Louise, Voyage Play Therapy
Hi! I’m Louise and I live with my gorgeous 7 year old son in sunny South Wales! We used to live in a small rural village I had grown up in but now live right in the heart of town and that’s taken some adjustment for us both. I take my inspiration from the families I work with – the children I meet have had more than most adults thrown at them and still want to love and live life, even if they’re finding it hard to when I first meet them.
Lots of the families I work with don’t know that I’ve got a first class dance degree and that meant I got to spend 3 years having a load of fun dancing as well as rolling around the floor and analysing movements! I was really academic in school so that choice of degree surprised a lot of people, including myself. This experience with dance was a perfect complement to play therapy as the playroom can bring lots of surprises and I am used to responding to what is unfolding without judgement and with delight and full attention.
What is your family’s favourite time to spend time together?
My son spends alternate weekends with his father so time together when he’s not at school or other activities is really precious. His favourite thing to do is to create a cinema night at home, making tickets for all his cuddly toys and lining them up just right. During lockdown we extended that to having a ‘family sleepover’ too, complete with pillow fight - the perfect way to expend some energy! My happy place is being outdoors with him and we both love the beach so look forward to getting to that more and more as restrictions lift. We love all the nautical inspiration at Arabella Jones!
How do you encourage your child to talk about his emotions?
I try and model emotional literacy all day long, in terms of giving him vocabulary to use and commenting on anything we watch or read about how the characters may be feeling – it perhaps exasperates most of the time but he is a talker! Bedtime is a tricky time of day for us; it’s when my son needs the most time to unload and unwind and it’s often when I’m thinking I need to tidy up or finish off some work and I have to remind myself he needs me. We’ve started using a journal, and at first he hated it but he is slowly getting in the habit of clearing his mind using that. We are also a Christian family and bedtime prayers for us often leads to a release of emotion and processing about the day. I know some families can do this with gratitude lists and affirmation cards.
Can you recommend a mindfulness activity for military children?
It can be so hard for military families! They are simultaneously being told their parents are heroes, leading to them feeling guilty for missing them and perhaps finding it hard to connect when they do come home and not wanting them to leave again. I love the work of Dr Karen Treisman and in one of her books about ‘Presley the Pug’ they talk about creating a ‘mind retreat’ – it’s a place you can go in your mind with no tools or tricks and helps you feel calm, clear your mind and regulate yourself. The more you can practise this while you’re not feeling sad, worried or overwhelmed, the more you’ll be able to access it when you are. (You can read more about Dr Treisman and Presley the Pug here.)
What is your top tip for maintaining a healthy family relationship when one care giver is away from the family home?
Doing what I do, I believe that quality of contact matters just as much, if not more than quantity! We can get so caught up on making sure we see family every week at 7pm on the dot but what if your child is upset and you don’t know what to do? Flexibility is key and military families will know that more than most!
Try to keep the connections child-led as much as possible, for example listening to their interests, no matter how random they may seem. You could also suggest playing games together like the yes/no game (ask questions to guess what they're thinking, but they can't say yes or no!) or the exercise, "What can you see from your window?" All of these things will help avoid an over-emphasis on how the adults are feeling, in turn reducing the child’s perceived need to look after the remaining adult and reminding them how to have fun together.
What can you see from your window? is an activity which a child and caregiver can take part in over the phone. Simply, each person on the phone describes what they can see from their window to the other person, to help establish a picture in the mind of the other. This enhances the child's natural story-telling ability, especially if you add in a little bit of fantasy..."and a massive dinosaur is coming around the corner!" Giving one another a taste of what life is like can make the child and caregiver feel closer together. Not only this, the child may not understand what life is really like for their caregiver - but learning how to tell them what they can see rather than show them, improves emotional logic and reasoning (including empathy and vocabulary), and will lead them to greater understanding of their caregiver's circumstances.
About Voyage Play Therapy...
Voyage Play Therapy is a children’s counselling service, running one to one therapy sessions and group work. We also work with parents, carers and children together and we are developing a project for families who have had a caregiver away from the family home. We use play therapy as sometimes children just don’t have the words, may need to regress to an earlier time in their life, or just need space to be free. It’s amazing seeing how families grow in the process and so we make sure that we are there for a decent amount of time rather than one or two sessions, which wouldn’t be too therapeutic. We can now also offer sessions online so there’s no need to be local, especially for parent support.