Telehealth and Kids, Volume 10: Virtual Backgrounds

The intervention I want to talk about today isn’t a specific game, so I am writing in a different format than I usually do in this series. For more telehealth interventions with kids, check out my resources page. Also, details about the client interaction that I describe below have been changed for privacy, but the spirit of the story is in tact.

The Enterprise is one of the many, many places I’ve held sessions in the past six months.

Since March, I have gotten much more comfortable holding online sessions with kids, but in the beginning one of my biggest struggles was holding their attention long enough to have a productive session. In my office, kids can run around, and I can just follow them. If a child disengages or shuts down, I can get down on the floor and join them at their level. But when I’m on camera, I can’t move or even control what I am looking at.

Early on in my work from home life, I asked a child if we could talk about the difficulty they were having engaging with me on Zoom. I asked what might help them focus, and they said (this is paraphrased), “I’m sorry, Dr. Amy, but before our meeting I was watching Godzilla, and that’s just more interesting than you are.”

They were absolutely right; I’m not as interesting as Godzilla.

So I asked them to wait a moment, went on Google Images, found a picture of Godzilla, and made it my virtual background. It was magic! Suddenly our meeting was much more interesting.

If a child is struggling to pay attention, I’ll ask them where they would rather be and find an image that matches that, or I will find a background of their favorite television show or a special interest they have. Some kids have used the virtual background for imaginative play and will tell me that I need to be in jail, or my house is on fire, and I find a background that fits that. I’ve done sessions on the moon, at the bottom of the ocean, in a cave, and at Disneyland. This is definitely one of my favorite Zoom tools for telehealth with kids.

What tips or tricks have helped you keep kids engaged in Zoom sessions?

Published by Amy Marschall, Psy.D.

Dr. Amy Marschall received her Psy.D. from the University of Hartford in September 2015. Her clinical interests are varied and include child and adolescent therapy, TF-CBT, rural psychology, telemental health, sexual and domestic violence, psychological assessment, and mental illness prevention. Dr. Marschall presently works in the Child and Adolescent Therapy Clinic at Sioux Falls Psychological Services in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where she provides individual and family therapy and psychological assessment to children, adolescents, and college students. She also facilitates an art therapy group for adolescents and college students with anxiety and depression. Dr. Amy Marschall is certified in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Telemental Health.

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