Many mental health professionals are continuing to work in order to provide care to many people, including new clients as a result of COVID-19 related anxiety. Going on month four of teletherapy has led myself to reach for more activities and therapeutic ideas when working with children. With months of teletherapy, the activities that were once new and exciting, may now become boring. With creativity and continued persistence, here are tips on how to continue engaging children in teletherapy when the ideas are fews and creativity is fleeting.
Email Worksheets or Coloring Pages
If families have access to a printer and are able to be heavily involved in the child’s therapy session, emailing worksheets can be useful. If you are unable to do this, you can mail the worksheets or pages via USPS a week a head of time in order to prepare for the next session. This could be fun for the child to get mail, however, you run the risk of the worksheets being completed before the session.
Observe Child-Directed Play
Sometimes kids just want to play. If you’re able to speak to the caregiver before or at the beginning of the session, request them to set up some toys for the child to play with during the session. As the therapist, this method can work really well to continue the norm of play therapy. You can comment and ask questions to the child about their play to engage in therapeutic practice. This can allow the child to be more engaged, show you their toys at home, as well as provide insight as to if play behavior changes when in the home.
As the therapist, the child will see you on the screen, almost like a TV show. In my previous post, I discussed using print outs of illustrated characters with children – You can also use puppets. For a fun activity, have the child get their own sock to engage in a puppet show alongside you, or have the puppets converse, practice interpersonal skills, or role play social situations.
Watch a Movie or Video Clip
This may depend on the child and their ability to keep attention. If I do play a video for a child, it is is relatively short depending on the child’s age. YouTube has a plethora of helpful cartoons related to coping skills, feelings and behaviors, and family and peer relationships.
Have a Dance Party & Sing
I must admit, there have been many dance parties with the kids I work with. Children have smaller attention spans and require breaks every few minutes. A great way to use their energy, keep them engaged, build rapport, and have fun is to play some music, sing, and dance with them!
Play Dress Up!
A client I spoke with arrived to the video call all dressed up in a superhero costume, and it provided a great tool for the session. If the child has dress up, or if you have costumes in your array of play therapy tools, feel free to have a dress up time! You can imagine a tea party, play house or school, or simply engage in play for whatever the child’s imagination leads.
Always Be Excited & High Energy!
Keep a child’s attention is difficult in person, let alone during teletherapy! To keep the child engaged in the session, especially if you’re goal is to complete the full 45 minutes, it’s important to mirror the child’s energy, language, and observed emotions. Show excitement and be energetic! It is draining and tiring, especially after 45 minutes of high energy and enthusiasm, but it will keep the child tuned in to what you’re saying.
Use the Zoom WhiteBoard
- Coloring with prompts from the therapist, or free drawing period.
- Tic Tac Toe
- Connect Four: You’ll have to draw out the board for this one, but it’s still a great alternative.
- Pictionary: Each person takes a turn drawing something that the other person has to guess. Keep track of the score, if you want to identify a winner at the end.
Using movement in therapy in so important for children, whether this is virtual or in person. As stated above, instilling a dance break during a session could be very useful and fun, and in addition to that so can playing charades. Many times when I’ve used charades in sessions, it’s resulted in lots of laughter and a very attentive child. Not only will the child be able to move about and use creativity and problem solving with their movement, but the therapeutic relationship is strengthened through joyful activities.
Board Games & Card Games
If you both have the same board games, this is a great tool. If you’re doing a board game that has cards or small pieces, you could potentially mail this to the family for the child’s use, or make copies of the cards for the child to use. In this way, they can still actively participate in a board game
As the months wear on in remote work and conducting teletherapy, it is important to rejuvenate your creativity bone in order to provide continued treatment that is not only effective but fun! Working with children is a truly rewarding experience, but it can be difficult to keep the sessions from becoming mundane. Understand that there will be good days and days that could have been better, and that’s okay. Put your best foot forward, and be patient as we navigate ongoing teletherapy, making fun and engaging sessions for kids!