Here’s the beginning of the story.

Once upon a time there was a really smart boy. His name was Lancaster. Lancaster was not only smart, he was also a very cool dresser. He wore excellent clothes and most everyone who met Lancaster immediately was impressed with him. Lancaster lived with his mother and sister in the city.

In this example, the client’s name was Larry. If it’s not too obvious, you can give the central character a name that sounds similar to your client’s name. You may also develop a story that has other similarities to your client’s life.

T: Tell about the problem. This stage includes a problem with which the central character is struggling. It should be a problem similar to your client’s or your child’s. This stage ends with a statement about how no one knows what to do about this very difficult and perplexing problem.

Every day, Lancaster went to school. He went because he was supposed to, not because he liked school. You see, Lancaster didn’t like having people tell him what to do. He liked to be in charge. He liked to be the boss. The bad news is that his teachers at school liked to be in charge too. And when he was at home, his mother liked to be the boss. So Lancaster ended up getting into lots of arguments with his teachers and mother. His teachers were very tired of him and about to kick him out of school. To make things even worse, his mother was so mad at him for arguing all the time that she was just about to kick him out of the house. Nobody knew what to do. Lancaster was arguing with everyone and everyone was mad at Lancaster. This was a very big problem.

O: Organize a search for helpful resources. During this part of the story, the central character and family try to find help to solve the problem. This search usually results in identifying a wise old person or animal or alien creature as a special helper. The wise helper lives somewhere remote and has a kind, gentle, and mysterious quality. In this case, because Larry (the client) didn’t have many positive male role models in his life, I chose to make the wise helper a male. Obviously, you can control that part of the story to meet the child’s needs and situation.

Because the situation kept getting worse and worse and worse, almost everyone had decided that Lancaster needed help—except Lancaster. Finally, Lancaster’s principal called Lancaster’s mom and told her of a wise old man who lived in the forest. The man’s name was Cedric and, apparently, in the past, he had been helpful to many young children and their families. When Lancaster’s mother told him of Cedric, Lancaster refused to see Cedric. Lancaster laughed and sneered and said: “The principal is a Cheese-Dog. He doesn’t know the difference between his nose and a meteorite. If he thinks it’s a good idea, I’m not doing it!”

But eventually Lancaster got tired of all the arguing and he told his mom “If you buy me my favorite ice cream sundae every day for a week, I’ll go see that old Seed-Head man. Lancaster’s mom pulled out her purse and asked, “What flavor would you like today?”

After hiking 2 hours through the forest, they arrived at Cedric’s tree house late Saturday morning. They climbed the steps and knocked. A voice yelled: “Get in here now, or the waffles will get cold!” Lancaster and his mom stepped into the tree house and were immediately hit with a delicious smell. Cedric waved to them like old friends, had them sit at the kitchen table, a served them a stack of toasty-hot strawberry waffles, complete with whipped cream and fresh maple syrup. They ate and talked about mysteries of the forest. Finally, Cedric leaned back, and asked, “Now what do you two want . . . other than my strawberry waffles and this pleasant conversation?”

Lancaster suddenly felt shy. His mom, being a sensitive mom, looked up at Cedric’s big hulking face and described how Lancaster could argue with just about anyone, anytime, anywhere. She described his tendency to call people mean names and mentioned that Lancaster was in danger of being kicked out of school. Of course, Lancaster occasionally burst out with: “No way!” and “I never said that,” and even an occasional, “You’re stupider than my pet toad.”

After Lancaster’s mom stopped talking, Cedric looked at Lancaster. He grinned and chuckled. Lancaster didn’t like it when people laughed at him, so he asked, “What are YOU laughing about?” Cedric replied, “I like that line. You’re even stupider than my pet toad. You’re funny. I’m gonna try that one out. How about if we make a deal? Both you and I will say nothing but “You’re even stupider than my pet toad” in response to everything anyone says to us. It’ll be great. We’ll have the most fun this week ever. Okay. Okay. Make me a deal.” Cedric reached out his hand.

Lancaster was confused. He just automatically reached back and said, “Uh, sure.”

Cedric quickly stood up and motioned Lancaster and his mom to the door, smiling and saying, “Hey you two toad-brains, see you next Saturday!!”

Searching for helpful resources can be framed in many ways. For counselors, you might construct it to be similar to what children and parents experience during their search for a counselor. Consistent with the classic Mrs. Piggle Wiggle book series, the therapeutic helper in the story has tremendous advantages over ordinary counselors. In the Lancaster example, Cedric gets to propose a maladaptive and paradoxical strategy without risk, because the whole process is simply a thought experiment. Depending on your preference and situation, you can use whatever “treatment” strategy you like.

R: Refine the therapeutic intervention. In this storytelling model, the initial therapeutic strategy isn’t supposed to be effective. Instead, the bad strategy that Cedric proposes is designed for a core learning experience. During the fourth stage (refinement) the central character learns an important lesson and begins the behavior change process.

Both Lancaster and Cedric had a long week. They called everyone they saw a “stupid toad-brain” and said, “You’re even stupider than my pet toad” and the results were bad. Lancaster got kicked out of school. That morning, when they were on their way to Cedric’s, Lancaster got slugged in the mouth for insulting their taxi driver and he was sporting a fat lip.

When Lancaster stepped into Cedric’s tree house, he noticed that Cedric had a black eye.

“Hey, Mr. Toad-Brain, what happened to your eye?” asked Lancaster. “Probably the same thing that happened to your face, fish lips!” replied Cedric.

Lancaster and Cedric sat staring at each other in an awkward silence. Lancaster’s mom decided to just sit quietly to see what would happen. She was felt surprisingly entertained.

Cedric broke the silence. “Here’s what I think. I don’t think everyone appreciates our humor. In fact, nobody I met seemed to like the idea of having their brain compared to your pet toad’s brain. They never even laughed once. Everybody got mad at me. Is that what things are usually like for you?”

Lancaster muttered back, “Uh, well, yeah.” But this week was worse. My best friend said he doesn’t want to be best friends and my principal got so mad at me that he put my head in the toilet of the boys’ bathroom and flushed it.”

Cedric rolled his eyes and laughed, “And I thought I had a bad week. Well, Lanny, mind if I call you Lanny?”

“Yeah, whatever, Just don’t call me anything that has to do with toads.”

“Well Lanny, the way I see it, we have three choices. First, we can keep on with the arguing and insulting. Maybe if we argue even harder and used different insults, people will back down and let us have things our way. Second, we can work on being really nice to everyone most of the time, so they’ll forgive us more quickly when we argue with them in our usual mean and nasty way. And third, we can learn to argue more politely, so we don’t get everyone upset by calling them things like ‘toad brains’ and stuff like that.”

After talking their options over with each other and with Lancaster’s mom, Cedric and Lancaster decided to try the third option: arguing more politely. In fact, they practiced with each other for an hour or so and then agreed to meet again the next week to check on how their new strategy worked. Their practice included inventing complimentary names for each other like “Sweetums” or “Tulip” and surprising people with positive responses like, “You’re right!” or “Yes boss, I’m on it!”

As seen in the narrative, Lanny and Cedric learn lessons together. The fact that they learn them together is improbable in real life. However, the storytelling modality allows counselor and client the opportunity to truly form a partnership and enact Aaron Beck’s concept of collaborative empiricism.

I: Integrating the lesson. In the final stage of this storytelling model, the central character articulates the lesson(s) learned.

Months later, Lancaster got an invitation from Cedric for an ice cream party. When Lancaster arrived, he realized the party was just for him and Cedric. Cedric held up his glass of chocolate milk and offered a toast. He said, “To my friend Lanny. I could tell when I first met you that you were very smart. Now, I know that you’re not only smart, but you are indeed wise. Now, you’re able to argue politely and you only choose to argue when you really feel strongly about something. You’re also as creative in calling people nice names as you were at calling them nasty names. And you’re back in school and, as far as I understand, your life is going great. Thanks for teaching me a great lesson.”

As Lanny raised his glass for the toast, he noticed how strong and good he felt. He had learned when to argue and when not to argue. But even more importantly, he had learned how to say nice things to people and how to argue without making everyone mad at him. The funny thing was, Lanny felt happier. Mostly, all those mad feelings that had been inside him weren’t there anymore.

At the end of this story (or whatever story you decide to use), you can choose to directly discuss the “moral of the story” or not. In many cases, leaving the story’s message unstated is useful. Or you might ask the child, “What do you think of this story?”

Letting the child consider the message provides an opportunity for intellectual stimulation and may aid in moral development. Although it would be nice to claim that therapeutic storytelling causes immediate behavior change, the more important outcome is that storytelling provides a way for an adult and a child to have pleasant interactions around a story . . . with the possibility that, over time, positive behavior change may occur.

Bozeman Workshops on Parenting

I’m just about to hit the road to Bozeman to provide a short class and evening presentation for Thrive and the Big Sky Youth Empowerment Program (BYEP). These are two fantastic organizations and I’m honored to make the trip and spend time talking about youth and how parents can move toward being the parents they want to be.

The 1:30pm presentation is titled, “Strategies and Techniques for Influencing and Motivating Children and Teenagers” and the powerpoints are here: Thrive Bozeman Motivation 2019

The 6:00pm workshop is at the Bozeman Public Library and is titled, “Transforming Explosive Tantrums Into Cooperation: Strategies for Helping Children (and Caretakers) Achieve Emotional Regulation.” Yep. . . that’s a mouthful. Here’s the powerpoint: Thrive Bozeman Explosive Solutions 2019

I also have a summary handout for participants here: Thrive Explosive Handout 2019

If you want more information about Thrive and BYEP and the cool and important work they do, you can find Thrive information here: https://allthrive.org/

And BYEP here:  https://www.byep.org/

Okay. Now, on to the important stuff: Go Griz!

Hatches B

 

How to Make a Collaborative Plan for Terminating Counseling without Ever Using the Word Termination

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Not long ago I noticed some of my excellent and well-intended supervisees talking with their clients about “termination.” They would say things like, “We need to prepare for termination” or “Let’s talk about termination today.” When this happened, I’d get nervous, squirm a bit, and eventually find a way to tell my supervisees that, although we use the word termination all the time when talking with each other ABOUT counseling, we shouldn’t use it when talking with clients DURING counseling.

Instead of saying termination, it’s preferable to talk about final sessions, or the ending of counseling, or to use normal and jargon-free words that speak to the reality that all good things—including counseling—must end. Sometimes the number of counseling sessions possible is dictated in advance by employee assistance program guidelines or insurance companies; other times, clients and counselors have more freedom to work together as long as the work is helpful or productive. Either way, ongoing conversations linking goals to progress is a part of an evidence-based approach to counseling and psychotherapy. Effective counselors connect the “ending” of counseling with the goals that were, in the beginning of counseling, collaboratively identified (and then possibly modified as needed).

Although you should use your own words, statements like some of the following can help you talk with clients or students about termination without using the word termination.

  • “Let’s talk about how our counseling is going and whether we’re making progress toward your goals”
  • “How do you feel about our counseling together?”
  • “I’d love to talk about what I can do differently to keep helping you move forward toward your goals.”

Speaking of termination—and now I’m speaking to you and not my clients—below you’ll find a Termination Checklist that you might find helpful as you talk with your students about preparing for termination. As will everything, this checklist is imperfect, but it’s a good start to help all of us address the ending of counseling, before counseling actually ends.

Termination Checklist

[Adapted from Sommers-Flanagan, J., and Sommers-Flanagan, R., (2007).
Tough Kids, Cool Counseling: User-Friendly Approaches with Challenging Youth.
Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association]

This is a guide to help you think about termination—even though some of the details will be different for you and your client(s).

_____ 1. At the outset and throughout counseling, identify progress in the movement toward termination (e.g., “Before our meeting today, I noticed we have 4 more sessions left,” or “You are doing so well at home, at school, and with your friends. . . let’s talk about how much longer you’ll want or need to come for counseling”).

_____ 2. Reminisce about early sessions or the first time you and your client met. For example: “I remember something you said when we first met, you said: ‘there’s no way in hell I’m gonna talk with you about anything important.’ Remember that? I have it right here in my notes. You weren’t exactly excited about coming for counseling.”

_____ 3. Identify and describe positive behaviors, attitude, and/or emotional changes. This is part of the process of providing feedback regarding problem resolution and goal attainment: “I’ve noticed something about you that has changed. Do you mind if I share what I’ve noticed?” [Client gives permission]. It used to be that you wouldn’t let adults get close to you. And you wouldn’t accept compliments from adults. Now, from what you and your parents tell me and from how you act in here, it’s obvious that you give adults a chance. You don’t automatically push adults away from you. I think that’s a good thing.”

_____ 4. You should acknowledge, in advance, that the end of counseling is coming up, but there’s a possibility you’ll see each other in the future. “Our next session will be our last session. I guess there’s a chance we might see each other sometime, at the mall or somewhere. If we do see each other, I hope it’s okay for me to say hello. But I want you to know that I’ll wait for you to say hello first. And of course, if we see each other in public, I’ll never say anything about you having been in counseling.”

_____ 5. Identify a positive personal attribute that you noticed during counseling. This should be a personal characteristic separate from your client’s goals: “From the beginning of our time together, I’ve always enjoyed your sense of humor. You’re really creative and really funny, but you can be serious too. Thanks for letting me see both those sides. It took courage for you to get serious and tell me how you’ve been feeling about your mom.”

_____ 6. If there’s unfinished business (and there always will be) provide encouragement for continued work and personal growth: “Of course, your life isn’t perfect, but I have confidence that you’ll keep working on communicating well with your sister and those other things we’ve been talking about.” You may want to say that even though your client doesn’t “need” counseling, choosing to come back for counseling in the future might be helpful: “You know some people come to counseling to work on big problems; other people come because they find counseling helps them be a better person; and other people just like counseling. You might decide you want start up again for any of these reasons.”

_____ 7. Provide opportunities for feedback to you: “I’d like to hear from you. What did you think was most helpful about coming to counseling? What did you think was least helpful?” You can add to this any genuine statements about things you wish you’d done differently. For example, if your client got angry at you for misunderstanding something and this was processed earlier, you might say: “And of course I wish I had heard you correctly and understood you the first time around on that [issue], but I’m glad we were able to talk through it and keep working together.”

_____ 8. If it’s possible, let the client know that he or she may return for counseling in the future: “I hope you know you can come back for a meeting sometime in the future if you want or need to.”

_____ 9. Make a statement about your hope for the client’s positive future: “I’ll be thinking of you and hoping that things work out for the best. Of course, like I said in the beginning, I’m hoping you get what you want out of life, just as long as it’s legal and healthy.”

_____ 10. As needed, listen to and discuss how your client is feeling about ending counseling. Don’t make this into a big deal, but offer opportunities for the client to say “I can hardly wait for the end of this counseling crap” or “I wish we could keep meeting.” Whatever your client is feeling about termination warrants respectful listening.

_____ 11. Consider a parting gift. Although I don’t routinely recommend this with adults, with young clients you might give a meaningful gift at the end of counseling. It could be anything from a painted rock to a blank notebook for writing or a written card. The point is to give a gift that’s not especially expensive, but that might hold meaning for your client in the future.

For more information on termination with youth, go to: https://www.amazon.com/Tough-Kids-Cool-Counseling-User-Friendly-ebook/dp/B00QYU630Q/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1550512844&sr=1-7&keywords=sommers-flanagan

Why Kids Lie: The Podcast

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I still recall the first chapter of the first statistics textbook I ever read. It was titled, Lying with Statistics. Pretty cool title. At least I think that was the title. Is it still a lie if I think I’m remembering something accurately, but I get a few details wrong? Maybe it’s a partial lie. In psychology, we call that confabulation.

We all know first-hand about lying. Maybe we tried it out ourselves, in the past, of course. Or maybe we still engage in a little dissembling here or there. And, undoubtedly, we’ve likely been on the other end of a lie. Is that called being on the “butt-end” of a lie? If not, it should be, because that’s how it feels.

How about for you? How does it feel to tell a lie? Does it feel different when you get away with it versus when you get caught? How does it feel when someone lies to you? I can answer these questions from my perspective, but this post isn’t about me. It’s about you, your children, your friends, your colleagues at work, and obviously, it’s about American politicians. In particular, it’s about you and your children. If you’re like most parents (and humans), when your children lie to you, you might feel some flashes of anger. Although the anger is natural, in our Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast episode on “Why Kids Lie,” we recommend trying to follow the old Families First Boston motto of, “Get curious, not furious.”

Like everything, lying is developmental. Most of us lied about something, sometime, while growing up. But for most of us (I hope), the usefulness of lying started fading and was replaced by the usefulness and value of being honest. Our hope for you is that, if your children are lying, you can help them grow out of it.

Below is the blurb about this week’s PPPP episode. As usual, you can listen on iTunes (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting-podcast/id1170841304?mt=2) or Libsyn (http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/) and you can follow the PPPP on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/PracticallyPerfectParenting/).

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When it comes to boastful lying, there’s no better example than Penelope, one of Kristen Wiig’s characters on SNL. Penelope is incessantly popping up here and there, basically lying her ass off. The purpose of Penelope’s lies appear relatively straightforward. She seems to be insecure on the inside, therefore, she boasts and brags about her amazing accomplishments, constantly “one-upping” anything that anyone else says.

On second thought, maybe there’s another fictional-nonfiction character who does her one better in the lying department, but let’s not go there.

This Practically Perfect Parenting podcast on lying focuses on two key issues: (1) Why children lie . . . and (2) How parents can handle their children’s lying in ways that encourage honesty.

Sara and John review many different motivations for lying. These include, but are not limited to Penelope’s ego-boosting motivation. For parents, it can be helpful to understand the goals of your children’s lies. Obviously (or maybe not so obviously), if your children lie because they’re afraid to admit they did something wrong, then using harsh punishment with your children may make them even more afraid to tell you the truth and more inclined to lie and more likely to become even better liars.

Not surprisingly, in this episode, John tells a few lies. You’ll have to listen to see how Sara handles him.

Tough Kids Workshop Day Two Handouts

Tough Kids Image

Right now I’m in the middle of a two-day workshop on working with challenging parents and youth . . . and loving it. If you’re not attending this workshop, you’re missing the best two day workshop ever (at least until April, when I do another two-day workshop). But even if you’re not in the room, you’re still welcome to access these handouts if you like.

Here they are:

UM Workshop 2018 Day II REV

 

 

UM Workshop 2018 Day 2 Handout 2

Upcoming Workshops!

John II

Coming up in March and April, I’ve got two, two-day professional workshops scheduled at the University of Montana. Together, these workshops can earn you 2-credits through the U of M . . . or you can enroll for continuing education credit (one workshop = 2 days = 13 CE hours). Whatever you decide, coming to Missoula in early March and early April is pretty fabulous. We’ve scheduled these workshops for the first Friday and Saturday in Missoula to coincide with the First Friday Art Walk. That way you can workshop during the day and walk around downtown Missoula and check out fantastic Montana art Friday evening.

The workshops and their descriptions are below:

March 2 and 3, 8:30am to 4:30pm: Working with Challenging Youth and Parents . . .  and Loving It

Counseling difficult youth and challenging parents can be immensely frustrating or splendidly gratifying. The truth of this statement is so obvious that the supportive reference, at least according to many teenagers is, “Duh!” Using storytelling, video clips, live demonstrations, group discussion, and skill-building break-out sessions, John will present essential evidence-based principles and over 20 specific techniques for influencing “tough” clients or students. Techniques for working with youth will include, but are not limited to: (a) the affect bridge, (b) what’s good about you?, (c) empowered storytelling, (d) generating behavioral alternatives, (e) the three-step emotional change technique, and many more. Dr. Sara Polanchek will join John for the parenting portion of the workshop. They will describe essential principles for working effectively with parents, how to conduct brief parenting consultations using a positive, solution-focused model, and strategies for providing parents with specific suggestions and advice to parents. Issues related to ethics and culture will be highlighted and discussed throughout this two-day workshop.

Here’s a link to the registration form for both workshops. Registration Form for JSF Workshops 2018

If you want to call for more information: Call 406-243-5252 and leave a message if our administrative person is away. Or you can always email me: john.sf@mso.umt.edu

April 6 and 7, 8:30am to 4:30pm: Variations on the Clinical Interview: Collaborative Approaches to Mental Status Examinations, Suicide Assessment, and Suicide Interventions

The clinical interview is the headwaters from which all mental health assessment and interventions flow. In this workshop, following an overview of clinical interviewing principles and practice, skills training for conducting the mental status examination (MSE) and suicide assessment interviews will be provided. Participants will learn MSE terminology, common symptom clusters and presentations, and strategies through which the MSE can be more collaborative and user-friendly. Additionally, participants will learn a flexible model for conducting suicide assessments. This model features eight core suicide dimensions and techniques for directly and collaboratively questioning clients about suicide ideations, previous attempts, hopelessness, and more. Five suicide interventions will be featured: alternatives to suicide; separating suicide intent from the self; interpersonal re-connection; neodissociation; and safety-planning.

One last note: On Wednesday, February 14, I’ll be doing my annual 1/2 day workshop on Tough Kids, Cool Counseling in the Schools at the annual meeting of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP). We’re in Chicago this year. So if you happen to be in Chicago, check out the NASP conference. https://www.nasponline.org/professional-development/nasp-2018-annual-convention

 

 

 

The Extra California Association for School Psychologists Handout

This morning I’m in Orange County, CA on my way to Chicago from Missoula and, naturally, feeling a little emotionally dysregulated. I never used to like the term emotional dysregulation much, but now I think it’s pretty good. Among other things, relational disruptions, travel, and trauma can all produce a mix of emotions that might be aptly described as emotional dysregulation. Recently, I’ve had an experience where I find my response is relatively equal and shifting parts of excitement and anxiety. It’s not a terrible experience; I know there’s positive excitement in there somewhere. But sometimes it gets overshadowed by the anxiety.

Back to Orange County. The link below takes all the CASP participants (and other interested parties) to the “long form” of the presentation for today, which is quite surprisingly titled, “Tough Kids, Cool Counseling.”

 

CASP Extra Handout