Calm Down Jar

Have you discovered Pinterest yet? Pinterest is a virtual pinboard that allows you to collect and share “pins” from different sites you find on the web.  It’s great for recipes, decorating ideas, crafts, etc but what I find most useful are the counseling/play therapy ideas that I find on there.  (It also makes me feel better about the amount of time I waste spend on Pinterest!)  Recently, I tried out one of the ideas that I’ve seen re-pinned countless times- A Mind Jar or Calm Down Jar.  This is a meditative tool that is made with water, glitter glue and glitter.  I’ve always been a fan of snow-globes and this project reminds me of a home-made snow-globe.  I decided to try it out with an adorable little five year old I have been working with this summer named Coleman.  Coleman is extremely bright, but also extremely fidgety.  I thought making a Calm Down Jar might be a good way to help his mind be still for a few moments while he watches the glitter fall.  I meant to test it out at home before I made it with him, but my glitter glue was at my office, so I decided to just make it with him and his mom in session.  I used a washed-out pickle jar and let Coleman pick out the color of the glitter glue.  We decorated the glass jar with his name and a bunch of star stickers, and then set out to make the snow-globe part.  Together we warmed up some water in the microwave and started making our concoction.   It worked okay at first, but the glitter was moving pretty quickly,  so I decided to put in some white tacky glue (as I had read online that this helps thicken up the water).  Unfortunately, that did not work and only made a cloudy mess of the jar.   I sent Coleman and his mom home with the jar and encouraged them to try making a better batch at home. Boy did they ever!  When they returned the next week, this is what they brought with them.


  When they got home, they found some gold glitter and Coleman thought it looked like pirate’s treasure.  He wanted his mind jar to have a Pirate theme, so mom set out to find some pirate stickers to decorate the jar. She also found different sizes and shapes of glitter, which helps them to fall at different times.  Coleman then decided his jar needed a treasure map, so mom covered up the Vlasic pickle jar cover with some white paper and drew an adorable treasure map on it.  I just LOVE how the jar turned out! This is a picture of the jar before you shake it.  And here is a picture of the jar after you shake it and you are waiting for the glitter (gold) to settle.  The family was initially going to use this as a tool for Coleman to utilize while in time out. However, they found a better use for it.  Coleman has a tendency to interrupt, especially at the dinner table.  Coleman’s parents often can’t get a word in edgewise because he is so busy trying to tell stories about his latest adventure. They now use the Mind Jar to help Coleman be patient while mom and dad catch up after a day of work. Coleman shakes the jar and watches  in silence as the glitter falls.  Once it settles and he is sure mom and dad have finished their conversation, he can begin telling his stories.    What a great variation for this relaxation tool.  I just love it when I get ideas from my clients!  I’d love to hear your experience with making a Calm Down Jar of your own.

The Number on Your Scale Does Not Tell You….

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

With Thanksgiving fast approaching, we can get so caught up in  travel plans and preparing the meal that we often forget what Thanksgiving is all about.  Thanksgiving is a great time to reflect on the things that we are grateful for.  Here are some ideas to help instill a sense of gratitude in your children (and some ways to keep them busy while the turkey is roasting…)

Thankful Placemats

Gather up your old magazines and family photos, markers, crayons, and even glitter if you’re brave.  Let your children choose their favorite color of rectangular construction paper. Then challenge your kids to make a collage with cut-outs, photos and drawings of all the things they are grateful for.   When they are done,  laminate their masterpieces so they can be used as place mats for Thanksgiving in years to come.

The Gratitude Book

Get a blank book such as a scrapbook or journal and  list each family member on a two page spread. Then ask each family member to write something at least three things about each person that they appreciate.  This could be anything from helping them with  homework to making them laugh.  This book is something that can be left out on the coffee table and added to all year round.

Toss the Birdie Game
Simply decorate a badminton shuttlecock with permanent marker, as shown.
Have someone toss the Birdie of Gratitude to someone else; as each person catches it, he names something that he is grateful for then tosses it to another player. (Variation: Name something you are appreciate about the person who is catching the Birdie, then toss it to another player and do the same)

“I’m Thankful” Game
“I’m thankful” game. Before eating the thanksgiving feast, go around the table listing things alphabetically that you are thankful for.   “I’m thankful for __ (something that starts with A). The next person continues by giving thanks for something that starts with B. Go around the table and see how far you can get in the alphabet.

Thanksgiving Coloring Page

Have your children color and complete this Thanksgiving coloring page of Zac and Maddie, the character’s in How Zac Got His Z’s:  A Guide to Getting Rid of Nightmares. Happy Thanksgiving! – Talking and Teaching about Self-Confidence

I was recently asked to be a contributor for a great website, is a website for parents and caregivers with curious children. With so many scary sites on the net, its a pleasure to be part of a parent and kid-friendly informational site.  Check out my first article, Talking and Teaching About Self-Confidence!

ADHD and Food Dyes

I’m a big fan of M&M’s and used to have an M&M dispenser in my office. I would reward children with a handful of candy after  a particularly good session. That is until I learned about the association between ADHD and food dyes. Until fairly recently, I was pretty skeptical about the relationship between food and ADHD.  However, a couple of things came to my attention and I knew I simply had to learn more about this issue.  Not long ago a friend of mine from high school shared a post on facebook regarding her son, who was struggling with ADHD-like symptoms for years.  Someone suggested it may be due to an allergy to food dyes, which prompted her to do some research and to begin an elimination diet.  She reported a dramatic improvement, similar to what I often see when a child begins medication for ADHD.  After reading her post, I began recommending that my clients try an elimination diet as well.  While many clients did report improvement, I must admit that I stopped recommending it for no other reason than than I simply forgot.  Fast forward to March 30, 2011 when I learned that the FDA was holding hearings to determine if there is a link between food dyes and adverse behaviors.  The issue was getting a lot of attention in the media so I began educating myself.  Some of what I learned was truly shocking! For instance, did you know that the British Food Standards Agency and the European Food Safety Agency have imposed warning labels on foods that contain dyes?  So much so that some American-made products sold overseas no longer contain food dyes, while these same products still contain food dyes in the states!  Companies such as Kraft, Coca-Cola and Walmart have removed dyes from foods that they distribute in the UK! Mars has eliminated some or all of the dyes from its Starburst Chews, Skittles, and M&M’s in Britain, but not in the US. In the UK, McDonald’s vanilla syrup  for milkshakes, strawberry syrup for milk shakes, and strawberry sauce for sundaes are colored with caramelized sugar and caramel coloring, beetroot juice concentrate, and actual strawberries, respectively; however in the United States, the same foods are colored with Yellows 5 and 6, Red 40, and Red 40, respectively.It seems there must be something to this whole food dyes thing if this is the case. What exactly is the issue?

Photo from

For starters, most food dyes are petroleum derivatives and contain lead, mercury, and arsenic. There is absolutely NO nutritional value in these dyes. Food dyes are in more than just candy. They can also be found in bagels, pickles, BBQ sauce, ketchup, macaroni and cheese, beverages,  cheese, soft drinks, chips, crackers, gelatins, frozen desserts, breakfast cereals, and more.

The changes made overseas were prompted by a 2007 in-depth study known as the Southampton study.  Researchers found evidence of increased hyperactivity in children after they consumed a cocktail of artificial food colors and sodium benzoate, a preservative found in many candies and soft drinks. In this study of 153 three-year-olds and 144 eight-year-olds, the children’s families were asked to put them on a diet free from the additives used in the study. Over a six-week period the children were then given a drink each day which either contained one of two mixtures of food colours and benzoate preservative, or just fruit juice – with all the drinks looking and tasting identical.  Parents noticed a marked increase in hyperactivity- some within an hour after consumption. While some question the study as not all observers noted a significant change and it was difficult to determine which dye was the culprit, there was still enough compelling evidence to prompt legislative change. In July 2008, the EU decided that it would require manufacturers to label foods containing the six colors with the following warning: ‘May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.’”

After two days of hearings, the FDA did not come to the same conclusion. In a close 8 to 6 vote, the committee decided against warning labels and in a vote of 13-1, decided that additional studies are necessary to prove that the dyes cause hyperactivity in children who don’t have ADHD. However, the FDA did state that ‘For certain susceptible children with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and other problem behaviors, however, the data suggest that their condition may be exacerbated by exposure to a number of substances in food, including, but not limited to, synthetic color additives.’


RED #40 or ALLURA RED: The most widely used food dye in the U.S. Found in Frito-Lay products; some Yoplait products; JELL-O Gelatin desserts; Quaker Instant Oatmeal; Trix; Froot-Loops; Apple Jacks; some Pop-Tart products; Kid Cuisine Kung Fu Panda products; Oscar Mayer Lunchables products; Hostess Twinkies; some Pillsbury rolls and frostings; some Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines frostings; and more

RED #3 or CARMOISINE: Only found in a few products. Candy, popsicles, cake decoration and other baked goods, maraschino cherries

YELLOW #3 or TARTAZINE: The second most widely used food dye.  Found in Nabisco Cheese Nips Four Cheese; Frito-Lay Sun Chips Harvest Cheddar and other Frito-Lay products; some Hunt’s Snack Pack Pudding products; Lucky Charms; Eggo waffles and other waffle products; some Pop-Tarts products; various Kraft macaroni and cheese products; Betty Crocker Hamburger Helper and other products

YELLOW #5 or SUNSET YELLOW: The third most widely used food dye. Found in Frito-Lay Cheetos Flamin’ Hot Crunchy and other Frito-Lay products; Betty Crocker Fruit Roll-ups; some JELL-O gelatin deserts and instant puddings; Fruity Cheerios; Trix; some Eggo waffle products; some Kid Cuisine Kung Fu Panda products; some Kraft macaroni and cheese dinners; some Betty Crocker frostings; some M&M’s and Skittles candies; Sunkist Orange Soda; Fanta Orang

BLUE#1 or BRILLIANT BLUEFrito-Lay Sun Chips French Onion and other Frito-Lay products; some Yoplait products; some JELL-O dessert products; Fruity Cheerios; Trix; Froot-Loops; Apple Jacks; Quaker Cap’N Crunch’s Crunch Berries; some Pop-Tarts products; some Oscar Mayer Lunchables; Duncan Hines Whipped Frosting Chocolate; Edy’s ice cream products; Skittles candies; Jolly Ranchers Screaming Sours Soft & Chew Candy; Eclipse gum; Fanta Grape

BLUE #2 or INDIGOTINEFound in Froot-Loops; Post Fruity Pebbles; Pop-Tarts products; Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe Strawberry Supreme Premium Cake Mix; Betty Crocker Frosting Rich & Creamy Cherry; M&M’s Milk Chocolate Candies; M&M’s Milk Chocolate Peanut Candies; Wonka Nerds Grape/Strawberry; pet foods

GREEN #3 or FAST GREEN FCF Rarely used . Found in canned peas, vegetables, fish, desserts, cotton candy and other candy

Now what? The jury is still out on food dyes- at least in the United States.  Since they don’t add any nutritional value and there is a good chance they contribute to behavior problems, why not try eliminating dyes from your diet?  Commit to a 30-day diet without any artificial colorings — for both children and adults. Start by sweeping clean your kitchen cupboards, pantry, and refrigerator. Get the kids involved in this process and make it a family project. Then, when you go grocery shopping you can make it a game with the children.  Ask them to help you read the labels. Generally speaking, if you can’t pronounce it on the label, it’s probably best to not add it to your shopping cart.  I now recommend to all clients that I suspect might have ADHD, and have heard lots of positive feedback.  Would love to hear your feedback too-feel free to post comments!