How do we talk about touch with our kids?

By Cherie Benjoseph, MSW, LCSW, Child Safety Expert, Director of National Outreach

It is much easier to talk about all sorts of touch with our kids if we have a name for it. Let’s start with Safe Touch.

Mom! Bryan hit me! Dad! Abby pushed Baby Joey down! Is an example of everyday touching. Cuddling on the couch with your child while reading a story or holding hands while going for a walk are also great examples of touching.

We don’t realize how often we touch each other throughout the day.

Some touches make us feel comfortable and safe while others do not. In our society we do not talk much about touching in general. We either say “Don’t touch your Brother” or “Use nice hands.” (From my daughter’s preschool days.) Let’s dive a little deeper as human touch is an important part of wellness and healthy development.

Many people assume because I teach sexual abuse prevention that to keep kids safe we shouldn’t be touching kids. That could not be further from the truth. Children need to be physically nurtured and held from the day they are born. This type of healthy, safe touch provides children with a strong sense of self, belonging, being valued and safe. Children, for example, who are raised in an understaffed orphanage and do not get picked up and held often have a number of long-term issues, particularly failure to thrive and attachment issues. My point is that positive touch is important. Healthy modeling of Safe Touch helps a child understand what an appropriate touch should feel like.

A  SAFE TOUCH feels: comfortable, loving, relaxed, protective, happy, warm, cozy.

Safe touch examples: A group of kids playing tag, a person while conversing with a friend reaching out and touching their arm for a moment, holding hands in the movie theater, kissing your child goodnight, cuddling on the couch, buckling a child into seat, doing someone’s hair.

Explain to your child that the difference between a safe and an unsafe touch is the way it makes you feel.

An UNSAFE TOUCH makes you feel: uncomfortable, confused, scared, embarrassed, weird, hurt, betrayed, angry.

Unsafe touches happen every day. Examples: Siblings shoving each other, a grown-up grabbing an arm of a child in frustration, a child being physically harmed by another student at school (bullying), someone touching a child’s private parts, or forcing a child to touch their private parts.

If you ask a child for examples of an unsafe touch the list will sound like: getting hit, pinched, pushed, shoved, kicked, hair pulled, by either a peer or adult.

If you have more than one child in your home, there is bound to be various ‘unsafe touches’ throughout a day. Much of this interaction, is how children learn to navigate in our society. With parents’ guidance, setting of healthy boundaries, some rough housing is good to let the kids problem solve on their own. What we suggest is to define those limits. Start labeling touch at a young age as Safe Touch or Unsafe Touch by how a touch makes them feel. Ask: “Emma, when you fell down, and Sammi came over and put her arm on your back and checked on you – was that a Safe Touch or an Unsafe Touch for you?” Ask: “How did it make you feel?” Teaching children to recognize their emotions is an important life skill. If they can recognize the positive it will impact how they treat others. If they can recognize the negative it becomes a protective factor – all part of teaching your child personal safety. We often say this is a skill for a life time –this builds resilience.

We teach safe touch and unsafe touch for many reasons – but for our purposes in this blog let’s focus on body boundaries. If a child has learned that they have private parts and that no one should be touching their private parts, and they get a confusing touch and they are not sure if it was a Safe Touch or an Unsafe touch, they can recognize the feeling and know, because they have been taught, that this is the type of touch that they should Report to a person in their Circle of Safe Adults to talk about it. It is so important at this point that the adult be an approachable caregiver. (Parent, relative, teacher, etc). Preparing yourself in advance for how you might respond to a child disclosing is a key factor in preventing and putting a stop to child sexual abuse.


1. Discuss with children how various touches make them feel. Explain to them that if they receive a touch, even from someone they know and love, and it makes them feel confused, they should report it to another adult.

2. Ask your child if the following examples would be a Safe Touch or an Unsafe Touch:

  • Holding hands with a close friend
  • High fiving their coach
  • Being kissed good night by an aunt
  • Getting shoved by a schoolmate
  • Add a few more of your own examples

3. Play a game called “Safe and unsafe touches I had today”.
Ask your child to think of some examples to share with you. Examples:

  • I hugged nana when I got off the bus.
  • My friend pushed me on the playground.

These conversations will provide you with an opening for a more in-depth discussion about what may have happened during your child’s day and how particular touches made them feel.

Children who have learned that their bodies belong to them and that there are boundaries regarding their private parts understand when a line has been crossed.

Emphasize to your child that no one should be touching or looking at their private parts and they should not be touching or looking at anyone else’s private parts because everyone’s body is special and belongs to them.

Click here to learn more about our KidSafe Program, which is focused on preventing child sexual abuse, trafficking, and exploitation.


90% of the time a child is harmed by someone they know and trust. This makes it even more difficult for a child to tell – they often feel betrayed, confused, and are afraid to report. Empower children from a young age about the difference between Safe and Unsafe Touch, and when they should come to you with questions – even if they are scared.

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Tackling Child Sexual Abuse in Palm Beach County

By Caitlen Macias, student at the Columbia School of Social Work and Center for Child Counseling Intern

“We are preventing child sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, and child maltreatment by giving children the tools to access help from trusted adults.”- Laura Askowitz, Director of Strategic Development at Center for Child Counseling, former CEO of KidSafe Foundation.

In our community, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) impact people of all races, backgrounds, and income levels. According to the CDC, 61% of adults had at least one ACE and 16% had 4 or more types of ACEs. Child sexual abuse is among one of the most common ACEs and a significant public health issue. About 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 13 boys in the United States experience child sexual abuse. Of those who are abused, 91% of the time a child is harmed by someone they know and trust.

We need to partner to fight, prevent, and address this problem. KidSafe, now a program of Center for Child Counseling (CFCC), is working to address and prevent child sexual abuse. The merger of the two nonprofit organizations is a strategic partnership to increase prevention education and funding streams to decrease child sexual abuse in Palm Beach County.

KidSafe has focused on providing a public health approach that maximizes impact while emphasizing health and safety. To prevent child sexual abuse, students, teachers, and families need to be knowledgeable and aware of the tactics and grooming techniques that are used to exploit and abuse children in-person and online. KidSafe provides age-appropriate lessons and skill building for children, training for educators, healthcare professionals, camp staff, and resources for families.

Through Stay KidSafe!, a teacher-led educational program, children develop an inner voice and speak out when physical and emotional boundaries are crossed. Empowering children to be confident and self-aware encourages communication with their trusted adults regarding personal safety. “Teachers spend extended periods of time with their students and know them well. We are providing teachers with the tools to be KidSafe ambassadors in the classroom to educate and inspire students”, says Cherie Benjoseph, LCSW.

The curriculum explores a variety of topics depending on the age of the children. In Kindergarten, children learn about their Inner Safety Voice, an internal voice that helps them make safe and smart choices. Children also are introduced to body safety and the Circle of Safe Adults, trusted adults that can help children access help. In 1st and 2nd grade, students continue to develop their Safety Voice while exploring digital safety and learning about boundaries, consent, and bad secrets. In 3rd and 4th grade, students do an in-depth exploration into consent and how to get help if their boundaries are violated. Children use the skills they have learned about personal safety to understand how to navigate the online world that might expose them to cyberbullying, online predators, and inappropriate content.

By 5th grade, students study how to recognize Red Flag warning signs in interpersonal relationships. The entire program repeats important concepts and builds on the previous year’s concepts to make sure children are able to apply the lessons they learn. Stay KidSafe!, is “a kid friendly program that is chunked into digestible bites. The program allows kids to listen, think, reflect on and practice what is taught. The animations and books are engaging and discuss appropriate content”, explains Cori, an Elementary School Teacher.

KidSafe has had reverberating success in the community since 2009! Laura Askowitz recounts a recent success story from the program that changed a child’s outlook. In a 5th grade class, the guidance counselor said that David was a quiet kid who rarely spoke. After receiving the KidSafe programming, he started speaking up and interacting more with the adults and children. David was given a voice and can now speak out if his boundaries are crossed. The program is teaching kids how to identify when their personal, physical, and emotional boundaries are disrespected by anyone. This inspires kids to be their own advocates and access help when peers or adults attempt to engage in inappropriate behavior.

Looking to the future, "we are excited about this merger. It allows for us to work together to increase funding, education, and prevention around child sexual abuse. Through an array of prevention, early intervention, and treatment we aim to not only provide healing after sexual abuse but also create schools and a community equipped to keep children safe”, states Renée Layman, CEO of the Center for Child Counseling.

For more information on the KidSafe’s programming visit:

Support the KidSafe Campaign in Palm Beach County.


A Message From Our CEO

Grieving. Let Your Voice be Heard 1,400 miles Away.

Our hearts are broken for the families and community of Uvalde, Texas. The unimaginable terror that the innocent children faced at their school–a place where safety should be expected and guaranteed–is unacceptable. The potential of future change-makers was grotesquely robbed by the use of an assault weapon breaching the walls of a fourth-grade classroom. The survivors will carry that trauma with them for the rest of their lives. Their families, community, and our country carry the grief and loss with us: hopefully not turning numb but taking action to prevent another senseless act of violence that can be prevented.

As a nation, as a community, as individuals within that community and nation, we must take action now! It is time we rip off the band-aid approaches that fail to address the heart of issues, like mass shootings, and create a system that cares for our most vulnerable children. School shootings won't be solved with more armed police officers or guards or by arming our school teachers. Easy access to guns, whether at home or purchasing, is contributing to the problem. We need solutions!

The school shooters in Uvalde, Parkland, Santa Fe, Newton, and Columbine were all under the age of 21; so, let's use the science of what we know. The human brain is not fully developed at 18 or even 21, and sometimes not at age 25. 18 year-olds are impulsive and should not be permitted to go out and purchase guns. It is not a matter of taking away our Second Amendment right to bear arms but refining gun laws to prohibit young civilians from purchasing assault weapons that result in senseless mass shootings.

In addition to looking at our gun laws, we must address our policies around and access to mental health care, particularly prevention and early intervention for children experiencing adverse childhood experiences. In a report by the Secret Service, they found that nearly all school shooters experienced negative home life factors, most had been bullied or had a history of school disciplinary issues, and all exhibited concerning behaviors. There are costly, long-term consequences when we ignore the impact of these experiences. At what point is the price too high?

We must ensure that EVERY child has a sense of safety, connectedness, and belonging. We must tackle things like bullying and help children develop the skills to promote self-regulation, conflict resolution, stress management, empathy, and resilience.

Currently, most mental health supports wait until a child is experiencing a crisis or behavioral concern. We must be able to actively identify kids not only with externalizing behaviors, but those with internalizing behaviors–those silent children who are often missed and may be the victims of abuse, domestic violence, or bullying. Equipping our schools to take a widespread approach with prevention, including training and support, is also key to stopping these tragedies.

As our broken hearts bleed with sadness, anger, and grief, let's take action. Our nation, our communities, our children deserve more. Every child deserves to grow up feeling safe and loved–especially in school.

At the Center for Child Counseling, we focus on a public health approach to building awareness and action around addressing childhood adversity and trauma. We were founded with the vision that every child will grow up feeling safe and nurtured in communities where they can thrive. We will continue to bring awareness to system leaders around fighting childhood adversity with advocacy and action. We invite you to join us. Take action and let your voice be heard!

Renée Layman, President and CEO

Pandemic Trauma and Schooling: Supporting Kids in Crisis

We’ve been living in the world of the COVID-19 pandemic for over a year now. In the so-called “before times”, adults used the phrase “hitting the wall” as a way to describe a feeling of complete overload, a sense of being unable to continue normal functioning due to overwhelming circumstances. Recently, that phrase is being used to describe the experiences of children who have faced a daunting year of online learning, isolation, technology saturation, and general grief. Now, those same students are facing the new challenges of returning to traditional schooling, too.

Children who have “hit the wall” are struggling with school on every level and in different ways. Some are struggling with the loss of the normal socialization which being at school usually provides. Others are falling behind academically and are stressed as to whether they will ever be able to catch up. Still others are mourning the milestones they have lost that were once provided by the school setting — things like proms, big games, theater productions, class trips, and other school-based activities we all once took for granted.

Sobering Circumstances

To understand the complexity of the situation, let’s examine some of the ways the pandemic has hit families. According to an NBC report on the unexpected effects of the COVID-19 outbreak on children:

  • Emergency rooms have seen a 24 percent increase in mental health-related visits from children ages 5 to 11 compared to last year. The increase among older kids is even higher — 31 percent.
  • Food banks have been slammed with hungry families as an estimated 17 million children — many largely cut off from free school lunches — are now in danger of not having enough to eat. That’s an increase of more than 6 million hungry children compared to before the pandemic.
  • Schools are struggling to teach students remotely or in classrooms in which children wear masks and sit behind plastic shields. One national testing organization reported that the average student in grades 3-8 who took a math assessment this fall scored 5 to 10 percentile points behind students who took the same test last year, with Black, Hispanic and poor students falling even further behind.
  • Classrooms have been unusually empty, with quarantines and sickness affecting attendance in face-to-face schools and computer issues interfering with online instruction. Some districts report that the number of students who’ve missed at least 10 percent of classes, which studies show could lead to devastating lifelong consequences, has more than doubled.
  • And an estimated 3 million vulnerable students — who are homeless, in foster care, have disabilities or are learning English — appear to not be in school at all.

Children Have Been Hit Hard

At home, the signs that a child is struggling are as numerous as the reasons they might be struggling. Very young children may regress, wanting to sleep in bed with caregivers or wanting to be spoon-fed again after they’ve already mastered feeding themselves. Older children might seem clingy or more tearful than usual. These are all responses to the uncertainty and anxiety of the times we’re living in. For teens, rates of anxiety and depression are soaring. Paul Gionfriddo, the president and CEO of Mental Health America, an organization that supports people with mental illness, says approximately 10,000 people took its online depression and anxiety screening every day this year, twice as many as usual. The biggest rise is among children between the ages of 11 and 17. “We know that trauma builds on trauma,” Gionfriddo says. “Once people have experienced trauma, they are far more likely to have mental health effects later on, sometimes right away, sometimes decades later, and we know that repeated traumas can exacerbate and make that worse.”

And when it comes the trauma families and children have endured throughout 2020 (and continue to endure), a vaccine is not going to be a magical cure. “A nation of children coping with trauma and disruption will need more than a vaccine to address the fallout,” explains Betheny Gross, the associate director at the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington. When it comes to the social, emotional, and academic ordeal so extreme that some advocates and experts warn its repercussions could rival those of a hurricane or other disaster. “Recovery from Katrina wasn’t a one-year recovery,” Gross explains. “We didn’t just bring the kids back and everything fell into place. And this will be the same.”

So, how can we support children as many of them continue remote lessons, and how can we help those who are transitioning back to the physical classroom setting?

The first important thing to note is that a wide range of emotions and responses should be considered normal in these abnormal circumstances. Some children may be showing signs of withdrawing, others may be acting out, some may be putting on a brave face so that they seem to be coping when they’re secretly filled with anxiety and stress. This last circumstance is most likely when parents or adults in the home are struggling. Some children’s response is to protect their parents when they see them under stress.

Back-to-School Woes

While some feel that things are “returning to normal” as far as school goes, nothing could be further from the truth. Schools that have reopened have done so under strict social distancing guidelines, with masks hiding faces and facial expressions and forming a barrier to communication. Again, nothing feels normal. As children return to classrooms, they come with as many challenges as you can imagine. Some have thrived with remote learning and are not excited to be back in the classroom. Some have struggled with remote learning and have fallen behind. They’re feeling anxiety as to whether they’ll be able to catch up. For those who are still taking part in remote learning, many have reached a place where they simply cannot focus or seem to achieve once easy tasks. The brain can only cope with so much technological stimulation in a given period of time. It is not possible to retain focus for eight hours a day on a glowing screen, no matter how engaging or enthusiastic a teacher may be. Many teachers have gone to heroic lengths to be innovative and exciting in their approach to online lessons but, after a year, these efforts are undoubtedly wearing thin on them, too.

Adversity Has Been Amplified

The children most affected by both home school and the return to school will be those facing racial, economic, and other inequities that have only become more pronounced since the pandemic began, David Hinojosa, the director of the Educational Opportunities Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “They already lagged behind their peers in school, and already faced significant obstacles. And now they’ve taken the brunt of the pandemic’s pain,” he said.

As far as academics go, many schools have implemented mentoring programs and extra lessons to help children who may be falling through the cracks to catch up. But it’s important to remember that Adverse Community Environments are part of many children’s lives. Challenged communities with fewer resources (those with deprivation where poverty and and violence are a part of every day life) have faced the worst of the pandemics fallout. For children living in these environments, going to school was something of a refuge from the turmoil at home. For the past year, these students have been fully immersed in the adversity of their homes and neighborhoods and have likely struggled the most to find quiet places where they could focus on remote learning. Expecting these children to return to school without significant support is expecting too much.

Returning to school may bring with it fear associated with health. For so long, we’ve been teaching children social distancing and handwashing and being in close proximity might trigger fears.

Some Answers

As always, the answer to all these complex situations comes from the adult — the parent, teacher, or caregiver.

Communicate: Discuss how your child is feeling and why they are feeling that way. Don’t ask questions that have easy “yes” and “no” answers. Ask open-ended questions. Rather than: “Do you feel okay about going back to school?” (to which the answer can be “yes” because “okay” is a vague question). Rather, ask them: “What feelings do you have about  going back to school?” If those feelings are complicated or mixed, discuss them. You can reassure your child while still being realistic. Let them know that whatever consequences the return to school brings, you will work through them as a family.

Mirror Positivity: During times of trouble, children are desperate for security. Positive role models can be the buffer against adversity and anxiety. The more you can educate yourself so that you feel secure in your knowledge and your position on pandemic issues, the more security you can offer your child. You can say things like: “As a family, we choose to take this disease very seriously and we follow all the recommendations for handwashing and mask wearing. We also think it’s very important for you to go back to school and be around other children again.” (If this is your position). Explain why you have made your decisions and how your child’s school is protecting students.

Extra Help: If your child needs extra help, emotionally or academically, get it for them. Our School-Based Mental Health Program operates in schools throughout Palm Beach County. The SNAP program is also available to children identified as struggling. These are offered free through the County school system.

Most of all, help build resilience in children by talking to them about adversity. History provides countless times when humanity has been in far worse place — World War II, the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic — but eventually we, as a society, overcame them. We have an arsenal of knowledge at our fingertips like science, vaccines, and the technology to educate people and spread accurate information very quickly. Focus on these positives and on a brighter future. Your children are looking to you, their parents and teachers, to model how they ought to be. So try to be the best model you can — giving your child the gift of security. Remember, you have years of valuable perspective which they don’t. This, too, shall pass. Good times do lie ahead. We may not know the exact nature of our future but we do know that large pieces of it will be very good indeed and we need to reassure our children of that.


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Free Online Trainings for Children’s Mental Health

The recent uncertainty of the election is adding yet another stressor to the lives of Florida families. What started with the outbreak of a global COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 which has resulted in unprecedented financial strain, the difficulties of juggling home schooling with fulltime work, soaring rates of abuse and neglect in a growing number of homes, the pain of systemic racism and a growing social justice movement. All these complicated issues are challenging for adults. Can you imagine how bewildered, scared, and sad our little ones might be?

Are your children faring well under the current set of challenges? How do you know? The key is open communication and regular check-ins with children of all ages. If behaviors change, particularly if you notice changes in your child’s usual demeanor or if they start to neglect or avoid things they used to enjoy. While some of this can be chalked up to simply growing up or moving from one developmental stage to the next, if you have concerns, it’s smart to look for help.

As Palm Beach County’s preeminent provider of mental health services, Center for Child Counseling has focused on developing a wealth of online services for our clients, which include children aged birth to 18 and their families, especially for those who have experienced trauma. For more than twenty years, we’ve helped families heal and regain hope regardless of the complexity of their situations and experiences.

Free, Online Parenting Workshops

Center for Child Counseling offers direct in-person services (complying with social distancing) and telehealth options, if needed, but our free online trainings are a great resource for families to explore from their own homes and at their own convenience. They cover everyday issues many families face and can be taken at your convenience. Our trainings include the latest scientific research and decades of combined experience of skilled, compassionate therapists.

Supporting Children During COVID-19: Your effectiveness as a parent or caregiver is seldom more important than during times of crisis like the current Covid-19 outbreak. Now, more than ever, the children in your care are looking to you to provide stability and soothe their fears and anxiety.

How to Help My Child Listen: Parenting can be challenging at times. All parents experience defiance regardless of their child’s age. If you are trying to teach your child to follow directions join us in this online workshop. (English, Spanish, Haitian Creole)

How to Structure Your Child’s Day for Success: Routine brings comfort and consistency to a child’s life. If you are trying to set a routine at home join us for this online workshop to learn strategies that work. (English, Spanish, Haitian Creole)

A Guide to Effectively Parenting Teens: If you have a teenager, you likely already know that adolescence provides new challenges as you face family conflicts. Surviving (your child’s) adolescence can be difficult. Join us today to learn new ways to understand your teen, and to communicate with them effectively.

Other topics include:

Center for Child Counseling also offers simple, practical ideas for encouraging play with your children. Play is essential because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development and well-being of your child. Play also offers a great opportunity for you, as a parent or caregiver, to positively engage and interact with your child. At every age, from birth through the teenage years, play teaches children vital life lessons. You can learn about exciting, new ways to engage with your child in pretend play, sensory activities, arts and crafts, journaling, and outdoor/nature play on our website at


Founded in 1999, Center for Child Counseling supports children, families, and caregivers through direct services focused on preventing and healing the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and toxic stress, building positive relationships that buffer the impact of trauma. Research shows that toxic stress in childhood is directly linked to negative physical and mental health outcomes. Thousands of children in Palm Beach County experience stressful life events that will impact them for a lifetime without intervention. In 2019, Center for Child Counseling served over 3,800 children through six clinical programs and provided training for over 3,500 professionals, students, and caregivers to build adult capacity to meet the social-emotional needs of children.

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Why Do Children Need Play? Dr. Anne Holland-Brown Explains.

Play is one of the most essential components of positive childhood development. In many ways, playfulness is a child’s natural state. Through play, children learn, grow, develop, and come to understand the world around them. Play is a child’s language, and toys are their words.

On a practical level, play develops physical skills. Children learn dexterity as well as coordination through manipulating toys, by drawing and coloring, when building with blocks, etc. Play is important to healthy brain development. It is through play that children, from a very early age, engage and interact with the world around them.

Play allows children to use their creativity, too. Children are wonderful at imagining things and often spend time in the world of “make believe”. Providing them opportunities to dress up, paint their faces, or don costumes gives them the freedom to explore different experiences and play act at being someone else. This role playing is just one way in which children start to explore adult roles and appreciate the thoughts and feelings of others.

Play also reduces stress and helps your children grow emotionally. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, many children are feeling uncertain and insecure because their usual routines have been dramatically disrupted. Play is escapism for children, time when they can simply be joyful and silly. With so many stressors in their environments, play becomes a crucial outlet for fear and worry.

Play During the Pandemic

At the Center for Child Counseling, we recently welcomed seasoned psychologist Dr. Anne Holland Brown to our team. Anne has more than 26 years of mental/behavioral health experience working with economically-disadvantaged, racially and ethnically diverse populations of children who have experienced child maltreatment and other types of trauma. She answered some questions about the importance of play and Play Therapy.

Why is play so important?
Play is essential to all aspects of healthy child development. Play stimulates a child’s cognitive, physical, linguistic, and social-emotional development. Through play, children explore and learn about the world around them, including other people in their world—parents/caregivers, siblings, peers, etc. Play is also a great way for children to express their thoughts, feelings, memories, wants, and needs, especially when they do not have the language to do so effectively.

Are there different types of play?
Yes, play can be solitary or with another party or parties, such as with peers, siblings, or parents/caregivers. Children’s primary modes of play change as they develop, often evolving from more solitary forms of play to more interactive forms of play. Our first play experiences with others are typically with our parents/caregivers, and these playful interactions, such as peek-a-boo, are what help us to form safe, healthy attachments with our parents/caretakers and, in turn, with other individuals as we grow. Playing with others has been found to help children develop a better understanding of the reciprocal nature of relationships and turn taking, as well as an understanding and respecting that people outside of themselves may have different thoughts, feelings, wants, and needs than they have (empathy development).

What’s the difference between structured and unstructured play?
Structured play has set rules and parameters and is often directed by someone/something other than the child. From structured play activities, children can learn very valuable lessons, such as turn taking, cooperation, sharing, and fairness. It is critical, however, that children also be provided with time for unstructured or child-directed play. This type of play has been associated with fostering a child’s creativity, imagination, ability to entertain oneself, and independence.

How is play healthy?
Mental and physical health are inextricably combined. Aside from the vast benefits to the mind, play is essential to the body. Children need to be running, jumping, stretching, and tumbling. Childhood obesity is an epidemic in much of the world due to our increasingly sedentary lifestyles and the lack of opportunity in many places to play outside. Children need to spend time outdoors. Here, they connect with nature, find ever-changing environments to explore, and are free to move about with joyful exuberance!

What about when kids say: “I’m bored”?
Boredom is good for kids because it teaches them to entertain themselves. Children need to learn how to enjoy being alone and find ways to stay amused without constant external stimulation or structure. Free play teaches children to be creative and discover for themselves how to make their own fun – to find what they are good at and what they enjoy.

Are children struggling with isolation right now?
I believe so. Children are by nature social creatures; its challenging for them to have to cope with this level of isolation from friends and classmates. It’s critical that children experience peer interaction; technology like Zoom and Facetime can help with that. Some families have formed “social bubbles” – a limited and controlled group of people with whom their children can safely play, so they can continue to enjoy some level of peer socialization safely. At this time, parents also need to be extra sensitive to the losses that children are feeling, and be open to listening to their children’s concerns, as well as taking time out of each day to play with their child. Parents/caregivers want to make sure that family time isn’t just about home schooling, but that the family is doing playful and fun activities tighter to lessen the stress on everyone.

What’s the difference between play and Play Therapy offered by professional, clinical organizations like Center for Child Counseling?
Play Therapy uses a child’s natural affinity for play to help them process their thoughts, feelings, and memories. Grown-ups tend to think of talk therapy when they think of mental health treatment, but children don’t necessarily have the ability (language skills) or willingness to express themselves in this way. So, in Play Therapy, play replaces verbal communication and allows children express themselves in a way that feels safe and comfortable. At Center for Child Counseling our skilled professional therapists use Play Therapy to help children heal from trauma and work through other challenges/stressors. Through both unstructured and structured play therapy techniques, therapists help children safely share/process information; develop emotional intelligence and emotional regulation skills; learn coping, safety, and self-protection skills; and learn about and practice having safe and healthy relationships with others.

Any final thoughts?
People should not understate the importance and power of play, especially child-directed play. Such play positively impacts every single area of your child’s development and creates a solid foundation for children to grow into happy, healthy, and productive adults.


CFCC Joins Florida Network to Build Healthier, More Resilient Children and Families

Center for Child Counseling has been selected as Palm Beach County's new provider for the Stop Now and Plan (SNAP®) Program, an award-winning, evidence-based counseling program developed in Canada in the 1980s. Originally designed for boys 6 to 11 engaging in aggressive, anti-social behaviors, the program has expanded to include gender-specific programming for boys and girls under the age of 12, as well as SNAP® in Schools, a classroom-based group curriculum.

The Florida Network, in partnership with the Department of Juvenile Justice, has operated SNAP® in Florida since 2015; the program is now available in 20 counties throughout the state.

Center for Child Counseling is the outstanding choice to operate the program in Palm Beach County where we have focused on child and family mental health for the past 21 years. "We are proud to partner with The Florida Network to implement this program locally," says Renée Layman, CEO at Center for Child Counseling. "We know that children who start engaging in negative behaviors as pre-teens are more likely to continue these behaviors into adulthood. SNAP works with children and families to promote prosocial behaviors and positive interactions. Since we focus on prevention and early intervention in all our work, SNAP's approach aligns perfectly with our mission."

SNAP® uses an evidence-based behavioral framework that teaches children struggling with behavioral issues, along with their parents, to effectively regulate their emotions and use self-control and problem-solving skills. Our trained team will be able to implement SNAP® virtually, supporting children, teachers, and parents during this stressful time.

Lauren Maldonado, Clinical Program Manager for the Florida Network says her organization believes in SNAP® because it not only empowers youth, but also their parents, caregivers and siblings, positively impacting the whole community. “SNAP® offers parents the opportunity to intervene and encourage their children to stay in control and keep their problems small using the skills that they’ve learned.”

SNAP® short and long-term outcomes include:

  • Teach strategies to increase pro-social skills,
  • Help youth stay in school and out of trouble by making better choices,
  • Promote the immediate decrease in delinquency and aggression,
  • Encourage positive interactions with teachers, peers, and family members,
  • Reduce stress and anxiety,
  • Improve relationships between children and their parents, and
  • Encourage youth to say “no” to an unhealthy or troubled future.

For more information about SNAP®, CLICK HERE.

Your Child’s Mental Health vs. the Coronavirus

There is no doubt that we’re living in challenging times. Never before in modern recorded history have billions of people been simultaneously shut down in their homes for the public good. In the United States, “safer at home” orders were issued across the country and schools closed, which affected approximately 50.8 million public school children. This complete upheaval of their usual routine has left many young children feeling anxious and uncertain. 36.5 million Americans have lost their jobs, so many parents and caretakers are struggling with financial pressures. Add to that the strain of being responsible for their children’s daily schooling (not to mention their own rising rates of anxiety induced by the stressful circumstances), many parents find themselves overwhelmed. It’s unfortunate that just when our children need us most, many of us are struggling with our own mental health. Never before has resilience counted more!

Strain Exacerbates Abuse

This pandemic has caused a kind of forced camaraderie that has brought out the best in many families. Some find value in having extra time to spend together and are innovating fun family activities to enjoy together. Others are undeniably feeling the strain of too much “togetherness”. Most parents seem to cope fairly well with meeting their children’s basic needs, however, the extra strain of schooling while trying to maintain a home-based work routine is incredibly taxing. According to a report aired by CNN on May 17th, reports of child abuse are down; that’s a bad sign. The abuse is undoubtedly occurring at record rates but not being reported as effectively. One major reporting segment–teachers and school staff–are not reporting right now as they are simply not seeing their children due to school closures. “When children are no longer visible to the vast majority of people who are trained and required to report, and then you see this kind of decline, we get super concerned,” said Melissa Jonson-Reid, a professor of social work research at Washington University in St. Louis.

We know that the experiences that’s surround children during their crucial formative years can dramatically influence their brain development and may result in lifelong physical and mental repercussions. When trauma is prolonged and sustained, these Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) result in damaging toxic stress. Research shows that the best way to counteract ACEs is to ensure that children have at least one stable, positive adult influence in their lives. This person serves as a buffer against adversity and can mitigate some of the negative affects of toxic stress.

For this reason, one of the most effective ways to ensure childhood stability is to reinforce and support the mental health of the adults in children’s lives. Mentally healthy adults really are the most important factor in developing mentally healthy children. So how do we support adults during the coronavirus outbreak as a way of supporting their children?

Established Wisdom Holds True

Working parents need to preserve their own mental health and sanity during these times. This advice may seem commonplace now but it’s worth restating.

  1. Ensure your you are receiving proper nutrition; eat healthy food regularly.
  2. Sleep soundly. Periods of high anxiety can result in sleep disruption. Try to ensure that you get at least 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep at night. Get guidelines from the Sleep Foundation here.
  3. Exercise daily while respecting social distancing guidelines; try to get outside and walk as much as possible. While gyms may be closed, walking, biking, and jogging are all free.
  4. Avoid abusing substances including alcohol. At times like these, some people turn to substances to help them cope but this only results in added problems and complications. Find helpful advice on the subject here.
  5. Discard what isn’t working for you. If a regular activity suddenly feels like a burden, leave it for now. Be kind and gentle to yourself. Practice turning your inner voice–that may be self-critical or worrying–into the voice of a true friend who only encourages and calms you.

Try to Simply “Be”

Many parents feel as if they’re failing their children at the moment. Most parents aren’t qualified mathematics teachers! And nor should they be expected to be. One piece of sound advice is as follows: how you are being with your child is more important than what you’re doing with them. In other words, the atmosphere or emotional environment in which your family is interacting needs to be one of security, protection, and open communication. Academic prowess can take a back seat to quality time spent reassuring, communicating, and simply laughing together.

Communicate Perspective

Children will naturally have questions about why things have changed so dramatically and so suddenly. Open communication really is the best approach. Talk in an age-appropriate way with your children about the COVID-19 pandemic. Our FREE, online training entitled: “Supporting Children During COVID-19” may help you. You can be honest about what is happening but reassuring at the same time. Let them know that plans are being worked out and that things will get better, although you should acknowledge that they may not be exactly the same as before. Avoid lying to your child in order to protect them. They are absorbing information (even if you are aware of it) from new stories, social media, and online interactions with schoolmates.

Perspective can be a great help. For all of human history, people have braved epidemics, wars, and famine, and have survived and thrived. The current situation is not forever; as the old adage goes: “this, too, shall pass.” The natural impatience of young children makes these arguments hard to fathom but there is comfort in knowing that this situation is not unique.

Routines Bring Control and Alleviate Stress

Routine is especially useful to children. It makes them feel secure to know what is coming next and what is expected of them. Establishing different routines for school days versus weekends is useful. A varied schedule that includes time for school lessons,  physical activity, including outdoor time (where possible), fun and games (music, arts and crafts, board games, or other play), and then free time when your child can choose what they wish to do. This timetable should be interspersed with healthy meals and familiar activities like bath time, story time, and any other routines your child may be used to. You may benefit from our FREE online training entitled: “How to Structure Your Child’s Day for Success”.

Mom and Dad’s Work is a Real Thing!

For the first time, many parents are having to explain to their children that they really do need to actually work from home! Children who are used to their parents going out to work may find it more difficult to respect the idea that, although their parents are present in the house, they may be unavailable to communicate because they are working. This is a valuable lesson for children to learn at any age. If they are a little older, it might be appropriate to discuss the fact that as an adult you have responsibilities other than your family and that you need to honor your commitments. Of course, it’s vital that you try to carve out enough quality time to meet your children’s social and emotional needs.

Help Your Child’s to Exercise Their Resilience Muscle

The good news is that children are extraordinarily resilient. Their ability to bounce back from adversity is astonishing. As an adult, you play a key role in this. Resilience is a muscle that needs to be exercised to grow. You can reinforce your child’s independence, autonomy, and sense of self-esteem by pointing out things they are able to do and achieve on their own. Always remind them that temporary failures are not permanent; they will get another chance to try again. A resilient child is one who is far more likely to face life’s ups and downs with courage and strength. Studies show that children who have experienced difficulties and learned to overcome them fare better than overly-protected children when they enter the harsher adult world.

See This Time as a Unique Gift

We may never again be in a world where the pause button has been pressed. How can we spend this time wisely? Do you have  a home-based project you have wanted to do for years but never got around to? Try tackle it now! Have you always wanted to try a skill like cooking, gardening, or learning a new language? The chance may not come again! Online, people have shared stories of cleaning out their closets, painting their bedrooms, training their pets, writing their first short story, etc. – all these accomplishments provide the antidote to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.

Our children are looking to us to let them know that things are okay. The messages we are giving them now will stay with them for many years, possibly forever. What an opportunity to build our own resilience by teaching it to our children! In the coming years, we will reap what we have sown during these times. Try to make sure your household reaps a stronger family so you can emerge from the crisis not as victims but as survivors.

Sign up now for news, events, and education about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and promoting resilience.

By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive emails from: Center for Child Counseling, 8895 N. Military Trail, Palm Beach Gardens, FL, 33410. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email.

Fighting ACEs Amid the Pandemic

When a pandemic hits, and suddenly nothing is the same, it’s a sobering opportunity to take a deep breath and to take stock. It’s not the time to focus on fear and panic but rather a unique opportunity to identify how exactly your organization can be of service during times of extreme stress. As a nonprofit, our mission does not change. Rather than spiraling down in anxiety and fear of the unknown, we see the chance to examine every area of our work to find ways for our unique skills to benefit the community, now and in the uncertain future.

At Center for Child Counseling, we specialize in childhood trauma and building a more trauma-informed community. We are in the business of Fighting ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences). We are not a food bank or a homeless outreach program, although we’re happy to partner with other agencies to help our clients secure those services. What we do best is work with children and families impacted by trauma by helping them to build practical skills and strengthen their own resilience. Almost everybody can use this kind of help in the current climate! So, where can we turn our efforts while continuing to operate with laser focus on our mission?

It all comes back to basics. Children raised in homes of intense, sustained stress can have their neurological development impaired. Trauma can affect the lifelong mental and physical health of growing children. Right now, our children are experiencing extreme stress. Even normally stable households may be facing unexpected circumstances like unemployment or problems paying bills for the first time. We know that rates of domestic violence and child abuse rise when stress increases.

Our mission, now and for many years to comes, will be to cope with the fallout of this pandemic on our children and families.

We’ve looked at the full spectrum of need in our area of expertise and identified the places where our unique skills can be a part of the solution. From individual children, to families, to parent-teachers, to the community in general, we’re working every day in the most innovative ways possible to share our knowledge and deepen our impact.

…Switching to Telehealth

Several years ago, we saw the benefit of exploring telehealth. Nonprofits who don’t embrace technology will not survive. We secured a grant from Quantum Foundation and partnered with Dr. Eugenia Millender to conduct a pilot roll-out of a telehealth platform. At that time, ten senior staff members were identified as champions for this work. The timing could not have been more opportune. When the Coronavirus pandemic hit and schools closed, those ten employee champions immediately began training our full complement of staff on the telehealth platform. We pivoted quickly to the new telehealth model, continuing to serve our clients and tackle our waiting list.

There were challenges. Some parents struggled with barriers to care like an unfamiliarity with technology, unreliable internet service, and difficulty executing the required permissions and consents to receive services. Our skilled therapists, who are usually hands-on and fully engaged physically in their Play Therapy sessions, now had to rely on other techniques like drawing, music, and remote games to interact with their clients.

Even over the short time of a few weeks, people are becoming more used to online interactions and more familiar with video conferencing technology. In the past, when a child was introduced into the child welfare system via Childnet, only 49-50% of families attended in-person therapy sessions. That has risen to 90-95% now that a virtual option is available to them. It’s been a steep learning curve and will continue to be one, although we believe telehealth will, in some way, augment our traditional services for a portion of our clients when things return to a more normal state.

…Making an Impact with Individual Children

As we work with our clients, we’re seeing the uncertainty and fear of Coronavirus manifest itself. One client recently disclosed to his therapist during a session that he had a degree of suicidal ideation related to body image issues. She was able to process the issues, screened him for his current level of risk, created a safety plan (with a list of triggers, coping skills, steps to take/numbers to contact, if needed, etc.). The therapist then had a conference call with the boy and his mother to share the plan and go over ways to ensure safety. The boy’s mood was positive at the end of the session and he expressed hope about his goals and future progress. The therapist conducted regular phone check-ins over the next few days and will follow up regularly, as needed. Since isolation and altered routines can exacerbate existing conditions, we’re vigilantly guarding all our children’s well-being and we’re equipping parents to be vigilant, too.

…Offering Free Help to Families

The hunger for sound advice from experts in the mental health field has skyrocketed as families look for answers to emerging dynamics they haven’t encountered before. The changing structure of everyday life has turned relationships topsy-turvy. Anxiety and stress among all family members is on the rise. For this reason, we’ve made many of our Institute for Clinical Training online learning modules available for free. These workshops offer practical guidance from licensed mental health professionals on everyday topics that are immediately useful to parents and families, including:
How to Help My Child Listen
How to Structure Your Child’s Day for Success

…Providing Support to New Parent-Teachers

Unexpectedly, millions of parents across the country find themselves as full-time teachers amid the pandemic. Center for Child Counseling already works with teachers in Palm Beach County. We’re co-located in 22 schools as well as childcare and community centers, so we are familiar with the stresses and needs of professional educators. But the unexpected situation of thousands of inexperienced and stressed-out parent-teachers posed a new challenge. For anyone in a position of teaching (or simply being with) a child, we have updated our manual entitled A Way of Being with Children: Managing Feelings and Behaviors in the Classroom and Beyond. Every parent in the country will benefit from the vital, practical information the guide provides on attitude and acceptance, childhood development, limit setting, and managing behavior.

…Strengthening Community Supports

In times of increased stress, we see a rise in domestic violence, substance abuse, and as a result a rise in the number of children being removed from their homes. Housing teens removed from their families amid a pandemic, especially where social distancing is required, is a huge challenge. The Department of Fish and Wildlife, which runs summer camp programs, will be taking care of children in Okeechobee this summer, but they knew their staff and counselors would need help to work with children who may be traumatized and require extra attention beyond the needs of an average camper. In partnership with the Department of Children and Families, the Director of our Childhood Trauma Response Team, Anne-Marie Brown, responded immediately by providing training for these care providers. This vital expertise will help these traumatized children from being traumatized again.

In every way possible, we are #FightingACEs and Coronavirus in a way that makes the most sense to us as a childhood mental health agency. The fight will not be over soon – not when “safer at home” directives are removed, and not next year when Covid-19 is hopefully under greater control. The implications of the first few months of 2020 will be felt for a very long time. We can only keep doing what we do, helping each child, each family, each new parent-teacher, and the community at large to understand Adverse Childhood Experiences and learn better ways of being with children. Our message is simple and clear; in times of prosperity and of crisis, it remains the same: The future must be faced, so let’s face it armed with knowledge, hope, and compassion.

Sign up now for news, events, and education about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and promoting resilience.

By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive emails from: Center for Child Counseling, 8895 N. Military Trail, Palm Beach Gardens, FL, 33410. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email.

Innovation in a Crisis

When most people think about science, they think about how our physical bodies work, how all the systems operate together, the biology, physics, and chemistry of life…but science is a big part of mental health, too. At the Center for Child Counseling we use the latest scientific breakthroughs on the child’s developing brain to help children, teens, and their caregivers address trauma and adversity while building resilience. We are Palm Beach County’s preeminent agency in child mental health, from birth to aged 18.

We’ve always used best practices, neurobiology, and even epigenetics (how genes are coded and expressed) in our fight against ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences). We operate 8 programs throughout Palm Beach County, serving over 4,000 children and their families each year. We go to where the children are. That means operating in co-located sites in schools, community and childcare centers as well as our own Play Therapy rooms and our clients’ homes. Due to the Coronavirus outbreak, all those avenues of reaching children are closed to us, but we’re resilient, too!

We’ve quickly pivoted to a telehealth model. Our therapists are all still working with our clients using HIPAA compliant apps. We’re using online training and videos more and more, creating fresh content every day. While we focus on the mental health of children, that often means working with the whole family. Right now, families are going to need the support of mental health professionals more than ever. Research shows that periods of high stress exacerbate issues like family dysfunction, substance abuse, domestic violence, and child abuse, so right now we need to protect Palm Beach County’s children in every way possible.

We’ve quickly responded to requests for resources by adding pages full of practical hints and tips to our website (general help and crisis-specific material). These links include home schooling help, resources that encourage parents and caregivers to practice self-care and manage their own anxiety, book suggestions and fun, educational videos for kids like what the Coronavirus is all about and why we need to practice healthy habits like hand washing. Many think tweens and teens stay connected via digital devices so may not feel they’re struggling with “social distancing” but they are. In fact, helping ‘quaranteens’ may be some parents’ biggest challenge. We have online resources just for them, too!

As a science-based nonprofit, we know that science is going to be the solution to this pandemic and the science of resilience is at the heart of what we all can do to stay mentally strong and healthy in the meantime.

Renée Layman, CEO
Center for Child Counseling

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