[Samantha] You are listening to episode seven of She's Not Selfish. As this episode is going live, it's Christmas Day and I am so excited and honored and blessed to be able to wish you a very Merry Christmas. This season has become so hustley and bustley, but I really hope that today you're prioritizing relaxation and peace and enjoying time with your family.
Today I'm sharing the second part of my two-part interview with Maureen Francois, about parenting. Today we're talking all about play therapy and specifically principles from play therapy that we can apply in our own homes. Now if you missed part one I want you to hit pause and go back and listen to that first and then come right back here for part two, okay? This is the final piece of my series of interviews with the therapists and co-owners of Wild Hope Counseling and I really hope that you've enjoyed learning with and from them as much as I have.
You know what would be so amazing and appreciated is if you would leave a review for this podcast and let me know how you've been enjoying it the past couple of weeks, what's resonated with you? I would love to hear from you and you have no idea how helpful that is for this show. Now very quickly, I want to give you a brief overview and idea of where we're headed in the coming weeks so that you know what to expect. Next week, I'm going to have a really special New Year's Day episode for you.
Then from there, I'm going to be visiting with Katie Rush. Katie is a pelvic floor physical therapist, and we're going to be scratching the surface of pelvic floor physical therapy. Specifically for women who've ever given birth, ever been pregnant. Then from there, I'm going to be visiting with Tori Weber. Tori and I are going to be talking about fourth-trimester stuff. We'll be discussing nutrition considerations during early postpartum recovery, how to prepare for the fourth trimester, how to support other women who are in the fourth trimester who've recently given birth. All that good stuff is coming. So, here's what I want you to do. If you have not subscribed yet pretty please with a cherry on top, hit subscribe. So that way when episodes release they will automatically be available to you. Cool? All right. Now that you are up to speed let's head over to part two with Maureen. Here we go.
I want to talk a little bit about play therapy. I would love for you to explain to us a little bit about what it is for those of us who don't have a lot of context, or a lot of experience with it. Then also, I want to hear about it's objective and how it seeks to accomplish that. So could you share a little bit on that with us, please?
[Maureen] Absolutely. Really play, is a child's language. Our children don't always have the words or the capacity to fully comprehend situations that have happened. However, their most powerful language is play. What therapy does, is it provides an environment that there aren't a lot of limits in their environment. What I mean by that is, any time someone first comes into my office I'll say, "You know what, you're the boss and you can do almost anything you want." The 'almost' is a pretty key part of that. Because, of course, if there was something that wasn't safe, or if there was ever a safety concern, or there are limits of things that you can't do in here. However, so many times our children are in environments whether that's school or at home, which rules are important. Limits are important, and that's not the point of it, but providing a place to freely play, to freely express, and for them to be the boss. A lot of times they don't have that opportunity.
[Samantha] When children come in and you tell them that they are free to do what they want does it take them some time to be like, "Oh she's actually serious? I can do what I want here.", or are they for the most part just eager to get to it?
[Maureen] I'd say both. Sometimes it's like they'll start playing and exploring a little bit and they're like, "So really, I can do this? I can play with this? So I'm really the boss?" Sometimes that will bring on some question of like, "Oh this is a little bit different." It's all child-led. What I mean by that is my job in the play therapy session is to reflect what the child's doing throughout this session. Reflect emotion, reflect play to them. Sometimes I'll enter in, well, I'm using a technical term, I'll play with them if they want me to. Also if they don't, they have that choice too.
One thing that we see is when children are given a space to have the autonomy to truly play in whatever way they want will a lot of times express narratives of working through different things in their life. Play therapy can be helpful for children who have gone through maybe a traumatic experience, while also children who maybe haven't had traumatic experiences but the parent's just like, "I feel like I'm not sure what to do next." or "If I'm missing something that I just feel like they need a space to express in what way they have, the capacity they have, to help us be more successful in family or at school." Well also, there are times in play therapy we'll work on emotional literacy.
Seeing how in tune is a child with their emotions? Are they able to recognize and notice different feelings? Are they able to recognize that within their body? We'll talk a lot about safety. Who are safe people in their life? Where's a safe place at their house? Where is a safe place at their school to feel calm?
[Samantha] So as they're playing, you're helping them give words to what they're experiencing and what they're thinking, is that right?
[Maureen] Yeah. Sometimes it won't even be putting words to it. It will just be tracking what they're actually doing. I'm putting a narrative to it. I'm not necessarily saying, "Oh you must be feeling this way." or I'm not really mind reading. I'm providing them, or if I'll see change.
What I'm thinking through, as a clinician or a therapist is, what are shifts in play, or what are things in play that I'm seeing? What I mean by that is, what is the intensity? Was there a moment in their play that things got really intense, or that everyone was really yelling at each other? Are there moments of self-soothing play? What I mean by that would be like, laying down and putting a blanket on themselves to feel safe. I'm looking for different things, while also not mind reading a situation of saying, "Well when you pick up the dinosaur this is what that means." I think sometimes that's a misconception of play therapy.
It's looking at things from a little different lens, which I share with parents too of like, "You know this may feel a little bit different to you, because like an adult therapy session you're able to fully tell me about everything that was happening, how it felt, sometimes." And are able to have more of that conversation whereas the conversation that's happening is truly play for a child.
[Samantha] That's so interesting. How does that translate then into when the child comes home or goes to school? What sort of skills, or what sort of changes do you expect to start to observe as a result of play therapy?
[Maureen] Yeah. Parents you don't want to hear this, but at first, and some indicators of knowing that things are working, is a lot of times it will get worse before it gets better. What that means is the child's processing through something.
Sometimes the parent will be like, "I noticed you were having more behaviors, what's going on?" and I'm like, "I'm sure that's so challenging." and also, they're able to express, or able to notice feelings in a different way through play. Then after that, typically a couple weeks later, they'll say, "I've really noticed that things are a lot better." Through that process what we're doing is working with the parents as well.
Really talking about and it can vary from situation to situation, of course, but if it's something maybe going on in the school. What are things that the parent school in us, and myself, can work on to help the child feel successful? How are ways for the children to begin to notice their feelings, and then have a voice to express how they're feeling in school and at home? We're really working on the whole process of emotional literacy, and then finding coping skills to help them have success in school and at home.
[Samantha] So play therapy, it sounds like is very much about the child but there's also a conversation happening with mom and dad and they play a role in that too. Their learning through that process as well from you, the therapist. Is that true?
[Maureen] Exactly. It's such a collaborative process with the child as the primary client in this session, while also the caregivers, the parents are a huge role in helping practice things at home, helping advocate for their child within their home, within their school. So yes, it is very, very collaborative with parents as well.
[Samantha] Is a big piece of this helping the child feel safe in their various environments? Is that one of the goals that you're getting at? Because I hear you saying safety a lot.
[Maureen] Yeah. I'm a huge proponent on safety because I believe that when a child feels physically and emotionally safe then they're able to have success. If something's off in a child's environment at school and they don't feel emotionally safe, then they won't be able to learn as well. So for exactly that, being able to have, to create safety, learn skills and also really working with the parent to help them try new things to have a positive impact in their family system.
[Samantha] Okay. It is so interesting to be thinking about play as a language. It really resonated with me when you said if I'm talking to you I can very thoroughly articulate my thoughts and feelings. And of course, my children are not at a level where they can do that yet.
And knowing that they still have those quite complex feelings and experiences but can't put words to them to know that they can use play to accomplish that same thing it's really fascinating. I'm really curious right now as to whether or not there are things that we as parents can be doing on our own, without the guidance of a therapist, to start to facilitate this in our own homes, or if play therapies are really exclusive to a therapist's office. Are there principles, are there strategies that we can pull from play therapy and apply in a less formal way ourselves, or is that not really feasible?
[Maureen] There are absolutely things that parents can do. Sometimes maybe just being aware of what type of play are you engaging with when you're playing with your child. Is it usually pretty structured like the cars always go on the track, or are you initiating the play or are you allowing your child to initiate play?
Maybe just being there with your kiddo and asking them, offering them the opportunity to play whatever they want. And giving them autonomy within that would definitely be something to keep in mind. Like, how can I offer a different opportunity of play for my kids?
[Samantha] And even in the absence of us being able to understand that play language the way that you can, even in the absence of that, it's still beneficial to just give them that freedom, that autonomy, to play as they will without needing specific types of toys, it can be with their own toys, and just giving them that space to do what they want, how they want it with those items.
[Maureen] That's exactly right. And another thing that I think of is like fostering imagination within that. So a lot of times I think we as adults will be like, we'll name let's say, okay, there's a play cookie and your child will say, "This is a dragon." and a lot of times, we as adults will say, "No that's a cookie." So being curious when your child is imaginative in something and maybe instead of saying, "Actually no you're wrong." even playing with them of saying, "Oh my gosh, that's a dragon? What's your dragon going to do?" Something like that.
I don't know why I just gave that example.
[Samantha] No, it was great. Kind of, ignited that thought for me most recently, was the new Mary Poppins movie that they made. Have you seen that?
[Maureen] No, I haven't seen it yet, but I've heard it's good.
[Samantha] So at one point, she's doing bath time with the kids and all of a sudden they go from the scene in the bathroom with the bathtub to them all being in this huge ocean under the water with all of these fish, and they're swimming around and it's a really cool scene, I think. Because it demonstrates this opportunity to take something that, no this is bath time, and say, "Oh wait, what if we're underwater? Or what if we are on a ship right now?" and letting them take ownership of that. Which, you talking about that just brought that to mind, because that's exactly what I was thinking about during that movie.
But you know what Maureen, I feel like sometimes, I don't know if this is true for others or if this is just me, but I feel like I'm the mother and I'm responsible for making sure this child knows what's up and what's down, and doesn't have all these crazy ideas about stuff. I don't know. You know like, we're supposed to make sure that they know what a cookie is, versus a dinosaur.
Can you talk about how, I don't know maybe the answer is hey it's, "They're going to know what a cookie is ultimately don't worry about it so much." or maybe, "Hey, yeah, there's a time to let them know this is what a cookie is, but it doesn't have to be all the time." What are your thoughts on that?
[Maureen] Absolutely. So a thought I have is, yes, having that time of instructional learning. So something that came up for me in that, was like thinking of colors. If your child is like, "Oh this is green." This is green but it's really blue the whole time, we want to help provide educational pieces in that and connection, while also, there's maybe having a time of play for that, while also if there are other times where it could be more like, "Oh okay, we can pretend right now that that's green. Maybe we can talk about that later, or like with the cookie and dinosaur.
[Samantha] I love that that's our example.
[Maureen] I love that that's the example. I don't know where that came from. Well, I mean, you know like sometimes maybe you have more realistic play in the kitchen area of like, we're really eating cookies. Whereas sometimes we have imaginative play. So there is that balance, exactly what you're saying of, "Okay, how do I provide this education and learning opportunities while also balancing that with imaginative play?" I think that's a super great point. It doesn't always have to be imaginative play and allowing time for that, while also maybe just making a little bit of space for that and then having the educational components too.
[Samantha] So that distinction or that intentionality around creating imaginative time versus educational time, it leads me to this next thought of having structured time or the need for structure, versus that need for independence and for things to flow as they will, because it seems like as humans and certainly for our children they need both structure, seems to be very important. But of course, having those opportunities to just be and do and not have so many limitations. Like what you're talking about with play therapy, where you're just letting them do what they will, and have that autonomy.
Where I'm going with all of this is what does it look like to balance structure versus non-structured time? When I'm thinking about this, I'm thinking about my house where there's a definitive structure to my house. But the way each room looks on daily basis ebbs and flows. Sometimes it gets really messy, sometimes everything is tidy it varies. So is it like we have a structure to our day and then within the day have compartments of opportunity for just messiness, or what are your thoughts on that, if that makes any sense at all?
[Maureen] It totally makes sense. That is wonderful. Another piece is, a consistent and predictable routine is so helpful for a child. Within that, that's exactly right. So you have the structure. I love the analogy you gave of your house. You have the rooms of your house. You have your structure of your day. That's typically, maybe one way, or you have set a schedule, to you typically wake up at this time and go to bed at this time. If that works into your, whatever someone's family routine is like, while in that having some flexibility, of it doesn't have to be, I think of it like we don't want it to be necessarily rigid, while also we want it to be predictable.
What I mean by that, and what we can do practically as parents, we want to have a predictable schedule. So telling our children what they can expect next can help provide that while also providing flexibility for us like, "Hey, we have a playdate I really want to go to, but wait I had this really strict schedule I have to stick to so I can never go to a playdate at that time." Where, there's some truth to that like maybe it's nap time, it really doesn't work. Well while also, "How can I help my children be flexible?"
With that, I think things we can do as parents of in an age-appropriate way, saying, "Hey we're gonna go to Tommy's house, and then our friends will be there, and then we're going to leave right before lunchtime and we'll nap." If they're at that age, I'm thinking of around like the, well you might until you're young infant this, but birth to five range, and even beyond. But those were the examples I was giving for like a playdate situation, of just that predictability, can be huge.
[Samantha] You said, not rigid but predictable?
[Samantha] Okay. And on the same token then having plenty of opportunities for imaginative experiences in play, but also having that educational time as we see fit and as we want to incorporate it throughout our days with our kids.
[Maureen] Absolutely. I realized too I'm giving a lot of, in the perfect situation, in the perfect scenario. These are things to keep in the back of your mind. This is not necessarily if you don't follow this recipe your child's social-emotional regulations will not work or will be different or something. These are just things, food for thought. It's not like you have to use 100 percent of the time type of things. So I hope that helps a little bit.
[Samantha] It does, and I'm remembering right now what you started out by saying earlier in our conversation where you were like, "Listen, kids are resilient beings. It is by no means essential that we, as moms, as parents are perfect all the time." And I say this with my clients a lot too. In prenatal and postnatal fitness, we're not looking at a cookbook of recipes, that's not what corrective exercises are, specifically when we're talking about healing things like diastasis rectus abdominis. Everyone wants the recipe. And it's like, "No it's about what works for you. And part of the process is just finding what your specific body needs, what works for you."
It sounds like it's kind of similar in that, we're just trying out a couple of different things. These are some different options but it's really about testing and finding what works for you and your family and your children. It's not like, do this stuff in this specific order every single day and that's the key to your success. Because if so, I mean I'm already messing this up.
[Maureen] You and me both.
[Samantha] I mean is that right, Maureen? Is it just, "Hey here are the options. Try some stuff out. see what fits." Am I thinking about that the right way?
[Maureen] Yes. Every person will be different. Every child could be different too. So maybe your first child, something works great and you got this certain routine that works great. And then your second child, you try that same thing, and he needs a different flavor to it. He needs something that looks a little bit different than what worked the first time. Which can be so hard to do as a mom.
[Samantha] Right. It's like, "Wait, I thought I had this all figured out. What is going on?"
[Maureen] I know. I know, for me, I went through that with my second daughter. I'm like, "Yep, she's going to sleep just the same as my first daughter." And then I'm, like, "Oh, wake up."
[Samantha] I know each one is so different which is wonderful, but also this whole new set of learning experiences and challenges for us as moms.
[Maureen] Oh my gosh, right.
[Samantha] But thank God for people like you, Maureen, who can light the way. It's a lot.
[Maureen] It is a lot. It can be so much.
[Samantha] I need to let you go soon because I have kept you longer than I intended to, longer than I promised. But this has been so wonderful. I really want to ask one more thing though, Maureen. I'm really wanting to talk about our mental health as moms. Our emotional quote-unquote literacy, like we were talking about. Our ability to work through our own emotions and understand them and how that impacts our families and our children. You touched on it a little bit earlier, but I want your final thoughts and insights on what we as moms need to be doing to take care of ourselves and be introspective as it's appropriate to do so so that we can show up well for the little humans we're trying to raise. So do you have any thoughts on that?
[Maureen] Yeah. And I have a wise colleague too, Jessica, who I think she spoke to this some too. Mothers need to first take care of themselves so that they can be present so that they can have their cup filled up to be able to pour a little bit more into their kid. To have anything to give to whether that's their spouse, their kids, their community in whatever capacity that fits for them. But if we aren't taking care of ourselves first then we won't have the capacity to give our kids what they need.
So doing what moms need for themselves is not selfish. So many times I think that's a misconception of like, "I really just want to lay here and I have a pile of laundry." You know, evaluating that a little bit but honoring what do you need for yourself in that situation? Allowing yourself as a mom to give yourself what you need. Also in the realm of like parenting, so many times parents are doing so many great things and everything I share today, it's not, you might be like, "Oh my gosh, I'm doing things so different." or "All the suggestions seem like things that I could feel guilty or feel like I'm doing wrong."
The thing I found so so exciting is that to try something to see if it works in your world. And don't try everything at the same time because you'll be so overwhelmed and you probably won't experience as much success. Gift yourself with time for you, to give you what you need so then you can give those around you, be present for them and give them the pieces they need too.
[Samantha] I love that and I really want to encourage the women who are listening to not hear this episode and take it as, "Gosh I have so much I need to try, and gosh now I feel guilty because I haven't been doing the right things." or "Man I've been blowing up my kids lately, I'm the worst." But to hear this as the encouragement that it is to say we have some options to make things maybe a little bit better and easier than they have been. And when we have those options that can be exciting and encouraging to say, "Oh my gosh, there's some stuff I haven't tried and there's hope that maybe those things are going to make things a little bit better, a little bit easier for me and my kids." I want to encourage them to hear this as the encouragement that it is and not in any way the opposite of that, to be saying, "Oh you're not doing things right."
Oh so you may not know this Maureen, but when I was naming this podcast She's Not Selfish. I was actually thinking the very thoughts that you just articulated. That mothers taking care of themselves is not selfish, but in fact, it's wisdom. We are wise to take care of ourselves. And of course, there is more to what we do than just raising children and pouring into our children and our families. But that's a really important part of what we do. And in order to do that well, like you said, we have to have a full cup. Because we've all heard it before, you can't pour from an empty cup. So I really appreciate you sharing those thoughts and I know that those are valuable for our listeners to hear too, so thank you for that, Maureen. And thank you so much for all of your time and for coming on the show today.
[Maureen] Thank you. It was such a gift to be able to spend time with you and your community. And I just, so grateful and so encouraged by so many mothers out there. You go mommas, you're doing it.
[Samantha] Amen! So, Maureen if there are women listening who are like, "Oh, I'm going to try some of this stuff out. I want to see how this goes." And maybe they try it out and they want to get in touch with you to let you know like, "Hey this is how it went." or, "I need some more tips in this area." How can they get in touch with you?
[Maureen] Yes! Oh, I would love to hear from anyone who tries it. And also, if you're like, "This totally flopped." Tell me. I want to know that too, and maybe we can spice it up, see what we could do differently. But I would love to hear from anyone.
We have our website. It's Wild Hope Kansas City. Then we have our Instagram. We're pretty active on there, and we just love to hear from anyone. And it's just been so fun to see our community form, and love for you to be a part of it.
[Samantha] Oh fantastic, okay. And for those of you listening who didn't have the opportunity to tune into the previous episodes, I interviewed Maureen's colleagues, Jessica and Stevie, as well, all regarding different topics. So with Jessica, we talked about perinatal mental health. With Stevie, we talked about healing from trauma. And now with Maureen, we talked all about parenting and play therapy. So it's just been this really amazing compilation of information and perspective that you guys have shared, so it's really been wonderful to meet the ladies of Wild Hope. You guys are doing some great work.
[Maureen] Thank you. We truly enjoy working with each other and serving the Kansas City community so it's such an honor.
[Samantha] Well good deal, Maureen. Well, I'm going to finally keep my promise to you and let you get off of this darn interview, but it's been so fun.
[Maureen] It was so fun. Thank you so much.
[Samantha] Okay. Was that not so helpful? Isn't Maureen wonderful? Well, I have some really good news for you. If today's episode resonated with you, or maybe you're really interested in gaining even more practical tips, tools, strategies, and knowledge when it comes to parenting, Maureen and her colleague Jessica are rolling out a brand new parenting workshop in 2020. This workshop is going to consist of more information centered around child development, brain development, more parenting skills that you can start applying immediately, which, heck yes, that's amazing. As well as more ways to be a connected parent.
So the way that they're building this out is very cool. They're going to give you access to a monthly video that's going to be full of really valuable information, and then you're going to have the opportunity to join Maureen, Jessica, and other moms in a monthly group phone call. And the conversation in that call is going to really focus on helping you practice and strengthen the new skills that you're going to be learning. So if you're interested in more information about this workshop, all of the contact information for Maureen and her colleagues is available in the show notes of this episode.
So go to the show notes, find their contact information, get in touch with them so that you can learn more and get signed up for this awesome resource