May is Mental Health Awareness Month

This past year presented so many different challenges and obstacles that tested our strength and resiliency. The global pandemic forced us to cope with situations we never even imagined, and a lot of us struggled with our mental health as a result. The good news is that there are tools and resources available that can support the well-being of individuals and communities.

Now, more than ever, we need to combat the stigma surrounding mental health concerns. That’s why this Mental Health Month Ron Huxley is highlighting the what individuals can do throughout their daily lives to prioritize mental health, build resiliency, and continue to cope with the obstacles of COVID-19.

Throughout the pandemic, many people who had never experienced mental health challenges found themselves struggling for the first time. During the month of May, we are focusing on different topics that can help process the events of the past year and the feelings that surround them, while also building up skills and supports that extend beyond COVID-19.

We know that the past year forced many to accept tough situations that they had little to no control over. If you found that it impacted your mental health, you aren’t alone. In fact, of the almost half a million individuals that took the anxiety screening at, 79% showed symptoms of moderate to severe anxiety. However, there are practical tools that can help improve your mental health. We are focused on managing anger and frustration, recognizing when trauma may be affecting your mental health, challenging negative thinking patterns, and making time to take care of yourself.

It’s important to remember that working on your mental health and finding tools that help you thrive takes time. Change won’t happen overnight. Instead, by focusing on small changes, you can move through the stressors of the past year and develop long-term strategies to support yourself on an ongoing basis.

A great starting point for anyone who is ready to start prioritizing their mental health is to take a mental health screening at It’s a quick, free, and confidential way for someone to assess their mental health and begin finding hope and healing.
Ultimately, during this month of May, Ron Huxley wants to remind everyone that mental illnesses are real, and recovery is possible.

Check out the many mental health tools create free at the

NeuroResilient Play Therapy ©: A Trauma-Informed Approach to Healing


The goal of therapy with traumatized children is to help them learn to regulate and develop the executive functioning skills of the prefrontal center of the brain. I call this the state of being NeuroResilient.

All children are born emotionally impulsive and need to learn how to manage their moods, initiate and stick with tasks, plan and organize, and learn from past mistakes. This is nothing new and neurological studies of the brain suggest that the prefrontal areas of the brain do not completely develop until people are in their mid-twenties.

The challenge with trauma is that it can set a person back socially and emotionally so that while they are 15 years old chronologically, they react to the world as if their were 5 years of age. We call this, in the field of trauma-informed care and attachment-focused research, “age vs stage”. The individual’s chronological age doesn’t line up with their stage of development causing problems in relationships and daily functioning.

Many parents and professionals believe that an emotionally regulated child is a calm child which would be nice, even understandable, but not realistic for a child who has been traumatized. Consequently the goal of therapy is to build resilience, not calmness.

Resilience refers to ability to “spring back, recoil back into shape” or “recover quickly from a difficult situation”. It literally means to “leap back” to a place of safety and security. Who wouldn’t want to have more of that in their lives or the lives of their children?

Children have to build resiliency in their neurology so that behavioral strategies will stick. Parents and teachers get frustrated when their behavior charts and modification tools don’t have any effect on their hurt children.

NeuroResilient Play Therapy © models, to parents, how to integrate the various physiological and mindful parts of the child so that they can function optimally. It is based on identity focusing on the strengths of who the child was created to be instead of forcing the child to fit into a mold made by adults who believe the child has no motivation or seeks only to manipulate.

For more information on how to be NeuroResilient for children and adults, contact Ron today about speaking opportunities or schedule a session in his Avila Beach, Ca office (skype services are available).

Great Behavior Breakdown

Why does your child lie, steal, defy, incessantly chatter, cling, or whine?
The answer is simpler than you may think: Children misbehave because they are stressed. When something is alarming, their brain is stuck reacting to fear rather than responding normally. It feels like life-or-death for the child, resulting in dysregulated behaviors. 

Parents often wonder, “What was he thinking? He knows better. He must be doing this on purpose.” The truth is, the child is not thinking at all, but merely reacting unconsciously. The solution is not doling out consequences, but rather helping your child return to regulation. Bryan Post in his book The Great Behavior Breakdown, explains how to respond to misbehaving children in a way that helps them feel safe, thus eliminating negative behaviors.

What can trigger a fear response in your child? For some children, especially those who have experienced trauma, almost anything can trigger fear. A small change in routine, such as going out to eat at a restaurant or skipping reading before bed, can illicit fear. In normal development, a brain automatically alerts to any change in environment, quickly assesses it to see if it is an emergency, and then returns to normal functioning. When a child’s development has been troubled, her brains often get stuck in alert mode. A brain that is stuck in alert is panicked, illogical, and desperate. There is only one thing that can bring the brain back to normal functioning: containment and positive feedback loops.  
Containment means eliminating extra sensory input. Often this looks like turning down the music, walking out of a store, sitting on a parent’s lap, or closing eyes. Positive feedback loop is a fancy way of saying, make it feel safe and enjoyable. When the child is full of negativity, hold on to a calm, regulated, demeanor. Be positive, low key, and non-threatening. Eventually the child will give in to your invitation to stay near until he or she feels safe enough to go back and play. 

I have used Bryan Post’s approach for years while working with adoptive and foster children. For kids with trauma, his techniques work when nothing else does. Next time your child is misbehaving, see the reaction as fear rather than anger. It will change the way you respond, change your child’s behaviors, and transform your relationship.

Guest Blogger:
Stephanie Patterson, MS, LMFT

Parents like to play but sometimes feel guilty about it…


Play isn’t just about fun and games—it’s a valuable way for children to refine their motor skills, learn about the world around them, and develop social relationships. 50 years ago, that might have meant hide and seek; 30 years ago maybe it was Jenga; today it’s probably any number of games on a PlayStation or iPad. Anecdotally speaking, play changes with the decades, but what Ikea wanted to do with its 2015 Play Report is quantify the social forces that are driving the shifts and understand how design in the domestic realm—the company’s domain—can help adults and children play more.

To better understand the state of play, Ikea surveyed nearly 30,000 parents and children from 12 countries. The goal was to establish if the perception and nature of play had changed much since the last survey in 2009; whether children are playing less or more and the nature of play; if parents are playing more or less with their children; how digital media impacts family life; and the concerns, behaviors, and benefits of family time.

Here are a few of the findings:

1. Parents want to spend quality time with their children, but find it difficult to carve out playtime. And they feel guilty about it.

“Parents agree on the importance of play,” says Cindy Anderson, the business area manager for Ikea who’s responsible for developing Ikea’s range of children’s products. “At the same time, they sometimes struggle with finding inspiration on how to play and they’re bored when playing traditional children’s games.”

With that challenge in mind—making kids’ games more engaging for all ages and removing barriers to play—Ikea developed the Lattjo collection of products, which launches in November. It includes costumes; Ikea-fied games like chess, dominoes, tug of war, and percussion instruments; and a “recipe book” of activity ideas.

2. Parents are anxious about safety, but are also concerned about being overprotective.

“At the global level, about 22% of kids are not allowed to play outdoors and that’s an increase [from the 2009 report],” Andersen says. “That shows how important it is to play indoors—it’s, how can we create an environment to define playfulness inside the home?”

This information paired with the findings that home life is important inspired Ikea to create items that could be used indoors.

3. Over half of the parents surveyed said that play can include the use of smartphones, tablets, game consoles, and computers.

This sparked a mobile app and 25 animated digital shorts produced in conjunction with DreamWorks. The films include stories that teach children how to navigate the world, like how an eagle faces his fear of heights.

“You can develop a product, but the whole idea is to make us to play more, and to create a more playful mindset,” Andersen says. “To accomplish that, storytelling is an important complement to engage people and inspire behavioral change.”

The Lattjo collection as a whole seeks to spark creativity no matter where it comes from. “We’re all born with a certain play preference that’s stronger than others,” Andersen says. “Some are storytellers, some are into physical play, some are builders, some just like to move. What I hope that there is something that everyone can enjoy.”


TheraPlay Helps Children Overcome Trauma and Increase Attachment

Ron Huxley, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist is trained in TheraPlay for Families and Child Therapy Groups. To arrange a private session with Ron, go here: .

“Theraplay is a structured play therapy for children and their parents. Its goal is to enhance attachment, self-esteem, trust in others, and joyful engagement. The sessions are designed to be fun, physical, personal, and interactive and replicate the natural, healthy interaction between parents and young children. Children have been referred for a wide variety of problems including withdrawn or depressed behavior, overactive-aggressive behavior, temper tantrums, phobias, and difficulty socializing and making friends. Children also are referred for various behavior and interpersonal problems resulting from learning disabilities, developmental delays, and pervasive developmental disorders. Because of its focus on attachment and relationship development, Theraplay has been used for many years with foster and adoptive families.

Program Goals:

The goals of Theraplay are:

Increase child’s sense of felt safety/security
Increase child’s capacity to regulate affect
Increase child’s sense of positive body image
Ensure that caregiver is able to set clear expectations and limits
Ensure that caregiver’s leadership is balanced with warmth and support
Increase caregiver’s capacity to view the child empathically
Increase caregiver’s capacity for reflective function
Increase parent and child’s experience of shared joy
Increase parent’s ability to help child with stressful events”

TheraPlay is considered to be an Evidenced-Based Approach for Family Therapy:

Six Essential Social Skills for Children

Social skills are a learned skill! Children do not use manners, act assertively, or negotiate a problem naturally. They must be taught how. I have listed below the six essential areas of social skill development. If your child does not exhibit all of the areas listed, don’t freak! That simply means he or she is normal. Use this list as a *guide* to teaching/modeling/mentoring your child in how to be a prosocial human being. Maybe you and I will learn something along the way.

Beginning social skills: Listening, start a conversation, ask a question, say thank you, introduce yourself and others, give a compliment.

Advanced social skills: Asks for help, join in, give instructions, follow instructions, apologize, persuade others.

Skills for dealing with feelings: Know and express your feelings, understand others, deal with others feelings, express affection, and rewards self socially.

Alternatives to aggression: Ask permission, share something, help others, negotiate, use self-control, stand up for rights, respond (not react) to teasing, avoid trouble, keep out of fights.

Skills for dealing with stress: Make a complaint, answer a complaint, game sportsmanship, deal with embarrassment, deal with being left out, stand up for a friend, respond (not react) to persuasion, respond (not react) to failure, deal with confusing messages, deal with an accusation, get ready for a difficult conversation, deal with group pressure.

Planning skills: Decide on something to do, decide on what caused a problem, set a goal, decide on your abilities, gather information, arrange problems by importance, make a decision, concentrate on a task.

What is Theraplay?

You may have heard of “play therapy” for children but  have your ever heard of TheraPlay? This pioneering approach to attachment-based, family therapy is one that I have been practicing for many years and still find it one of the most practical approaches to working with families, particularly children who have endured trauma. 

Theraplay is a child and family therapy for building and enhancing attachment, self-esteem, trust in others, and joyful engagement. It is based on the natural patterns of playful, healthy interaction between parent and child and is personal, physical, and fun. Theraplay interactions focus on four essential qualities found in parent-child relationships: Structure, Engagement, Nurture, and Challenge. Theraplay sessions create an active, emotional connection between the child and parent or caregiver, resulting in a changed view of the self as worthy and lovable and of relationships as positive and rewarding.

In treatment, the Theraplay therapist guides the parent and child through playful, fun games, developmentally challenging activities, and tender, nurturing activities. The very act of engaging each other in this way helps the parent regulate the child’s behavior and communicate love, joy, and safety to the child. It helps the child feel secure, cared for, connected and worthy.

We call this “building relationships from the inside out.””