Visual Schedules: Why You Need One NOW

It’s time for bed and I brush my teeth, put on some pajamas, plug in my phone, say good night to the pups, and then…check my schedule. Yep, I review my schedule for the day that is ending to bring closure, and look ahead to see what is coming tomorrow.

I wake up and what is the first thing I do? Say good morning to whichever family member has awoken me … I mean I haven’t needed an alarm clock in years. Quickly followed by this is a stretch and a check of, you guessed it, my schedule for the day. Before I even drag my body out of bed I have looked at what’s ahead and begun planning. What will I wear, will I be leaving the house, what are the transportation needs of the day, what has to be done before I leave the house…

We all use visual schedules. Wall calendars, google calendar, iCal, Outlook, appointment books. Many of us link our visual schedule to auditory reminders via our phones and virtual assistants. Why do we do this? Because we worry that we will miss something. We will forget an appointment. We won’t accomplish all of our tasks if we don’t organize and plan. Because without those visual reminders, we become overwhelmed by the rush of our daily lives. We become stressed and anxious. We make mistakes which lead to disappointments and confusion.

So if we, as grown adults, rely heavily on visual schedules, (and still make mistakes in planning,) why would we expect our children to NOT use them too?

School is ending and summer is beginning. While this brings images of idyllic days filled with sunshine and spontaneous play, the reality is, most days are spent moving from activity to activity, trying to calm the anxious child and help them focus. The anxious child is left asking, “what are we doing?” ALL DAY LONG with intermittent outbursts, behavioral melt downs and endless power struggles.

Here are 10 reasons why you need to begin using visual schedules NOW:

Provides organization, structure and predictability to the day. Visual schedules are a great way to build routine and inform kids about the expectations for the day. For many children they have learned the routines of the school year and rely heavily on the predictability of getting ready for school and the structure of the school day. Summer vacation often takes away that structure and predictability, leading to anxiety and dysregulation.

Allows change to be introduced easily. A new task or activity can easily be introduced into a visual schedule by placing it between two items already on the schedule. Since kids can see the new change visually and where that change takes place, they can adapt better to those changes. Always have a wild card ready to add in.

Independence: Caregiver, I know you’re busy and I know you long for you child to be just a little bit more independent. If you have a schedule, you can transition and navigate your day without another person having to tell you where to go and what to do.

They help avoid power struggles. If I have a schedule that tells me what to do, I can’t argue with it. I can’t tell you how many times I have said, “Schedule says and had the child follow the direction but if I said, “I need you to do ” it wouldn’t happen. The schedule takes the “personal” piece out of it and makes it more objective.

They provide a permanent visual reminder. I can leave a schedule with them and they can check it throughout the day. When I move on to something else, the activity or the transition doesn’t stop.

They relieve anxiety. Imagine if I took your calendar away from you. Would you know when your dentist appointment would be? Do you know the location of your child’s game?You might find you keep asking those questions when you don’t have a visual to refer to (i.e., your calendar). Do you have a child that is constantly questioning? Sometimes it’s because they are anxious about what is going to happen next. A schedule allows them to check their schedule instead of checking with you and learn to independently moderate their anxiety. Reducing anxiety allows them to focus on the task at hand.

They communicate with others. They give children and other members of the home information about what is going to happen and what is expected. When I check my schedule and it tells me we are going to the playground with friends, I know to be prepared to go outside and for loud voices all around me. If it tells me it’s time for a a meeting, I begin to calm my body and focus my mind on the upcoming agenda. This communication also helps them use picture symbols receptively to understand what is happening in their environment and eventually to communicate. It also allows others in the home to know what is expected of each other for the day so you can tag out without a 10 minute dissertation.

They ease transitions. Switching tasks can be extremely tough for children, especially if they are unexpected changes. A visual schedule, however, reduces meltdowns and struggles about moving to the next task because the schedule visually depicts what comes next. As a result, the schedule helps kids anticipate any changes.

Teaches responsibility and planning. Children can take part in planning out their day by helping their parents or teachers build the visual schedule or routine for the day. Doing so allows them to think about and plan out tasks in an appropriate sequence, helping to build strong executive functioning skills. With scaffolding and building on learned skills, kids also learn to move onto the next task or activity on the schedule on their own after completing the previous one.

Creating and planning the schedule builds connection. When children have your undivided attention for 2 minutes planning out the day, there is negotiation and children feel seen, heard and valued. As the caregiver, you feel a sense of accomplishment in telling a child they are valued and they can trust you. It also alleviates some of your anxiety helping you to be more fully present with your child.

Individuals who have had traumatic experiences often understand visual information best. This isn’t true of all individuals, but for many they comprehend information faster and more easily visually. So why not use a medium that uses their strengths. Some children may need specific times while most just need an order to their day. Schedules do not need to be super specific but general. Inside play, outside play, clean up, bath, library, park, etc. Coupled with transitional cues, such as verbal reminders 10 minutes until , 5 minutes until , visual schedules can take a day of anxiety and power struggles and turn it into that summer fun you crave.

For some examples of images to use, visit


Making Sense of Your Worth

I am so excited to be able to offer this amazing curriculum! Thank you Cindy Lee, LCSW and the Halo Project for allowing me to train as a facilitator (and for making me a better parent and therapist in the process!)

Below is a description of this amazing curriculum from the Halo Project and author Cindy Lee, LCSW.

Throughout the course of our work we have discovered there is a missing piece to helping individuals heal from the negative hurtful events they were exposed to throughout their lives. Individuals may have made sense of the events on a cognitive level and even on an emotional level but have not yet taken the journey to understand how these life events (both big and small) have impacted their positive self-worth.

In addition, when caregivers learn about their personal attachment style, they often seek answers in how to change it. Before now, a curriculum or guide to help them do this did not exist. Now we have it, and it is an amazing step-by-step program for helping adults gain secure attachment. In addition, caregivers with their own trauma histories also have a difficult time meeting the needs of the children in their home because their own histories get in the way. This program helps adults overcome their own painful pasts so they can be free to be the caregiver they desire to be, the spouse they desire to be, the friend they desire to be and even the person they want to be in their profession.

This program is designed for any individual desiring to obtain positive self-worth or secure attachment. Participants will go through a series of sessions in a group format designed to help them understand how the events in their lives have contributed to low self-worth. The classes focus on developing an understanding of the “lies” an individual believes about themselves, such as “I am not good enough,” or “I am not smart enough,” or “I have no patience” and how to replace these lies with truth. In addition, once a participant is released from the beliefs associated with the past, the sessions focus on rebuilding a new life based on positive self-worth as well as how to maintain these gains.

The program is comprised of 8 sessions lasting 2 hours in duration. We have day time and evening sessions available. Class size is generally no larger than 12 participants. We offer men’s classes and women’s classes, as well as a faith-based bible study called Anchored. Virtual classes are being offered as well.

The cost of this program is $35 per session. There are 8 two hour sessions with each session being once a week. If the cost is prohibited to your participation, some scholarships are available.

To sign up for this program, fill out the form below.


What Are Nurture Groups?

Nurture groups are an in-school or in-home
psychosocial intervention of groups of less
than 12 students or in a family that effectively replace
missing or distorted early nurturing
experiences for both children and young
adults; they achieve this by immersing
children in an accepting and warm
environment which helps develop positive
relationships with both teachers, peers and family members.
Nurture groups were originally developed in 1969 in
London by educational psychologist Marjorie Boxall who
saw that a large number of children entering school
arrived with severe social, emotional and behavioral
needs. These students were unable to form trusting
relationships with adults or to respond appropriately to
other children – in effect, they were simply not ready to
meet the social and intellectual demands of school life.
Nurture groups are used in many schools throughout the UK and have shown tremendous improvements in social abilities.
Nurture groups are developed around six
principles of nurture:

  • Learning is understood developmentally
  • A person must be able to give care to have a healthy relationship
  • A person must be able to receive care to have a healthy relationship
  • A person must be able to communicate their need to have a healthy relationship
  • A person must be able to be autonomous (self-regulate) to have a healthy relationship
  • The importance of transitions in all of life

There are three rules in a nurture group:

  1. We stick together
  2. No hurts
  3. Have fun!



Why Caregivers Need to Practice Mindfulness

Parenting often provides daily challenging experiences. For example, everyone is buckled in the car ready to go and one child announces they need to go back inside to go potty. After getting 3 minutes down the road another child points out that he doesn’t have any shoes on. At this point you are running late and feeling your anxiety level increase. Although in the big picture these events are minor, they still cause irritation.

As a parent, you will need to react appropriately, but your body is reacting to the stress by:

releasing adrenaline
increasing your heart rate
reducing your ability to problem-solve tightening of the muscles…
These physiological responses would be appropriate if you were facing a life or death situation but aren’t appropriate for forgotten shoes or a last minute potty run. Many caregivers have deep, unconscious fear losing control of a situation or a child. Others are lacking capacity to shoulder the child’s emotion on top of their own. Mindfulness exercises will help you live in the present moment and remain peaceful and relaxed. They will reduce your anxiety levels and help enhance concentration. We automatically do what our instincts tell us to do, unless we train ourselves for a different response. Imagine if emergency personnel didn’t train themselves to respond with thoughtfulness and just rushed in to a scene. There would be more people hurt, including the rescuers and the danger could escalate. This is what happens when caregivers, whether teacher, doctor, parent or caseworker are not trained to be mindful (and logical) in the moment. It breaks my heart when I hear a child saying “you scared me” or crying uncontrollably and running away because the sense a threat of harm, whether verbal or physically from the caregiver who doesn’t mean harm, but is doing so anyway.


Make the Switch from Willfull Disobedience to Survival Behavior

According to, the definition of willful disobedience is the intentional disobedience by a free agent who knows what he is doing, although not necessarily acting with malice or evil intent. states that Willful means “deliberate” or “stubborn.” A child who exhibits willful disobedience knows she is doing something wrong (even if she tries to convince you otherwise). For most people, willful disobedience is the child’s deliberate choice to disobey even after he has been reminded and given a chance to correct his behavior.

Is there a time when a child or even an adult would choose to disobey? Yes. In childhood, this is a part of development; learning to think independently, assess a situation, negotiate needs, use moral compass to make decisions. We would not be comfortable with a child that mindlessly obeys. Just think for a moment of the many tragedies that have or could arise out of blind obedience.

Why do we seek obedience as caregivers? Generally, we would like our children to grow up to be more or less civilized. We would like them to feel comfortable doing what they are supposed to do. How do we teach this to children?

We must remember that true obedience is based on a foundation of love and trust, not fear. We teach obedience through discipline. Now let’s clarify what discipline means… it may not mean what you think it means. Discipline means to learn. It does not mean to issue a punishment or ensure consequence. In working with children from hard places, we must be careful to show great love in the process of discipline [teaching/learning]. It really matters where our hearts are. No learning takes place when anger is present. A child may act out of fear, and it will resemble obedience. But it is not the same. Nothing is learned, character isn’t shaped, bonds are not forged, and positive growth doesn’t occur.

A child may also act out of fear and it does not resemble obedience. More often than not, this is what is seen in children from hard places. (**Remember that this does not just mean abuse/neglect but there are six risk factors to a child’s healthy development: difficult pregnancy, difficult birth, early/prolonged hospitalization, abuse, neglect, trauma**) The fear response, also known as fight, flight, or freeze originates in the amygdala of the brain (aka small brain, lizard brain, survival center.)

Common fight responses:






Long after a traumatic experience is over, it may be reactivated at the slightest hint of danger and mobilize disturbed brain circuits and secrete massive amounts of stress hormones. This precipitates unpleasant emotions intense physical sensations, and impulsive and aggressive actions. These posttraumatic reactions feel incomprehensible and overwhelming. Feeling out of control, survivors of trauma often begin to fear that they are damaged to the core and beyond redemption. Imagine if you shout, “Look over here!” and your child startles, dropping to the ground. Do you think that your child was willfully disobedient or scared? We don’t equate an adult’s fear response with willful disobedience. Why would we? It’s an instinct, a reflex to survive.

So let’s make the switch in how we view our children’s fear responses. Instead of seeing the behavior as willful disobedience, we must view the behavior for what it is – a survival instinct. We must change the lens through which we view behavior. It is an expression of need that children are unable to verbalize. They may not be aware of the fear that they feel (it is a reflex after all… the husband who is suddenly rushing to lift the car off of his wife is not able to say “I’m so scared I must run and lift this vehicle.” He can only react to that fear.)

Are you ready to make the switch?

“A lot of ‘seeing the need’ is understanding the impact of trauma on kids. Having compassion and understanding helps us to see the need. Seeing the need is changing your frame of reference so you realize that these aberrant behaviors are survival strategies rather than willful disobedience. If you look at your child’s behavior through the lens of his history, his actions make perfect sense. Understanding attachment and any deficits in early development also helps us to see the need behind behavior.” – Dr. David Cross

Ask yourself, “what does my child need?” when faced with challenging behaviors. By conducting a quick mental inventory of the current environment, previous events of the day, and any known triggers, we can often make a good guess at what our child needs when she is struggling. If you’re not sure, say, “Buddy, I want to help you. Can you use your words or show me what you need?” in a calm, non-threatening tone. Your child’s answer may surprise you.

It’s time to stop parenting the shark we see on top of the water ad get to the needs of the goldfish underneath.