The Lady With Toys: A Therapist’s Story of Helping Ava and Her Family

Ava 5By Jessica Scheunemann, M.A. — Meeting a family for the first time is one of my favorite parts of being an in-home therapist at the Behavior Clinic: driving new roads, seeing new houses, hearing new stories, experiencing the genuineness and joy of children.

Meeting Ava and her family for the first time was a part of my ubiquitous growing experience as an in-home therapist. Every family challenges my skills, enhances my perspective of human nature, and pushes me in new directions as I determine how I can best facilitate the family’s specific goals and dreams.

I never know how my time with a family will progress. As much as I would like to imagine success for all families, this does not always happen. Ava’s mom, Rebekah, was determined to try some new strategies to address her concerns with Ava’s behaviors.

As far as Ava was concerned, I was just the “lady with toys” who talked with her mom.

Each week we met and processed struggles and successes as Rebekah was doing what she could to manage Ava’s defiance, temper tantrums, and occasional discord with siblings (i.e., not sharing). Each week we built upon concepts practiced and discussed in prior weeks, and we practiced new discipline strategies and nurturing activities.

I was in awe of Rebekah’s involvement in treatment, she passed along information to her husband, Ter, when he could not attend sessions, she asked many questions, and she was always ready and willing to practice new discipline or nurturing strategies during our sessions. Ava and Rebekah’s relationship became stronger as Rebekah made time each day to play with Ava individually in addition to her siblings. When Rebekah and Ava played together during sessions, their interaction style blossomed and play became more reciprocal. Ava was very enthusiastic and involved in play. She is a natural leader, and Rebekah saw this as a strength, especially during play time.

As Rebekah allowed Ava to utilize her creativity and leadership skills during play, Ava became more receptive and socially responsive when Rebekah asked her a question or commented on something she was doing. Because Ava received more one-on-one attention with her mother and father through individual play time and praise, she learned that using negative behaviors was not going to get her the attention it once did. Throughout our sessions together, I witnessed not only Ava’s progress, but also her younger siblings’ progress as Rebekah and Ter applied what they learned towards all of the children!

Ava 1

Ava’s compliance increased in other settings too. Kids are adaptable and as Rebekah more consistently blended the use of discipline and praise in the household, Ava’s behavioral concerns decreased. Challenging behaviors cannot diminish permanently; Ava may still use opposition or temper tantrums in the future in hopes of getting what she wants.

The difference now is that Ava knows what to expect: she knows that if she has a temper tantrum, she will most likely not get attention from her mother or father. She knows that her mother and father enjoy playing with her, that if she doesn’t listen, they will follow-through and help her complete the task. She knows that if she does something special she will receive praise.

The difference now is that Rebekah and Ter parent as a team, a difficult skill, and are able to merge their differing perspectives on raising children to create a supportive environment for Ava and her siblings.

Every family has different needs and this is an example of the Behavior Clinic program fitting a family’s needs quite well. The Behavior Clinic could not provide support to the community without the willingness of the families who take the courageous step to call us and try it out. Therapists cannot change any parent’s circumstance or stress, but therapists can collaborate with that parent, let that parent’s voice be heard, and respect and accept that every parent is doing the best that he/she can at any given moment! Whether a family takes small steps or great leaps towards positive change, the Behavior Clinic promotes a positive shift.

As each family shifts, I shift too…growing and changing as a therapist every single day.


Jessica Scheunemann is a family therapist with the Behavior Clinic.  She provides in-home therapy to families with children under the age of 6 that have emotional and behavioral concerns. 

This year marks the Behavior Clinic’s 10 year anniversary and the need in the community is increasing every year. Penfield Children’s Center is looking for your support to make this exceptional care possible. Thanks to a generous donation from the Weiss Family Foundation, every dollar given between now and August 31 will be matched up to $5,000.

On August 16, Penfield and Marquette University is hosting “Give 4 a Day” on Twitter in an effort to raise awareness and online donations for the Behavior Clinic. To learn more about Ava’s story, #Give4aDay and how Penfield is working with Marquette University to improve infant mental health outcomes in the community, visit

2 Responses to “The Lady With Toys: A Therapist’s Story of Helping Ava and Her Family”

  1. 1 Chris Holmes August 19, 2013 at 4:38 pm

    Insightful work by a skilled therapist. We all learn from each other. Nice work, Jessica.


  2. 2 Scott Gelzer August 20, 2013 at 2:50 pm

    Thanks for this post and your observations about the family and yourself. In a very practical way, your post demonstrates this donor organization’s commitment to the Penfield-Marquette partnership – having an impact on children, families and those who serve them.


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