This blog post was originally published on the Play Works Counseling blog.
I want to say the Boss Card idea was born out of a deep altruistic desire to provide the best tools and resources to already weary parents looking to structure time with their precious kiddos. Or that I am just naturally overflowing with crafty, creative ideas and have stores of ribbon, buttons, and supplies at my ready to Etsy my therapist-wares. But I’ll be embarrassingly honest and tell you that I was thinking about myself first and don’t even know how to locate Etsy, or how to pull myself away from Netflix long enough to google “how to be creative” to come up with something to sell. The truth is I created these nifty little cards as a lifesaver for me and knew if they were saving my sanity at the end of the day, then maybe, just maybe, they (or at least the concrete understanding of what they stood for) could save you, too.
The thing precious children from hard places (a.k.a. children with developmental/complex/attachment trauma) seem to have in common is their insatiable need to structure (a.k.a control) everything. And I completely understand why. Don’t we all? Never underestimate the power of fear. Yes, some people like to call them “bossy,” and some people get annoyed with how much they can interrupt, correct, or always need to be the first in line. (Okay, I’ll admit I fall into that “some people” category sometimes, and I say that as someone who was one of those “bossy” kids. Ouch.) But the truth is, they are groping around desperately trying to find safety and security in some maladaptive ways, and they need help. Lucky for them, brilliant Karyn Purvis and David Cross, with their creation of TBRI and the Correcting Principles: Structured Engagement, helped with the idea of asking, “Who’s the Boss?”
It is simple: a basic 3”x5” notecard, on one side you colorfully write the word ‘BOSS’ and on the other, you make two columns with basic lists of what the child is and is not the boss of. I keep these lists very simple, knowing I could never cover everything that will get tested. For example, I am the boss of my: hands, feet, mouth, thoughts, feelings, wants, shoes, office. I am NOT the boss of your: hands, feet, shoes, thoughts, feelings, mouth, wants. I never say I am the boss of my body because I am not the boss of my body. If I were the boss of my body, then I would never get sick (and also grow a few more inches because I am tired of kids being thrilled with being taller than me by age 12). I then play a game with them to demonstrate their proficiency in the use of the cards. I point to easy things and ask “Who is the boss of ____?” and celebrate when they get it correct, increasingly making it more difficult and more personal. Then we laminate the cards, which is the most exciting part of the whole experience for them. I hand child and parent a “Boss Card,” and off they go to test them out.
The Boss Card is a simple way to help a child understand a boundary. It answers the question of what they are in charge of and what they are not in charge of. Boundaries 101. Beautiful.
When the very dignity of your personhood is violated from the moment you stepped foot on this earth, the idea of boundaries will elude you altogether.
Making boundaries concrete and receptive is enormously helpful. At the end of a long day, I need simple, quick, easy ways to stick to my engaging structure and save us both a long boring lecture. And yes, I use this on my teenager at home. And yes, he hates it as much as you can imagine a teenager hating it. But it works. And the laminator did NOT impress him AT ALL.
Katherine Leath M.Ed, LPC, RPT is currently licensed by the state of Texas as a Licensed Professional Counselor and is a Registered Play Therapist. She is also an Intermediate Theraplay Practitioner, TBRI Practitioner and EMDR Trained Therapist. Katherine is a breakout speaker at the Tapestry Conference 2019.