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Feeding Your Child’s Brain from the Bottom Up

Last week Theresa, Amy, and I were lucky enough to attend a training with Dr. Bruce Perry. In short, Dr. Perry is a brilliant guy who has spent years researching how the brain works and takes in information, and how therapists, teachers, and all of the systems that work with children in our country can use this information to better support children and their families. If you are interested, here is Dr. Perry’s bio: http://childtrauma.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/BDP_Bio_2013x.pdf

The brain is amazing and complicated, and there is still so much we don’t know about how it works. Dr. Perry identified one idea as being the most important he would share with us at the training (if he had to pick one “most important thing”) and I wanted to pass it along. Please note these ideas are all Dr. Perry’s with a few thoughts from me of how I have seen them play out in my own experience.






Our brains process information from the “bottom up.” So first, our brains have to be Regulated. This means our physical basic needs have been met- we are not hungry, thirsty, or tired. And we have to feel safe both physically and emotionally. What children (and adults) need to stay regulated is individual for every person, and depends on their temperament and the experiences they’ve had in their lives, both positive and negative. Here is a video in which Dr. Perry talks more about the need for regulation and ways children can regulate themselves (and we can help them): https://www.youtube.com/watch/?v=ZVRO7PdYRnM

After regulation comes Relationship. Our brains are hard wired to make connections with other people, and how strong the relationship we have with the person is will impact our ability to use our upper level brain and retain information. More thoughts from Dr. Perry about the importance of relationship: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3cz-QlPkOo

Finally comes Reasoning. This is what we expect our children to do all day long when they are in school. This is what we expect when our child misbehaves and we say “why did you do that?” And according to Dr. Perry, it is extremely difficult if not impossible for us to use this part of our brain without regulation and relationship.


So, in short, talking to a child, teen, or even adult who is not regulated about a reasoning task is pointless. They can’t process information with the top part of their brain until the parts underneath it are taken care of. In fact, trying to reason or use a behavior modification program with a child who is not regulated or whom you do not have a relationship with will often escalate their behavior. Have you ever tried to “reason” with a child in the middle of a tantrum? Have YOU ever had a conversation with someone when you were really hungry and realized later you didn’t have a clue what they said to you? What teachers did you learn the most from when you were in school? For me, it was the ones I felt like I had a stronger relationship with. And do you want to talk and reason through difficult or personal things with someone you don’t have a strong relationship with?

According to Dr. Perry, once basic physical needs are taken care of the best ways to regulate ourselves are through rhythmic activities that give us some sensory input- listening to music, walking, running, rocking back and forth, drawing, even chewing gum. This will not be the same for every person, and you are probably thinking right now of what you choose for yourself or what your child prefers to “regulate” themselves. So many of the children and even youth I work with walk into my office and head straight for my sandbox just to put their hands in it and rhythmically pour and fill their hands with sand. Some walk or jump around my office during our entire session. They know when they need a little bit of regulation! Try building these into your day- right after school before homework time, or during times of the day that can be particularly challenging for your child. Don’t forget to build some regulation in for yourself, too! When I feel my level of stress start to build and I am having a hard time focusing, going for a run is what helps me get regulated again.


Once regulation is taken care of, don’t forget to focus on relationship. I often talk to the parents of the children I work with about the importance of building a positive relationship with your child. A strong relationship carries you both through the times that are difficult. Do activities with your child (looking at Facebook or texting while they are playing video games in the same room doesn’t count- play a game, get on the floor with the Barbies or cars, read a book together; whatever your child enjoys that lets the two of you interact), give them positive attention when they are working hard or making a good choice, and show them through your actions that you love them unconditionally and will be there consistently for them even when they make a mistake.

Only when these first two things are taken care of can your child have a chance of reasoning through situations. And even then, our upper “reasoning” parts of our brain don’t fully develop until we are well into adulthood. So when you ask your child why they acted a certain way and they say “I don’t know,” they truly may not know. And by the way, we therapists have to go through this process when we first start working with clients and sometimes during every session.  Our job is to create a space where children (and adults) can feel safe, where they have access to things that allow them to regulate themselves, to build a caring, trusting relationship, and then do some “reasoning” through the issues they are dealing with.

This blog just summarizes the tip of the iceberg of Dr. Perry’s Neurosequential Model. If you are interested in reading more about it, visit www.childtrauma.org.

Back to School: Using Assertiveness Skills to Deal with Bullying

Back to School: Using Assertiveness Skills to Deal with Bullying

Child Climbing

Bullying is a growing issue, not just in schools, but in all settings for both children and adults. If your child has a history of being bullied, they may be feeling scared and nervous about going back to school. You can help your child feel more prepared and confident by teaching them some assertiveness skills.


Assertiveness is the quality of being self-assured and confident without being aggressive. This can be displayed through communication, posture, and actions.


Assertive communication:

  • Make eye contact.
  • Use “I” statements to let a bully know how you are feeling:

When you______________ I feel______________ and I need for you to ________________.

(When you call me names I feel sad and I need for you to stop calling me names.)

  • Use a strong voice, don’t whisper or whine. Be confident in what you are saying and say it so it can be heard.
  • Use assertive communication to let adults know what is going on and what you need from them.


Assertive/Confident posture:

  • Stand tall with your shoulders back.
  • Walk with a purpose.
  • Look around as you walk.
  • Make eye contact and smile at others.


Assertive actions:

  • Identify and maintain boundaries. You can do this by putting your hands up in front of you, palms out toward a bully, if being approached in an aggressive manner.
  • Maintain eye contact but leave plenty of space between you and a dangerous situation.
  • Without running or looking away, leave a situation in which you are being bullied and use your assertive communication skills to get help from an adult.


Encourage your child to talk to you about issues they may be having with peers or teachers and practice these skills with them. Help them identify adults in the school or other setting to seek for support.


For more information on bullying:



Back to School Part Two- Separation Anxiety and Young Children


In Part 1 of our back to school series, we offered some suggestions for helping your child/teen transition back to school if they are anxious.  Many of the ideas we discussed can also help young children, but here are some additional suggestions to help your young child if he/she is having a difficult time separating from you:

  • Read books about going to school and separation anxiety ahead of time, and talk with your child about how the characters are feeling and how they cope with their worry. Some of my favorites that are good for preschool and kindergarten aged children are The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn and Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes.
  • When you attend back to school night with your child, take pictures of your child’s teachers, the playground, the classroom, etc. so they can look through them ahead of time again.
  • Young children sometimes find it helpful to bring a security object from home when they are anxious about separating from their parents/caregivers. This can be a favorite toy, family picture, etc., and often children feel better just having it in their backpack with them at school so they can get it when they feel like they need it.
  • When it’s time to say goodbye, don’t linger, but don’t sneak out of the door either. Say goodbye to your child, assure them you will come back, and then leave the classroom even if they are upset. Continuing to stay often makes children more upset in the long run, and teachers who work with young children have lots of practice in comforting them. Often creating a special ritual for saying goodbye can help with this transition- a special handshake, giving 2 hugs and a kiss, or whatever you and your child create together.

Overall, what is going to help your child (and your) anxiety the most is seeing that they can stay at school without you, you will always come back to get them, and they can have fun while they are there!

Look for part three of our back to school blog series next week- tips for helping your child be assertive and deal with bullying from Jessi Johnson, LPC.


Learning New Things

Being a graduate intern at the Center for Counseling and Training has opened my eyes to many new experiences. For example, working with domestic violence offenders is something that I have never done before. So far, I enjoy the batterers’ intervention program and am looking forward to leaning more about it.

In very little time with The Center for Counseling and Training, I have seen growth in some of the members that belong to the group. At first, I thought I might feel out of place. To my surprise, I do enjoy the group and I enjoy even more watching the members interact and apply information they hear about with other members that are working toward a common goal. The men in the program have accepted me as part of their group process. Topics we discuss include trust, respect, and parenting.  I believe that one of the reasons these groups are so effective is because everyone involved usually has a lot in common because they are there for similar reasons,  feel supported by one another and by the professionals who facilitate the program.

The therapists at TCCT use the Duluth Model in sessions which has been around for over 30 years and strives to end domestic violence. If you are interested in learning more about The Duluth Model, you can visit their website at http://theduluthmodel.org/index.htm

Back to School Part One- Help Your Child Cope with School Anxiety




Over the next few weeks, we will be bringing you a blog series with some back to school tips for a great start to the school year!


Back to school time can be an exciting time for children and their parents, but if your child/teen struggles with anxiety it can be a stressful time as well. Here are some tips for helping your child start off the school year on a positive note:

  • Talk with your child ahead of time about what specifically they are worried about. Often knowing more about what to expect reduces anxiety, so help your child/teen write a list of questions they have about the upcoming school year (“what will my schedule be?,” “what do I do if I get lost in the hallway?”, etc.). Then help them find the answers to those questions. If your child is older or a teenager, help them figure out how they will find the answers to those questions- doing this on their own will help them feel empowered.
  • Attend open house/ back to school night with your child so they can meet their teachers and see their classroom ahead of time. Encourage your child to use this night to find the answers to some of the questions they have about school.
  • If your child is worrying about a specific situation happening (“what if someone teases me?” “what if my teacher is mean?”), help them problem solve what they would do in these situations. Focus on helping your child figure out how to handle problems themselves- NOT you doing it for them.
  • Encourage your child to use positive self-talk when they are worrying, like saying to themselves “I can do this,” or “Everyone makes mistakes; I will try again.”
  • Avoid giving your child “mental health days” or letting them stay home from school because they are anxious about going. They will enjoy the day they get to stay home, but that will not help their anxiety in the long run, it just teaches them to avoid situations that make them anxious. Going to school, seeing that it can be fun, and dealing with challenging situations are what will ultimately help your child worry less.


Coming next week- additional tips for supporting young children as they get ready to start school or daycare.


Warm & Comfortable Counseling Setting

Exterior of our comfortable office

The Center for Counseling & Training offers a warm & comfortable setting for our clients.

I started the Center for Counseling & Training in 2008 because I saw a need in rural Missouri that was not being filled.  First, I just did groups for domestic violence offenders.  That grew into seeing a few individual counseling clients.  About a year later, a friend of mine asked if she could join my practice.  Practice??!! I have a practice?  I sure did and it was growing quickly.  Since then we have built a thriving practice that includes several therapists who see people ages 3 years old and up.

We have been told over and over again since moving to this location how “cozy” and “homey” our office is.  With several fireplaces and warm, inviting colors, our office seems to automatically put people at ease.  Our clinical team works closely with one another to ensure the best care for each client we serve.  This is reflected in the relationships we have with our numerous referral sources who trust us to care for their clients as well.

It feels good to make a difference in the community and I think we have and continue to do so.  I invite you to come by and meet us  and see what you think about our office if you haven’t already.


Amy Dobson, PLPC, CPT

28_TCCT_Aug2015Amy joined The Center for Counseling and Training (TCCT) in January of 2014. She recently completed her masters degree in counseling psychology at the University of Central Missouri.  She is a Provisionally Licensed Professional Counselor and under the supervision of Theresa Dotson Alexander, MS, LPC, NCC.   Amy has completed the requirements as a Certified Play Therapist and is currently finishing up schooling and supervision to become a Registered Play Therapist. Before coming to TCCT, Amy worked 9 years for the Lexington School District as an educator and four years as a Professional School Counselor In-Training at the middle school.

Amy believes that the foundation of effective counseling is building a positive relationship. She works hard at making the client feel understood through active listening, reflection of feeling, and accurate empathic understanding. She has experience with non-directive play therapy and utilizes person centered and cognitive counseling theories. She works with children and adults of all ages and is accepting new clients.

What is Play Therapy?

Play is an essential part of development in childhood.

As children grow, they use play to practice new skills, communicate with others, and relieve stress.

Play therapy uses what we know about how children use play to help clients process trauma, express their feelings, and practice coping skills. Play therapy lets children be active and engaged in the therapy process in a safe and accepting environment. When children are not able to express how they feel through words, they can use puppets, art, toys, and sand tray.

Play therapy also helps children begin to develop the words to tell us how they are feeling. Research suggests that play therapy is effective in helping a variety of issues (see Association for Play Therapy for more information).

Registered Play Therapists are mental health professionals who have completed additional training and supervision in play therapy and how to use play to help clients meet their therapy goals.

Vicki Knipmeyer and Amy Dobson at The Center for Counseling and Training both have specialized training in play therapy.

Get off the Fence!

We often hear,

“Get off the fence and make a decision”

… as though being on the fence is a bad thing.

I’d like to encourage you to stop straddling the fence and take time to stay on the fence.  It is so easy to straddle the fence, with one foot in the past and one foot in the future.  The past frequently becomes something we use to judge our choices and decisions in a negative way.  The future can be filled with worry and fear.  As we judge how we’ve lived our life in the past and worry about how we’re going to live life in the future, we neglect to truly live today.

Take a moment on the fence.

Take time to get on the fence and be mindful of the present moment.  The present moment is what counselors refer to as the here-and-now.

Notice your surroundings, acknowledge you circumstances, be grateful for your relationships, and accept your life as it is.  Real living takes place in the present moment, so be mindful, get on the fence and choose to really live today.