Last Saturday ECMMA (Find out more here: invited Dr. Tiffany McNary, PhD., LPC,NCC,CPCS, RPT-S to come and speak to us about Play Therapy and how we can use it in our classrooms. It was helpful and insightful on both the history of child psychology as well as how she uses that history in her work. Her approach clearly comes from a clinical place, but there was a lot that one could apply to an everyday music classroom.

The biggest take away for me was the use of praise with a child. I agree with Dr. McNary in that we as a society praise too much and thus have created youth that need to hear what we think before they can determine what they think about themselves. This is very dangerous, as the person doing the evaluating changes several times in one’s life.

Her solution was a method developed by Kay Draper. PhD referred to as TEEL ~ an acronym for Tracking, Empathy, Encouragement and Limit-Setting: (This is taken from Dr. McNary’s handout)

  • Tracking is the simple act of communicating nonjudgementally to the child what one sees and hears the child doing and saying.
    • “You are eating the spaghetti”
    • “I see that you used a lot of blue in your painting”, instead of a question: “What did you paint?” or a judgment: “I like your painting”.
  • Empathy involves looking for and acknowledging the child’s feelings.
    • “I see that you are angry that you can’t use the paint right now.”
  • Encouragement is the active process of focusing on the child’s strengths, abilities, and resources.
    • “You really know how to paint!”
  • Limit-Setting is a specific way of setting limits that is respectful, clear and firm.
    • “I know that you really want to color on yourself, but you are not for coloring on. You can color on paper or in the coloring book, but you are not for coloring on.”

This, of course, is a very short explanation for this method. I encourage you to investigate Play Therapy further:

When I heard Dr. McNary speak about tracking, all I could think about was a passage I read in Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman where she speaks about being on a New York City playground with affluent parents and hearing them constantly narrate the child’s movements ~ “I see that you are climbing the stairs to the slide”, “Now you are going down the slide”, etc… it’s ridiculous. You know those children are thinking, “Please just let me play in peace!!!”.

This isn’t to say that this aspect of the method doesn’t have merit, as sometimes a child needs to “be seen” and doesn’t want to be bombarded with a number of questions on what they are doing. I get that, but just like all things in life, they require balance.

We worry A LOT about how we talk to and act around our children in this country. Bringing Up Bebe does a great job of looking at another way. Druckerman details how the French bring up their children and the differences she saw in her time there. (If you have a chance, I encourage you to read it, as it offers a perspective from a country far older than the US.) What the French seem to do and what we need to remember is to TRUST our instincts. It’s important to gather as much research as possible, but in the end, we are the ones in front of that child or class and we must decide the next step. Sometimes it is hanging back and noticing a few things here and there, other times it is necessary to let that child know that he/ she is perfect EXACTY as he/ she is.

What I love about this method is that it reminds us that each child must be taught how to believe in themselves and constantly giving praise is not the answer, rather giving the child a chance to create self esteem themselves is a better way. I also love that the limit-setting is no nonsense. She gets right to the point and moves on. These four components are certainly food for thought. I look forward to taking them out for a spin and see what comes of it! I will certainly let you know of any findings! If you have thoughts, please post them below!


Photo credit: US Department of Education via / CC BY