girl snow

It’s Snowing!

It’s Snowing!. (click to watch video)

Nothing better than seeing kids enjoying life…yes we make a big deal when it snows in Dallas :-)

Highland Village Texas | Christa McAuliffe Elementary took an early release to enjoy the snow and cherish the joy being children.

Thank you Jennifer Mattingly – principle.

How Parents Can Help Children Through Traumatic Events

By Rise VanFleet Guest Blogger. Rise VanFleet, PhD, RPT-S, CDBC
Child/Family Psychologist
Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor
Certified Dog Behavior Consultant
In practice for nearly 40 years, with specialties in traumatic events, chronic medical illness, strenghening parent-child relationships (esp. Filial Therapy), and Animal Assisted Play Therapy. Author of dozens of books, manuals, chapters, and articles on play therapy, Filial Therapy, AAPT, and canine behavior.

Too often our world is shaken by traumatic events such as natural disasters (e.g., tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods), war, school and community violence, acts of terrorism, accidents, housefires, life-threatening illness, separations, loss of a pet, kidnappings, and so on. Such events can leave all of us feeling helpless, and children may be particularly reactive to events that make them feel unsafe. Children who are directly exposed to such events can become traumatized, and the emotional impact of trauma can last a very long time if it goes unnoticed. Some children are exposed to trauma indirectly through sensationalized or repetitive newscasts or by hearing and seeing others‘ emotional reactions, and there’s evidence that children can be traumatized by this indirect contact with trauma as well. It’s important that parents have information about trauma, its impact on children, and how to help their children understand and cope with these events.

When something traumatic occurs, it’s important to give children an honest but simple explanation of what happened. They are bound to hear about it through television, schoolmates, or overheard adult conversations, so it’s best if their parents or primary caregivers play an active role in helping them understand the event. It’s also important to reassure children that you, their parents, will do everything you can to keep them safe. Some children blame themselves when bad things happen, so parents need to tell them firmly that it’s not their fault.

Caregivers should limit children’s exposure to newscasts about traumatic events. Broadcasts are geared toward adults, and children may not have the reasoning abilities or coping mechanisms to deal with repeated views of people crying, buildings on fire, and so on. Although children’s programs often portray violence, the emotional tone of the news conveys its “reality” and children and adolescents can become extremely frightened, whether or not they show it. You need not restrict their exposure entirely, but screen carefully what they do see!

Children who are roughly 3 to 12 years of age, given the opportunity, will often play out scenes from a traumatic event. Sometimes older children will, too. For example, following a car accident, parents might see their children playing out car crashes and rescues with their toys. When parents see this, they might worry that it’s damaging somehow for the child to play out the traumatic situation. Actually, it’s often just the opposite: it can help the child cope better. Just as we adults need to talk with others after experiencing something frightening, sad, or devastating, children need to play through their feelings and reactions to the trauma. It can be very beneficial if parents allow their children to play this way while showing acceptance of the child’s feelings. To stop such play can cut off the child’s primary means of coping. Of course, children should be distracted to some other activity if they are playing in ways that are actually dangerous to themselves or others, or if the child is becoming obviously upset by the play. If a child constantly plays out the traumatic event and seems unable to think about anything else, then limits should be set on the amount of time spent playing out the traumatic events. (If children’s play appears to be upsetting the child further or if they seem “obsessed” with their trauma play, parents should consider a consult with a mental health professional, as these behaviors might signal that the child is already traumatized. If children’s play appears robotic and the child seems “not there” while playing, a consult is warranted as well.)

It’s important to permit children to talk about their reactions to a traumatic event when they want to. Although such conversations can be difficult, especially if we’re experiencing our own reactions to the trauma, they do help all of us in the long run. One of the worst things we can do is say to our children, “Don’t play that way.” or “Don’t talk about it–it’s over–let’s get on with things.” Denial of the child’s reactions can lead to larger problems later. While it’s important to let children express themselves, including their feelings of anger, sadness, or helplessness, it’s also important to help them focus on the positive aspects of trauma situations.   In the wake of many disasters, there are many amazing, touching stories of selfless acts, heroic deeds, and the very best of human caring coming from the most horrible of conditions.  Although we see some of the worst of humanity after traumatic events, we also see vastly more of the very best.  It’s important for our children to hear about them because it adds to children‘s sense of security, connections to other people, and hope for the future.

The natural tendency of children to play out the things that are happening around them is their way of trying to understand. Because they are PLAYING, it feels safer to them, and this is very important. Too much TALKING about scary events can actually scare children more. Some talking is important to give children some basic information and to answer their questions, but it is through their play that children, especially those under 12, have a real opportunity to understand what is going on. Throughout the world, children in war zones are seen “playing war.” Children play doctor or medical scenes when they or someone in their family has been ill or hospitalized. Aid workers noticed that children directly affected by the Oklahoma City Bombing were playing with small plastic dogs sniffing around in piles of blocks, much as real dogs were used to find survivors in the actual rubble. After September 11, children throughout the world were reported to be playing scenes of planes hitting buildings, firefighters and rescue, buildings crashing down, and even funeral themes. A boy in the U.K. played scenes of police officers arresting “bad guys” after the terrorist bombing of the London Underground. A girl from New Orleans who had been moved to a shelter after Hurricane Katrina involved several other children in play where she was the “Mama Alligator” who was trying to save her babies (the other children) from the “Cane” (hurricane).

Long after a traumatic event has occurred, parents should remain alert to any signs of trauma in their children. When children are traumatized, the effects may occur much later than expected. Sometimes traumatized children look quite “normal” on the surface after the event, and then experience post-traumatic symptoms weeks, months, or even years later. It’s fine for parents to ask their children what they’re thinking and feeling about the event from time to time, and then really listen to what they say. On the other hand, it’s best not to “bombard” children with questions about how they’re feeling or to hold lengthy discussions with them, as this might actually raise the children’s anxiety levels. It’s good for parents to share their own feelings of fear, sadness, anger about an event because it helps children see that these reactions are normal and can provide good coping models. (A caution, though: be sure that you share your feelings simply and don’t elaborate to a point that could frighten the child further. Always reassure them that you’ll keep them safe.)

One of the most beneficial things for children after a traumatic event is for their day-to-day environment to return to “normal” as quickly as possible. Getting back to some sort of daily “routine” can help kids feel safer and keep the traumatic event from becoming the only focus of their lives. This can be challenging following some disasters, but working toward as normal an environment as possible under the circumstances can help. Parents can help children find a balance between playing/talking about the event and doing daily tasks and other types of activities.

When trauma has been caused by humans, as in terrorism, it is important for children and adults alike to remember that we gain strength from our human connections and that most people are good. Broad, angry statements about other ethnic groups can add to children’s sense of insecurity and promote prejudice and uninformed backlash effects. People throughout the world have struggled for a long time with our “differences,” and that struggle continues. Acts of terror are intended to divide us, and we can resist this and help our children feel much safer by teaching them that these bad deeds are the work of individuals (or small groups of individuals) and not of any broad ethnic, racial, religious, or other group.

Many children are quite resilient when dealing with traumatic events, but it’s good for parents to know what to look for when their child might be struggling. Here are some signs that your child might be experiencing post-traumatic problems:

  • anxious, “edgy”, nervous, agitated
  • difficulty concentrating
  • refuses to go to school; difficulty with schoolwork
  • becomes angry quickly
  • aggressive, either verbally or physically
  • nightmares, or repetitive nightmares
  • won’t sleep in his/her own bed; sleeps on floor or wants to sleep with parents
  • easily startled by noises or situations similar to the traumatic event
  • reverts to “younger-age” behaviors like bedwetting, nail biting, thumbsucking
  • won’t talk about what happened
  • talks excessively about what happened
  • becomes very dependent–clings to parents or other caretakers; fears separations
  • problems with friendships and siblings–seems aloof or argues
  • seems “different” than he/she did before; personality seems a bit different

Although these signs might be related to other things, if the signs persist, are intense, are different following the trauma, or if several occur for your child, it could be a sign of a traumatic reaction. If you or your children experience continuing distress that interferes with your day-to-day work, school, and family life, you might consider consulting with a therapist.  The sooner a post-traumatic reaction is determined and treated, the better the outcome is likely to be for the child (or adults, too). A qualified mental health professional can help the child and the parents.

Play therapy can be very effective with traumatized children. The play gives them some “distance” from which to explore and deal with their feelings. Even teens and adults can benefit from treatments which involve play and art or other expressive interventions. Words can fail us when we experience intensely frightening events, and other means of expressing ourselves become necessary. Sometimes family play interventions can be very helpful. If you have questions or concerns about your child, contact a local mental health professional. Make sure that he or she has experience with trauma, and having a background in play therapy can be a big plus.

For information on finding play therapists who specialize in children please visit The Association for Play Therapy director at

Or contact your local and state psychological, social work, mental health counseling, crisis, medical, or school counseling associations or professionals can make referrals to adult therapists.

Please visit Rise VanFleet visit her web site “Family Enrichment & Play Therapy Center” for more great parenting articles and great resources.

japan trauma

Large-scale Natural Disasters are Scary for Children

Guest Author - Caelan K. Kuban, LMSW is the Program Director for The National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children and Starr Training Institute. Caelan Kuban can be reached at

Large-scale natural disasters, like the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, are scary for children. There is no doubt that in the past week children have been exposed to powerful media images of the scene. Surely many of the children you work with have either asked you or their parents questions about what happened. Many children also are fearful about whether or not something like the disaster in Japan could happen where they live.

Encourage parents and teachers to limit a child’s media exposure and to set aside time to answer questions and talk to children about the tragedy in Japan. It can be traumatizing to see graphic images over and over again. While adults often need to know what is going on as a way to calm their own anxieties, in doing so they overexpose children. Adults should wait to turn on CNN until their children are in bed. Most important is to reassure a child, focusing on their safety.

Younger children need to hear that the buildings in our country are safe and that mom, dad, grandpa, grandma, etc. love him and are here to keep him safe. Parents should spend extra time snuggling on the couch, reading books, or playing a game with children who are feeling scared. Sensory comforts such as these will be more helpful than anything we might say. However, be open to questions but don’t provide too much information that could become scary or overwhelming.

Older children may be curious about how and why natural disasters happen and if they ask, it is appropriate to explain things in more detail. If children express worries about the children in Japan, explain that there are many adults from around the world that are helping them.

While we can’t explain why random events happen and certainly can’t predict or control them, we can use them as an opportunity for teachable lessons like empathy, generosity and humanity.

TLC is pleased to provide the Japanese translation and colorful illustrations of our Brave Bart storybook to Tokyo Center for Play Therapy in Japan for distribution to professionals working with children in the aftermath of the disaster.

The National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children on the WEB

Caelan Kuban can be reached at:

kay horse

Experience the Power of Animal Assisted Therapy

This is an article written about me by The American Counseling AssociationCounseling Today Magazine two years ago that I wanted to share with you.

Straight from the horse’s mouth—Counselors praise the benefits of equine-assisted therapy

By Angela Kennedy

Some time ago, Kay Sudekum Trotter arrived at a muddy Texas horse ranch wearing capri pants and sandals and wanting to learn more about equine assisted counseling. By the end of the afternoon, her cute outfit was dirty, her shoes ruined, but this self-proclaimed city girl had been roped by this nontraditional approach in which horses aid in the counseling process.

Today, Dr. Trotter is a licensed professional counselor and supervisor, registered play therapist and supervisor, and a certified equine assisted counselor in private practice in Flower Mound. In the countryish suburb of Dallas, this American Counseling Association member runs her own traditional counseling practice along with her equine assisted counseling practice, Mendin’ Fences, where she provides unique counseling services to children, teenagers, and families with behavioral and mental health issues. “I’m not the traditional girl who grew up loving horses, so over the years, I’ve learned not only what horses can do in a therapeutic setting, but I’ve also had to learn just the basics,” Dr. Trotter says. “They still tease me about showing up to the ranch in flip-flops.” Not being a “horse person” has actually proved beneficial when speaking to other counselors about equine therapy, Dr. Trotter says, because she can let them know from firsthand experience that they don’t need to be professional wranglers to successfully apply this approach.

As described by Dr. Trotter, equine assisted counseling utilizes horses to increase clients’ awareness of their own thoughts, words and actions. Through counseling, team building and equine activities, clients learn how to recognize dysfunctional patterns of behavior and to define healthy relationships. This is made possible in part by the horses’ innate ability to observe and respond to nonverbal cues. In the counseling process, the horses serve as living mirrors, reflecting clients’ emotional and behavioral states. “Because horses are prey animals, they have honed their skills to pick up on and read body language,” Dr. Trotter explains, adding that horses are much more adept than humans at sensing when something is going on beneath the surface. “If I have an ADHD client come out for a session and he’s bouncing all over, the horse will be leery of the client. The client will learn that if he wants the horse to change, he will have to change his behavior, thoughts and feelings. The horse is that sensitive.” “The other powerful element within equine therapy is the noticeable shift in control and power within the client,” she says. “I’ve done a lot of work with young people in juvenile detention. Out here on the ranch, the head of the gang is no longer in control because he’s now face-to-face with a 1,500-pound animal.

You don’t have that shift with other animal-assisted therapy.” Dr. Trotter says she has experienced some profound breakthroughs with teens in the juvenile court system while working with horses. “I have some of the most wonderful sessions with these juveniles because they don’t realize they are in counseling,” she says. “By the time these kids come to me, they are familiar with court-appointed therapy and traditional, four-wall counseling sessions. They can give you all the textbook answers. But you get them outside in this different setting, and they don’t realize what I’m doing. They tell me everything, and it’s so genuine.” In forging a bond with the horses, Dr. Trotter says, clients identify their negative behaviors and learn positive communication and problem-solving skills to handle frustrations, challenges and fears.

Horsing around

There are different ways to have clients interact with and relate to a horse, Dr. Trotter says.

  • Tactile and touching: Includes grooming or giving the horse a massage. Interacting with such large animals empowers the client while increasing self-esteem and self-confidence. The rhythmic motion of grooming can also be soothing and calming for both the horse and client.
  • Verbal: The way the client speaks to the horse can reveal how the individual relates to other people.
  • Riding and groundwork: Leading the horse from the ground or in the saddle can provide insight into a client’s sense of power or helplessness.

Because of the large size of the horses, Dr. Trotter doesn’t feel comfortable counseling children younger than 8. She believes, however, that equine therapy is compatible or appropriate with most diagnosed issues. With clients who aren’t as activity-focused, such as some individuals with autism, Dr. Trotter instead helps them face their fears by building a relationship with the horse.

Dr. Trotter prefers to have clients perform activities both on the ground and in the saddle. The groundwork usually includes a series of tasks, challenges or simple grooming methods to help the client form a bond with the horse. As these activities transpire, Dr. Trotter works side-by-side with the clients to provide insight and help process feelings. The ground-based and ridding activities also help clients formulate solutions to problems. The activities can be difficult, requiring clients to be creative and think outside the box. Through these activities, Dr. Trotter helps clients explore what skills were needed to accomplish the task with the horse. She can then prompt clients to think about whether they have similar problems occurring in their personal lives and consider if the solution that proved successful in working with the horse might work for the client outside the ranch as well.

Success stories

Dr. Trotter recently began working with a third-grader who exhibited behavioral problems and poor social skills associated with pervasive developmental disorders and dyspraxia, a neurological disorder that affects motor coordination. At school, he displayed severe anxiety and oppositional behavior and threatened others. The boy had struggled with these problems for more than six years, and his mother told Dr. Trotter that her son had a hard time establishing friendships. He was usually left to play by himself.

After only a few sessions working with the horses, his behavior and social skills have improved significantly. The mother told Dr. Trotter that her son recently had his first play date, which lasted more than two hours without incident. He was invited to come back and play again whenever he wanted. “This shows us that this client is taking what he has learned (with the horses) and is using it in his everyday life,” Dr. Trotter says.

One of her biggest success stories involves a young boy recently diagnosed as bipolar. In one of the beginning sessions at the ranch, he and another boy were partnered in a group session and asked to groom the horse. “The horse just wasn’t having it,” Dr. Trotter says. “He kept on acting like he was going to kick or bite, though he didn’t. We were keeping a close watch.”

Dr. Trotter needed to determine which boy the horse was reacting to, so she had them approach the horse individually. The horse reacted negatively to the boy diagnosed with bipolar. “That gave me the opportunity to ask him what he thought was going on with the horse. Why was the horse acting that way?” she says. “The boy just kind of rolled his eyes and said, ‘I don’t know.’ I pressed a bit harder, and he told me that the horse just didn’t like him. I asked him to think about that and why this horse might not like him. He left and came back the next session and said to me, ‘The horse doesn’t like me because I don’t like me.’ He was 9 years old! When I think about that kid and how many hours that would have taken in an office setting to get that kind of insight, it just amazes me that it came that quickly. Once that child admitted that, he had no problem with the horse. They were congruent, and we saw all kinds of positive changes with him. That sticks out as the most dramatic example, but we see pieces of this type of transformation all the time.”

During her years of leading equine assisted counseling, Dr. Trotter has worked with children and adolescents who have presented with a variety of issues, but she thinks the approach might have the most profound impact on children with Asperger’s syndrome, a developmental disorder similar to a high-functioning form of autism. “

(These clients) tend to come out of their shell,” she observes. “The barn environment is something so different from what they are familiar with at home or at school. It introduces them to a whole new set of stimuli, and because they are drawn to the animal, they learn to adapt more quickly.” With this population, she notes, the therapy is less about mental health treatment and more about skills training and general improvement. “It may be romanticizing it a bit,” Dr. Trotter says, “but I think the connection between these kids and the horses is something very powerful for both the horse and the child. It’s a very deep link made on an emotional level.”

More evidence

While working on her dissertation at the University of North Texas, Dr. Trotter discovered in her research that equine assisted counseling can be as effective as traditional clinical therapy or, in some cases, even more beneficial. She compared the experiences of children and teens in a 12-week equine-assisted therapy program with those who remained in a classroom setting for traditional guidance counseling. “We had over 205 volunteers, and 164 actually completed the study,” Dr. Trotter says. “The students were in grades third through eighth with all different kinds of issues, from ADHD and autism to just being socially inept to being incest survivors.”

Teachers, school counselors and parents referred the children and adolescents. The students were then assigned, by grade level, to one of two weekly therapeutic interventions: either two-hour sessions of equine assisted group counseling held in a ranch setting or one-hour sessions of curriculum school-based group guidance in a classroom setting. According to Dr. Trotter, the study showed that equine assisted counseling resulted in increased positive behaviors and decreased undesirable behaviors in clients.

“We discovered that both modalities were clinically significant, but the equine (therapy portion of the study) showed clinical significance in seven different areas that the in-school therapy didn’t,” she says. “Overall, the equine study showed improvement in 19 areas and the in-school only in five areas.”

Dr. Trotter used two assessment tools in the study, the Behavioral Assessment System for Children (BASC) and the Animal Assisted Therapy—Psychosocial Social Form (AAT-PSF). “I chose the BASC checklist because with this assessments I could give to both the parent and the child,” she explains. “I had conducted a lot of play therapy research prior to my equine research, and the play research never included the child. I thought it was important to know what the child felt about counseling, not just his mom and dad. With the AAT-PSF, I was able to run repeated measures statistics and these findings told me where I had significant changes between the sessions.” She was then able to refer to her notes and see exactly what clinical intervention was used during those sessions that proved to be so effective.

The journal article written from Dr. Trotters research “The Efficacy of Equine-Assisted Group Counseling With At-Risk Children and Adolescents” is available for free download from Dr. Trotter’s website a:t

If you would like Dr. Kay Trotter to come talk to your group or find out more about her counseling practice, you can contact her at: Kay@KayTrotter.com214-499-0396, or visit her web site

Dr Trotter also post regularly in her FaceBook fan page


Gratitude and Praise to Teachers

As everyone heads back to school, I would like to take a moment to give Praise and Gratitude to all the Teachers that parents have entrusted to care for their most precious children.

All of us know first hand the impact teachers had on us growing up, but few of us know the loving sacrifice teachers freely make on a daily basis.

For the past four years, I have had the honor of a “backstage pass” into the real lives of teachers because I’ve watched my daughter, Kelly, serve as an elementary school teacher. Through her experience, I have personally witnessed the joys teaching has brought to her and I also understand the stressful challenges she has to balance in her life.

When I began writing this, I was instantly taken back to the year Kelly’s class had five special needs students she lovingly called “her boys.” When you entered Kelly’s classroom that year, you not only saw and heard 20+ students clamoring for attention, seeking answers to questions and desiring guidance – all of which every teacher faces daily – you also got a glimpse into the very different world of Autism as it walked hand-in-hand with a mainstream classroom. Kelly soon found herself performing a daily dance that combined the needs of her regular students with the poor communication skills, social awareness and behavioral characteristics of Autism. The tapestry woven between teacher and students was amazing – but it came at the price of stressful days, emotional exhaustion and tremendous fatigue . . . A price I know Kelly would lovingly pay again. Objectively, teaching has got to be one of the top 5 most stressful careers in the world.

Comedian Bill Cosby knows the importance of teachers and, in fact, attributes his own phenomenal success to a teacher. As a sixth-grade student in Philadelphia, he was inspired by his teacher, Mary Forchic, to follow his dreams of becoming an entertainer. Recognizing his natural storytelling abilities, she suggested “you should become either a lawyer or an actor because you lie so well.” Forchic has remained one of Cosby’s lifelong friends and Cosby has devoted a great deal of his time to ensure that all children have the opportunity to benefit from teachers like Forchic.  We could all follow Cosby’s lead and express our gratitude for the enormous contributions that dedicated teachers make to our childrens’ lives and to our community.

So many teachers are at school early and stay late, they correct papers and plan instruction on evenings and weekends — working hard to meet the educational needs of students, some of whom struggle to make progress despite the stress of life. Teachers also buy materials with money from their own pockets and volunteer their time to attend school carnivals and sporting events while also attending workshops and training to continually develop their own skills. I assure you they don’t do all this for the money.

They do it because they care about your child.

As another school year gets underway, now is an appropriate time to remind everyone to continuously thank the effective and dedicated teachers in our schools.

Yes, teachers make all the difference.

If you would like Dr. Kay Trotter to come talk to your group or find out more about her counseling practice, you can contact her at: Kay@KayTrotter.com214-499-0396, or visit her web site

Dr Trotter also post regularly in her FaceBook fan page