Dr. Steven Lazarus is an expert child psychologist and teen psychologist in Littleton, CO. This page is dedicated to giving parents different parenting strategies in their work with their children and teenagers.

, ,

This is What Video Games Do Right To Motivate Your Child

Child psychologists in Highlands Ranch hear the same complaint every day: your child can’t seem to focus on his homework or chores for more than 5 minutes, but can spend endless time working toward the next level on his video game! How are video games so motivating, and what can parents, educators, and counselors learn from them?

Video Games Don’t Punish—And Neither Should You

Bad news from science: punishment doesn’t work. It doesn’t help a person learn how to do a task, doesn’t meaningfully reduce unwanted behaviors, and increases the risk of the person disengaging or becoming rebellious. If a video game punished a player for losing, more players would “rage quit” than continue to play. So what do game designers do instead? Video games today usually use the term “respawn” or “go back to a previous checkpoint.” In real life, this looks a lot like “try again.” Your child may be frustrated to hear that her character has perished and must now “respawn at the last checkpoint,” but she’s still motivated to keep trying—all day and night! You can use some of the same principles to shape behavior.

Child Psychologists Explain Intermittent Reinforcement

If you’ve played any ad-supported phone games lately, you’ve probably noticed the trend to have a “prize of the day” or “lucky wheel” to spin for a free prize. Usually, these prizes are “worth” almost nothing, but there are a few amazing prizes mixed in, like lots of game currency or special abilities. What keeps kids (and adults!) coming back to click these low-reward boxes so often? The principle of intermittent reinforcement. Much like slot machines at a casino, or winnings on lottery tickets, there is a very low barrier to entry and the chance of a very high reward. When that reward does arrive, it’s so big and exciting that it floods the brain with reward chemicals—driving the person to come back again and again. Intermittent reinforcement makes behavior more likely—so make sure you use it to reward good behaviors, not to give in to temper tantrums.

Video Games Borrow Tools From Children’s Play Therapy

When you bring a child to see a play therapist in Highlands Ranch, you can expect the therapist to start out by making each visit as fun and easy as possible. Just like the first few levels of a video game, where “leveling up” is easy and rewards are frequent, your child’s first few play sessions are geared to increase engagement and build positive associations. As play therapy progresses, you may notice that your child’s therapist offers choices and lets your child take the lead—turns out, video game designers took notice of this as well! If you get a chance, observe your child when he first starts playing a video game. Does he go to the battle or race immediately, or check out the boosters? Does he work toward daily goals, or have his own plan? No matter what he chooses, he will see progress in the video game—and he’ll feel pride and ownership because he chose his own course. Any external goals are clearly defined and come with clearly-defined rewards and prizes, so your child can choose what is most important.

Gamification (making things seem more like games) is a tool that has shown good results in the workplace, school settings, business, and marketing—any place where “hard work” can be transformed into “good fun.” Next time you’re struggling to motivate your child, ask yourself how a video game might do it. For more tips and personalized help, call a child psychologist in Highlands Ranch.



, ,

Child Psychologists in Littleton Avoid These Two Tear-Inducing Words

Kids cry—a lot. In fact, many parents bring their child to visit a child psychologist in Littleton because they cry so much that it gets in the way of other activities. Does your child’s crying interfere with daily routines, mealtime, school, and recreation? Is the behavior interrupting your marriage? Keep reading to find out the two words you should avoid saying—and what works better instead.

Why Do Kids Cry?

Do you remember being a child? If you can remember your elementary school years or even preschool years, you may remember crying over “little” problems, like a sticker ripping in half instead of coming up neatly, a dropped ice cream cone, or the dreaded torture of clothes that don’t feel right! As an adult, you are so fortunate to have a hundred solutions for each of these problems—including getting in the car, driving to a store, and buying more stuff to fix those problems! Now you probably only cry when you are really injured, when someone breaks your heart, or when something devastating happens to your loved ones—problems that have no solutions. Crying serves a purpose. When kids talk to a therapist about what makes them cry, they describe feeling helpless, frustrated, and powerless when they cry. Think back to before you could leave situations on your own, before you could buy your own supplies before you know how many cool things were in the world—those little things do feel devastating, and having no power to change them feels even worse.

Why This Common Phrase Usually Backfires When Managing Kid’s Emotions

If you were deeply upset, and someone told you “stop crying,” would it work? Most adults can see that if their partner responded to them in this fashion after a loss, that partner would get an earful in return! Just like you, your child doesn’t want to cry. Crying is uncomfortable and can be embarrassing in our society—and it often feels out of one’s personal control. Telling someone to just “stop crying” is like telling them to stop feeling pain after being stung by a bee—we wish it was that simple! When your child is upset and you tell them to stop crying, you’re just piling another failure on their plate.

How To Help Your Child Stop Crying

So what can you do to help your child stop crying? Figure out what the problem was and help them to solve it or accept it. Child and family psychologists in Littleton know that not every problem can be solved, but when it can, you can guide your child to that solution. Help your child externalize the problem by naming it, and don’t hesitate to have a little fun—if your child is melting down over a pair of shoes that just won’t tie, why not throw those “mean shoes” to the back of the closet to be “forgotten forever!” and choose a different pair? If the misery is about a broken item, would your child be interested in taking it to “toy hospital” or shopping online for a replacement? For problems without solutions, focus on helping your child calm down again after expressing sadness for a while. Yes, this means that you’ll have to listen to that crying for a few minutes—but you’ll live! Once your child shows signs that they are ready to listen and move on, speak in soft, soothing tones and help them to regulate their body by encouraging things like “take a deep breath,” “have a sip of water,” or asking if they would like a hug.

It seems intuitive that a direct order to “stop crying” would work, but it often has the same effect as throwing water on a grease fire. Next time your child is crying uncontrollably, remember that you need to address the cause of the fire—or emotional upset—and connect your child with the tools they need to extinguish it. If you need help with this process, or if nothing works to help your child stop crying, visit a child psychologist in Littleton for parenting tools and play therapy.



, ,

Try These Fun Activities At Home To Build Attention, Focus, and Planning Skills

Paying attention is hard—especially for kids! Child psychologists in Littleton know just how short little attention spans can be, and how challenging other tasks of executive functioning, such as planning ahead, paying attention to detail, and multitasking can be. Whether your child has been diagnosed with ADHD or not, try these fun activities at home to help build up these important skills.

Cook and Bake To Help Kids Practice Following Directions

Do you have memories of baking cookies with grandma, or helping your parents prepare dinner when you were a child? You probably didn’t realize it at the time, but they were helping you to learn valuable life skills! Baking in particular requires careful, accurate measurements, and attention to time. Just an extra teaspoon or a few extra minutes will turn tasty cookies into a hard, burnt mess, and these natural consequences can help children realize how important it is to stay focused on the task at hand. A tip from Highlands Ranch play therapists is to “reserve” some of the materials just in case. Ending on a successful note makes everyone happier!

Explore Natural Consequences and Reactions with Science Experiments

Is your child always asking “what would happen if…?” Indulge some of those curiosities and explore cause-and-effect when you invite your child to perform some science experiments! This could be as simple as mixing slime or homemade dough, as spontaneous as mixing leftover kitchen ingredients, or as complicated as your older child would like it to be. Whether you are performing advanced chemistry or just trying to see “will more soap make even more bubbles?” make sure to invite your child to think about and predict the reactions, then to interpret the consequences. Child behavior psychologists use similar in-vivo activities to help children understand that their actions have consequences (good and bad, sometimes explosive!) and to plan for the future.

Try “Racing” To Build Time Awareness

If your child is always running late, taking too long, or feeling rushed, it can help to improve her awareness and sense of time. Turn it into a game and you’ll be amazed at the results! Proposing a “race” (either against a parent, or against your child’s best time), can be a good way to shift the focus to speed without rushing or pressure. For example, time your child’s bedtime routine to see how fast she really can get teeth brushed and pajamas on, or measure how long it actually takes to complete homework. With repeated practice, this can help your child “sense” how long blocks of time (a minute, 5 minutes, an hour) may actually be. Since little brains are still developing, your child therapist reminds you that this can take years of practice to perfect!

Some of the games, routines, and rituals that parents have practiced with children since the dawn of time can teach valuable life lessons. If everyday interventions and tips are not enough to help your child manage life at home and at school successfully, you’re not alone. Consider working with a child psychologist in Littleton for ADHD evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment.



, ,

My Child Doesn’t Talk in Therapy. Are They Getting Anything Out of It?

Making the decision to bring your child to see a child psychologist in Littleton is an important one, and one you have probably considered carefully. After all, you wonder about your child’s future mental health, your parenting strengths, and the costs of those sessions. So if you observe that your child does not talk, or if your child reports “we don’t really talk at therapy,” should you be worried? Is it a waste of time, or is your child getting something out of those sessions? Keep reading for insight into the process of therapy and counseling with kids and teens.

Play Therapy for Pre-School Kids

If your child is very young, such as those in preschool or kindergarten, you may be working with a play therapist in Highlands Ranch, or at least a child psychologist well-versed in play-based therapy. Unlike adult talk therapy, play therapy is all about experience—just like your little one learns! Because children at this age have a limited vocabulary, your child psychologist will work to understand her needs in different ways, such as her actions, facial expressions, and reactions. Every action is communication—words are not always necessary. By celebrating successes, guiding expression, and providing new and different opportunities to approach and solve problems, your child is learning without talking very much.

Therapy for Elementary School Children

This is the age where kids often tell their parents (quite proudly) “we didn’t talk at all today!” That’s because children this age often lack insight into the deeper meanings of things, and may not see the connection between role-playing, pretend play, and other tools used by child psychologists to create behavior change. For a child who is being bullied, talking about it can feel like torture. However, playing a game where all the soldiers in the castle pick on the littlest soldier, only to have that soldier save the day later, can boost confidence and remind the client of his strengths—without all that “talking.” Children will often express their needs through play, such as repeatedly being drawn to toys representing past traumas, current hurdles, or specific emotions.

Talk Therapy For Teenagers

By the time your child is in middle or high school, they’ve probably moved past the toys and games and are ready for what looks like “adult” therapy. But parents can be frustrated to find out that their child spends the session talking about their favorite TV show, the fun they had with their friends, or seemingly “random stuff.” Once again—every action is communication. Exploring the role of feelings and relationships through fantasy (like TV shows or video games) is the big-kid version of playing with toys. It allows the child to explore those things without the real consequences, or to imagine life at its extremes.

When you bring your child or teenager for therapy in Littleton, don’t fixate on “how much” or even “if” they talk. Your child or adolescent psychologist is adept at interpreting communications of all kinds, and changing behavior through interactions. Call today to start seeing change.



, ,

New 2022 study shows Pandemic caused increased internet addiction

Here is a recent study that came out in 2022 indicating some key points of the effects of internet addiction.

People from the study defined with severe internet addiction were 8x more likely to have depression, 9x anxiety and 14x more likely to have both depression and anxiety

The study highlights the ongoing impacts of the pandemic and how it negatively impacted people.

How to Quit Couples Therapy (Without Ghosting Your Therapist)

You’ve been in couples therapy in Littleton for a few months, and it has really helped. Your therapist has helped you and your partner see eye to eye, learn new communication styles, and you can resolve arguments better. You used to meet weekly, now it’s every other week… well, except those times when you cancel, or reschedule, and when you don’t have another date set, it doesn’t actually bother you. Is it time to quit couples therapy? How do you stop therapy without ghosting your therapist?

Signs That You are Finished with Therapy

Therapy is not meant to be a lifelong commitment. Most couples visit their couples therapist in Littleton to learn new skills, resolve a specific problem, or overcome a particularly stressful period in their relationship. Your therapist may be keeping an eye on your progress and thinking about the next stage as well. You may find that your relationship is going more smoothly, you and your partner are using the communication skills and conflict resolution tools that you have discussed, and having fewer (or more productive) disagreements. Therapy may still be enjoyable or useful, but you probably have less of those “aha!” moments you did when you were first starting.

Ending Therapy in Littleton Respectfully

You and your partner should always be on the same page about stopping couple’s therapy. If one person feels ready, and the other doesn’t, this should be the next thing you bring up when seeing your couple’s therapist in Littleton! But, when you are both on the same page, there’s one more person in the room—your therapist. Therapists get “ghosted” a lot—a final session never occurring, the client not calling back to schedule another session. We don’t take it personally, but your course of therapy could feel more complete if you approach it honestly and respectfully. Bring it up in session, call and leave a voicemail, or send a text if your therapist uses text messages.

Can I Call My Old Therapist To Start Counseling Again?

Speaking of the end of therapy, what if you want to go back to counseling again? Can you work with the same couples therapist? Most therapists are completely fine with this. A healthcare organization may change providers frequently, or make you do more paperwork, but a private practice couples therapist will remember you and welcome you back to couples therapy.

Have you met your goals in couple’s therapy? Don’t be afraid to let your therapist know you’re ready to move on. Your therapist will be here when you need them, just a call away!



Child Psychologists in Littleton Debate: Is Play Therapy Just Playing? Is Talk Therapy Just Talking?

Young children with behavioral or emotional problems are often referred for play therapy. Littleton’s child behavior psychologists and play therapists know that play is a language in and of itself, and is the natural way that children engage with and connect with the world. But many parents observe a play therapy session, or hear their child talking about their play therapy activities and ask “are you just playing?” Keep reading to see why play therapy is so much more than “just playing.”

Play as Language

If you’ve ever watched a group of young children, you know that they don’t really converse like adults do. Yes, they talk (often non-stop!), but few kindergarteners will sit across from a peer and say “hello friend, how was your day? Have you seen the weather lately?” In fact, when kids want to engage, they usually start with a familiar phrase: “want to play?” Even adults hate small talk, so kids skip it entirely, moving onto the best interaction there is: imaginative play. Play is the language that kids use to communicate. It is about doing, not saying, about moving, not thinking. Play allows children to explore and investigate safely—like VR, but driven only by imagination. Play therapists in Littleton use this imagination space to learn and grow. Play has been credited with improving emotional regulation, learning, self-confidence, and socialization. “Just” play!

Is Talk Therapy Just Talking?

Here’s a parallel: Is talk therapy just talking? When adults visit a psychologist in Littleton, they talk and talk and talk. Do you remember being a small child and thinking this was all adults did? For most neurotypical adults, talking is the preferred mode of communication. Most adults would feel very uncomfortable if they were asked to re-enact their conflict at work using puppets, or to fingerpaint a picture of how their spouse made them feel—just like many kids feel very uncomfortable when they are asked to talk about their hard day at school. Psychologists are specially trained to listen and communicate, whether their clients talk with words, actions, or play.

Indirect Instruction Works

Does your child lash out physically and hit others, even though you have never used physical punishment? Can she list a thousand coping skills, but use none of them? Is he manipulative and cruel to friends, even though you’ve only showered your family with love? Direct instruction works well for skills like reading and math, but humans pick up their relationship, conflict resolution, and coping skills from all over the place. You can drill multiplication facts into someone’s head but making them repeat coping skills endlessly does nothing. Instead, providing opportunities for indirect instruction, practice, and supportive skills (such as self-regulation, self-efficacy, and flexibility) can make these tools more useful. Self-directed or child-directed play helps children to plan, predict, and develop executive function skills in a safe, pretend setting.

Play therapy is the preferred treatment for children 7 and younger, and elements of play therapy are beneficial when working with people with learning or intellectual differences, trauma histories, and people who struggle with speech. If your young child has behavioral or emotional regulation problems, or if you have been referred to a child psychologist, see if your therapist uses elements of play therapy.



, ,

What is Executive Functioning, and How do Psychologists Help Kids With ADHD Build These Tools?

Does it ever seem like your child is so “checked out,” “disorganized,” or “unfocused” that they don’t know whether they are coming or going? This happens to everyone—on occasion. However, for adults and children with ADHD, this is the everyday state of affairs. While only the best psychiatrists and psychologists in Highlands Ranch typically diagnose ADHD, parents and teachers usually notice challenges way sooner. The problem lies in the executive functioning capabilities, which include working memory, flexible thinking, and self-regulation. It’s what helps us manage our time, plan our tasks, and get everything done, just by remembering. Some people call it the “secretary of the brain,” because, when it works well, it functions just like a business secretary would!

However, for people with ADHD, the secretary is always “out to lunch.” Without that important feature, the brain starts to get scattered, disorganized, and misses appointments! For an adult, this may look like missing bills, being late all the time, or never being able to keep the house clean. For kids, this turns into incomplete homework, missing easy items on tests, “daydreaming,” and can sometimes make a child look like he is “not-listening” on purpose. For the kid who is distracted by “everything and nothing,” executive functioning skills need a boost! How does your child psychologist in Littleton help your children boost these skills? With practice and carefully planned tools, of course!

One of the first things your psychologist will do when he or she starts working with your child is to help him identify his emotions. Having a strong understanding of how feelings and functioning connect is a good starting point, because nobody’s executive functioning skills are good when their emotions are too high. This often includes exploring where these feelings happen in the body, and what can make them better or worse. Once your child is on his way to keeping his feelings and body in check, other tools can be added to build memory, organization, and focus tools. Just like training a new employee, kids have to train their brains to work in new ways, and a psychologist in Littleton is a great trainer! Through activities like planning and organizing crafts, practicing mindfulness and meditation, completing puzzles and projects, your child will learn how to flex these “brain muscles” and keep their attention in control—instead of letting it control them. Play therapy can be a great way to engage kids in their own process.

If your child is struggling greatly with time planning, organization and decision-making, focus and attention, distraction, or “listening” when told what to do, ask yourself if their “executive secretary” may be out to lunch for good, then call a child psychologist in Highlands Ranch to start the next steps!



These Tools Can Help You Solve Conflicts in Your Relationship

Are you having conflict in your marriage? Do you and your partner end every day at each other’s throats, only to cry together before giving up and going to bed? Do you put in extra hours at work, take the pandemic puppy for longer walks, or take a “nap” just to avoid conflict with your spouse? If so, couples therapists in Littleton have some news for you: you are not alone! Research shows that most couples experience conflict in their relationship on a regular basis, and this conflict is worsened by transitioning to new parenthood, new jobs, moving to new homes, and major social changes—like the COVID-19 pandemic! Conflict itself isn’t a bad thing, but how you handle it can shape your relationship. Check out these great tools to help resolve relationship conflict!

Active Listening

You yell, you argue… but does either one of you listen? Active listening can be a challenge, especially when you know you’re right! However, this process involves both physical and mental activity, meaning you need to show your partner good eye contact, appropriate body language, and attention to detail. An active listener always waits until her or his partner has stopped speaking before talking, and should be able to summarize the other person’s words before moving onto the next point. Check out these four tips for active listening!

Time Out!

It’s not just for kids, the relationship time-out is a tried-and-true method that couples therapists in Highlands Ranch use all the time. When you have a “time-out” during your relationship conflict, you aren’t just going to your room to calm down (although, that might be a part of it!), you are recognizing that you are not in a place to communicate your true feelings. Couples therapists recommend that you and your partner discuss this process in advance, and when strong feelings come up, either party can call for a time-out. Always plan a “return time” and don’t let it go too long—the goal is to allow both parties to collect themselves and think more clearly without avoiding the conflict entirely.

Put it in Writing

While it may seem silly to write a note to someone you share a home and a bed with, the written word is powerful. When you write out your thoughts, you have plenty of time to think, and the opportunity to cross out, erase, or start over! If you find yourself blurting out impulsive statements, offensive things, or just feel like your partner isn’t listening, a written message can go a long way. If you come in for relationship counseling in Littleton, your couples therapist may have you both write your ideas before sharing them.

These are just a few of the many tools that you can use to build your relationship stronger! If you’ve tried these and more without success, you may need the assistance of a couples therapist. In Littleton, expert couples therapists work with couples at all stages of their relationship using tools from family therapy, cognitive behavior therapy, and animal assisted therapy to help you see eye to eye. Call Dr. Steve Lazarus today to start repairing your relationship!




Try These Tools To Help Your Child Break Bad Habits

Has your child picked up a bad habit lately? From swearing, to using baby talk past an appropriate age, to whining, to nibbling on fingers and lips and objects, parents are constantly trying to help their children shape their behaviors into something that is socially appropriate. When problems become distressing enough, and are interfering with normal socialization, schoolwork, or self-care, parents often seek the help of a child behavior psychologist in Littleton. Before you start, or while you’re working with a child psychologist, try these tips to help your child break bad habits!

  1. Bring it out into the open.

The first step to overcoming a bad habit is to recognize and accept that it is happening. Don’t shame your child or approach him with anger, simply point out what is happening when you are both calm. For example, if your kindergartener’s endless baby talk is driving you up a tree, you could say something like “you know that voice you use that makes mommy really frustrated? That baby voice? You use that voice almost every day after school, and I want to help you use your big boy voice, like you do at school.” When a play therapist in Highlands Ranch meets with a child for the first time, they spend a lot of time simply describing what they see.

  1. Make a collaborative plan.

Work WITH your child to make a plan to eliminate this behavior. This may include a verbal or visual warning to help your child notice when she is showing this behavior (older kids who would be embarrassed with reminders may be more open to a visual warning, like a hand signal, that their friends don’t know about). It can include big or little rewards, like a sticker on the sticker chart each day, or a trip to a favorite park. It depends on what your child needs, wants, and responds to. Positive reinforcement usually works better than punishment—you want to get this bad habit out of your child’s mind, not make it seem like a looming threat. If you are already working with a behavior psychologist, consult with them as well!

  1. Teach (and practice) a replacement behavior.

Remember, whatever bad habit your child has gotten himself into began for a reason. Many bad habits serve an important purpose. Talk with your child to find a replacement behavior that meets that same need, without the annoying habit. For example, if your child curses all the time, help him to think of other, more appropriate ways to say the same thing. Humor is a great tool here—younger kids will love coming up with silly, creative terms to use as “insults” or expressions of frustration. That’s what play therapists in Highlands Ranch do when we tackle tough issues through play! If your child loves to nibble her nails or chew on her mask, introduce approved chewing tools or go for a classic stick of gum for those old enough to chew safely.

  1. Keep your role in mind.

As a parent, your goal is not to “make” your child behave properly 24/7. You guide, advise, teach, remind, and supervise, even through the (many) mistakes that occur. Expect your child to slip up, make errors, and even to backslide after weeks of good progress. This is normal. Keep drawing attention gently to the undesired behaviors, redirect the child to the appropriate replacement behavior, and reward the good when it happens.

This sounds easy, but nothing is as easy in real life as it is in a blog! If your child is struggling with bad habits you can’t break, if you need more help, or if there are ever any safety concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out to a skilled child psychologist.