Family Spotlight: Debbie Fischer

Structured Doll Play

My husband and I, along with our two sons – ages 4 and 1 ½ years, recently underwent a cross-country move. As corporate relocations tend to go, we moved into a temporary apartment and a preschool that happened to have openings for both boys. Within 2 months, we moved again – this time into our permanent house and, a few months later, to a preschool located near the house. That’s two house moves and two preschool moves in six months.

While our 4-year-old, Graham, had treated the initial move like a grand adventure, the final switch into his permanent daycare was less than smooth. His teachers weren’t as fun (so he said), and the other kids weren’t his friends. Since switching preschools, he started to have more tears about going to school in the morning. Over the next few months, the resistance to attending preschool dramatically increased. He had frequent tummy aches, would sob at drop-off, and ultimately required a teacher handoff at the door. He even began to cry about going to school when we’d tuck him into bed at night, knowing it was coming the next morning. Soon, our normally-awesome sleeper started to wander into our bedroom at night.

When my husband and I would ask him what was going on he’d either say that he didn’t like his teacher or the kids at school were mean to him. One morning, my husband had Graham strapped in the car – ready to go to school – when Graham said he had to make a potty stop. I stayed behind to take him to school after he was finished.

I poked my head into the bathroom to let Graham know that I would be the one taking him in that morning. He looked up at me from the toilet and tears started rolling down his face. Through a strained voice, he said, “Mommy, I am feeling very sad.” We ascertained that he did not actually need to go potty, but rather was delaying the inevitable school drop-off. We washed up and moved to the living room couch to talk more about it. There, he told me that kids at school were being mean to him.

My husband and I, frankly worried about bullying, scheduled a parent-teacher conference to learn more. When I told his teacher about his most recent delay tactic of asking to use the bathroom, she chimed in that he was excessively asking to use the restroom at school too. This is a great school, with incredibly patient teachers, so when they use the word “excessive”, I knew it wasn’t an exaggeration. The teachers also reinforced that they were seeing no issues with the other children at school. In fact, they said, Graham regularly plays with almost everyone in his class. Of course, there are normal disputes over toys, etc, but certainly nothing out of the ordinary.

They were pretty certain we were dealing with garden-variety separation anxiety. They gave us some ideas on how to deal with it at home. They assured us that separation anxiety can ebb and flow, and creep up every now and again without much warning – especially if a family has undergone so many changes in a short period, as ours had.

We tried the tactics that the school gave us, but none of them seemed to help, so I called Ms. Amy. She had been a great help to my son while we were still in the Dallas area, and she knew Graham. Amy agreed this sounded very much like separation anxiety and, among other great tips, suggested we try structured doll play to provide Graham with some additional comfort with our school drop-off/pick-up routine.

I tried it that very night. I asked Graham if he wanted to play a new game with me. He was very excited to try something new! I told him we were going to play “School Drop-off,” and he immediately picked out dolls and stuffed animals to represent each member of the family. The dolls sat down for breakfast together, like we do as a family, then the daddy doll told Graham’s doll that it was time to go to school. As my son’s doll approached the toy car, he stopped and spoke – through his doll voice – and said, “I don’t want to go to school.” I had the daddy doll ask him why. My son’s doll said, “Because I poop a lot… I have diarrhea.”

This was not at all what I was expecting to hear, but it instantly made sense! A few weeks back, Graham had a little stomach bug and had a potty accident at school. School policy dictated that he had to wear a Pull-up for the rest of the day. At the time, it didn’t seem to phase him, but apparently the incident had left some deeper marks than we all knew.

I focused on my doll again, and used the daddy doll to tell him that he was sick then, but he is not sick now and that those types of accidents would not happen anymore. We played through the rest of the drop-off and pick-up routine. Graham loved it so much he asked to play it again two more times!

The next morning, I expected his anxiety to magically be gone, but it wasn’t. It seemed a little lessened but not by much. We briefly reinforced what the daddy doll had told the Graham doll the night before as he left for school. That evening, Graham asked to play “School Drop-off” again, so we did, and there was no talk of dreading school the next day. His drop-off the next morning was just a bit smoother.

Throughout that week, the drop-offs became increasingly easier. The potty break requests during school dwindled as well. Now, almost 2 months later, we have no mysterious tummy aches, no night-wakings, and no significant anxiety about drop-off at preschool. Graham still doesn’t love the idea of going to school on a Monday morning, but it’s nothing like it used to be. He even comes home talking about friends he’s played with that day. Every now and then, he will ask to play “School Drop-off” with me, but the interest in it usually dwindles about halfway through. He doesn’t seem to need it anymore.

I couldn’t believe how effective structured doll play was for Graham. Not only that he was excited to play it but that he was instantly able to tell me what he was feeling – where weeks of asking had only led to canned answers. As his doll was telling mine all his worries, it was a little bit of an awkward transition for me to process what he was telling me as a mother, then respond as a doll character. It was also apparent to me how long it had been since I had played dolls and pretend. I felt pretty rusty – it’s not as easy as it used to be, and felt a little silly too. Also, in not so little ways, my reaching out to Graham with an idea for a game, and making a concerted effort to leave behind household chores to get on the floor for some focused play time, made him feel valued and loved as well.

I can’t thank Amy enough for these lessons!

Debbie Fischer

Bedtime: Why Won’t She Just Go To Sleep?!

Imagine the perfect night – you help your child get ready for bed, read a bedtime story, say prayers, tuck her in, hug and kiss her goodnight and leave the room. She drifts off to a peaceful sleep, you get adult time, and you don’t hear from her, or see her again until the next morning. What a perfect and seemingly simple way to end the day, right? Wrong. Rarely does this scenario exist, especially in the early years.

Bedtime battles can be one of the biggest battles parents face. Some kiddos don’t want to go to bed because of a fear, others don’t want to be separated from their parents, others worry that they might miss something, and some just have a hard time falling asleep. If there are real emotional issues, it’s best to help your child work through those or she will never be able to get off to a peaceful night’s sleep. The last thing you want is for bedtime to turn into a power struggle.

The goal should be for them to learn to fall asleep by themselves, stay asleep and wake up feeling rested and refreshed the next morning. We are teaching them that establishing good sleep habits early in life is a healthy way to take good care of our bodies.
Truth be told, there are certain things we cannot make our children do and going to sleep is one of them. Let’s focus on what we can control and consider what we can do to ensure bedtime does not turn into a battlefield.

  • Establish a set evening routine to develop good habits. This does take time but it is imperative to do it and stay consistent if you want a successful bedtime outcome.
  • Give them a 30-minute warning, signaling it’s time to begin to wrap things up and finish what they are doing – no new activities and, please, no screen time.
  • Create a peaceful environment. Calm parents contribute to an easier bedtime. When there is stress during their day, our kids have greater inability to fall asleep because of the stress hormone, cortisol. It prohibits them from being able to calm themselves.
  • Allow them unhurried time to transition. This might include a bath, jammies, teeth, chat, story, prayers, hugs and kisses before you say goodnight and leave their room.
  • Stand firm if they try to keep you engaged by getting up after the bedtime routine has ended. This is where things can go awry quickly. They need to tell you one more thing, get one more drink of water, have one more kiss and so on. If this happens, kindly say “it’s time to go back to bed” and gently lead her back. No talking, no getting angry – very scripted and rehearsed. You might have to do this repeatedly until she gets the message that you will not tolerate her manipulation.

Bedtime can be a sweet and meaningful way to end the day. Having these patterns established can take some of the stress out of it, and allow everybody to sign off for the day while feeling good about the closeness of the parent-child relationship.

Sweet dreams.

There’s Always Hope,





Need more help?  Parents often jokingly ask Amy, “Will you go home with me?”  While she can’t do that, Amy is available to consult with parents through her consultation services.  Click Here to learn more.

Ask Amy: Solutions to Summertime Boredom!

In this edition of “Ask Amy”, our reader asks what she can do to keep her little one busy during summer vacation.

Amy gives several great solutions to the age-old summertime boredom. As parents, it isn’t our job to be the entertainer all time. We can actually create an unhealthy dependance in our children by always providing activities. Listen to these create tips to help develop creative thought and imagination in your kids. For more great parenting tips, go to:

If you have a parenting question, let us know!

There’s Always Hope,

Need more help? Parents often jokingly ask Amy, “Will you go home with me?” While she can’t do that, Amy is available to consult with parents through her consultation services. Click Here to learn more!

Potty Training: Power Struggle or Perfect Timing

Potty training, gone bad, can create huge problems in families and create stress in the parent-child relationship. When this happens, no one wins. Parents start the process determined they are going to make their child use the potty and some kids are simply not ready. If that happens in your home, please go ahead and put it on hold Parenting with Amytemporarily. Why, you ask? Potty training will never be a success with that dynamic.

Almost every single time there is a potty issue and it is not a medical issue, there is a determined child and a determined parent involved. This is the worst combination of personalities because power struggles emerge in all their glory. If parents don’t learn how to work with their child’s strong will, not only will we have potty issues, we’ll now have parent-child relationship problems which creates emotional and behavioral problems.

Here is the bottom line. It’s impossible to make someone use the toilet. We can make them sit there, but we cannot make them go. That is absolutely something we cannot control.

Learning to use the potty is a huge developmental task and successful potty training depends on emotional and physical readiness of your child, not chronological age. Some 2 year olds are ready; others have no interest whatsoever.

If kids are ready and if parents have the right mindset, potty training will be fairly easy. Readiness is the key word to consider before beginning the process – both child and parent readiness.

Is your child ready?

All of the following tasks occur naturally in kids, somewhere between 2 and 4 years of age. The more yes’s, the more ready they are.

  • Does she understand basic directions and follow them?
  • Is she expressing any interest in the potty?
  • Does she talk about wanting to wear panties?
  • Does she fuss about a wet or dirty diaper?
  • Can she stay dry for long periods of time?
  • Does she like to please?
  • Is she saying or acting like she wants to be more independent?

Are you ready?

If you’re feeling stressed about potty training or feeling overwhelmed with life, it might not be the right time to start. Wait. Keep in mind that teaching your child to use the potty should be as natural as teaching her how to work a puzzle. Can you:

  • Be positive
  • Use humor
  • Relax
  • Understand this is something you cannot control
  • Be tolerant and patient when accidents happen
  • Start when no other big events or issues are going on
  • Block off at least 3 days to be at home and commit to the cause

Potty Training is a Process

  • Expect accidents. Many of them. Respond and refrain from reacting. All you need to say is “Accidents happen. Let’s get cleaned up.” To punish, shame or guilt is never effective.
  • When you start, it’s panties or underwear all the time, except, of course, naptime or nighttime.
  • Never force a child to sit on the potty until she goes. This is seen as punishment. It will blow up in your face.
  • Be aware that already anxious and fearful kids sometimes withhold, so watch for constipation.
  • The process can’t be rushed.

What if your child is resistant? 

Go into this prepared to deal with it. Consider calling a halt…only temporarily though, if you are met with pushback. Continuing to deal with a child that is not receptive will be a considerable drain of your time and energy. What this usually means is that she is not ready. Honestly, the worst thing you can do is to push through and continue. I’ve never, ever seen anything good come out of this scenario.

It’s hard not to feel embarrassed and compare when other kids seemingly have no potty issues and yours is still having accidents. Remember this is your child’s process and one that she needs to be the boss of. Potty training takes time. It WILL happen. She will not go off to college in a pull-up.

When it does, I’d say a potty dance is in order!

There’s Always Hope,





Need more help?  Parents often jokingly ask Amy, “Will you go home with me?”  While she can’t do that, Amy is available to consult with parents through her consultation services.  Click Here to learn more.


Family Spotlight: Jennifer Eckert


Wow… thinking back to the time period that brought us to Amy’s door – sometimes it feels like it was so long ago, and sometimes it feels like it was just yesterday. Desperate is the word I would use to describe that time period. Although it was scary and I was completely at a loss as to how to parent my child, I am so grateful that I was desperate and vulnerable enough to get help. Amy provided exactly the tools, support and comfort we needed.  I would say to any parentEckert Family struggling with an issue with their child – be desperate and vulnerable. There is no shame in not knowing what to do.

Our son, Josh, was a handful – well, he still is. I remember the exact moment when I knew we had a “passionate” child on our hands – he was 13 months old, not verbal yet, but full of things to say. He was standing at the refrigerator, banging on it and screaming for milk, but only in sounds that a mom would know what their child wanted. He was desperate, too. He couldn’t talk but boy did he want and need to. Since Josh couldn’t talk, he was physical. He would hit, throw, run away from me. I was really at a loss. I remember sitting in the pediatricians office just crying to the nurse practitioner about my 2-year old. I “didn’t know what to do!” Thank God for her, and for my desperation, because that moment led me on a path towards help, answers and finally feeling like everything would be “okay”.


The nurse practitioner suggested we start by calling Amy Meyer and a speech therapist. Thankfully, Josh’s non-verbal abilities were pretty easily fixed. I think he was just stuck, and once he got “unstuck” verbally, he has not stopped talking since! Josh becoming verbal, although not overnight, was helpful because he could tell us what was going on, instead of being physical.

The play therapy was quite a journey. First, Amy was wonderful – she was non-judgmental and caring – she was all that we needed. As I mentioned above, I think that is the most important aspect of the process of therapy I received, and still carry with me today, is that “everything is going to be okay”.  I didn’t always know what that would look like, and it might not be pretty to everyone else, but I knew in my heart that we would all be okay, because we were getting help.

Through play therapy we learned what behaviors to care about and what to let go of. Josh was (and still is) all about control. For example – Josh hated to have me brush his hair. Well –my goodness, to have a child go to pre-school without great looking hair – what will people think? Hmmm.. we found out quickly that was a battle we really didn’t need to fight. What a relief!  I was so happy to receive “permission” from Amy that certain behaviors were okay. A particular issue that I remember is that Josh never – truly never – sat down to eat dinner. He always stood up. I cannot tell you how we fought with him over that issue! When we discussed it with Amy, we all agreed that as long as he was with us at the table, ate his food and helped clean up, it was fine that he stood up. Something like this may not fly in another household, but it truly had to in ours because we had to learn that compromise was the key. I feel so grateful that early on, we were able to get to know this child, get to understand that things might look different with him –and that’s “okay”. I can honestly tell you that if we had not gone through those years with Amy, I would be further into the pit that I was in at the time.

There were many situations when I really gave into Josh because it was just so much easier. I was tired of fighting every single little thing with him. I think we made a lot of mistakes by letting Josh have control, and letting him run our family at certain times because it was just such a whipping to stay strong and do the “right” thing. As we learned from Amy, consistency was, and still is, the key.


Oh gosh – Josh is now 10, almost 11, and time certainly does fly! We met Amy when Josh was 2 or 3. I remember talking with Amy and she told me that more than likely,   Josh was ADHD. Because Josh was only 2/3 at the time, he was too young for a formal diagnosis, but I am here to tell you she was right on the money. Amy suggested we go to a diagnostic psychologist and Josh was formally diagnosed at 6 years old (when he was in kindergarten). Since then, we continue to learn a lot about Josh everyday. I really think that since we were so open to help when Josh was young, it has enabled us to be so throughout our parenting journey with him and our other two children (Callie – 13 and Truitt – 6). Since Josh formally stopped seeing Amy, my husband and I have checked in with her a couple of times and I truly feel like I can call her anytime to make an appointment and receive her counsel.  We reached out to her when we knew it was time to take the nest step and have Josh diagnosed – I knew she would be the best source for us. We reached out to her when I was worried about a new problem that arose – sometimes you just need a refresher and a safety net as a parent, and she provided that for us.

Am I the “perfect parent” now because we went to therapy? Nope, I am far from it.  I am flawed, human – I make mistakes daily, hourly. But, I know that we gleaned so much from our time with Amy and I still use that knowledge everyday. I am open to realizing that each of my children is unique and needs different things from me. I realize some things are worth the battle and some are not. One aspect that has stuck with me from going to see Amy is that Josh is who he is. I cannot make him be someone different, I cannot make him be compliant when that is not his nature, I cannot have all the control. That being said, I know that because he is strong willed, we need to be vigilant about helping him realize his strengths and weaknesses. We are fumbling through this process, but we are trying to maintain the tools we learned from Amy to the best of our ability.

Hopefully we are raising great kids that will turn into great adults. Thank goodness we are not alone. It brings me comfort knowing that I can still reach out to Amy.

Jennifer Eckert