PUBLISHED: by Eric Johnson

Aerial Liese


Dr. Aerial Liese took the time to talk with us about what motivated her to write her new book, The Play Prescription: Using Play to Support Internalizing Behaviors..

Can you share a brief timeline of your educational and professional life?

I graduated from the University of New Mexico in 1997, and went on to complete my Masters in 2005, and PhD in 2014. Within my teaching career, I’ve been fortunate to work with students of all ages and exceptionalities—from pre-K to college level. Simultaneously, I took a large leap of faith to pursue my passion for writing. I’m glad I did. As of this May, I’ve penned six books—four of which are published by Redleaf Press.

In addition, my A-type personality drives me towards new and challenging endeavors—step out of my comfort zone both professionally and personally as much as possible. My most recent adventure is taking on the role of editor for a bi-annual e-journal published by IPA – The International Play Association (

Why is it important for interventions for internalized behaviors to start in early childhood?

In a nutshell, it is crucial to address internalizing behaviors early so a child’s growth and development are not hijacked. Ultimately, untreated anxiety, depression or social withdrawal tendencies can grossly impede a child’s full potential in all areas of life.

Are internalized behaviors expressed and diagnosed differently in early childhood?

Yes, internalized behaviors are expressed and diagnosed differently in early childhood, mainly because of a child’s individuality and developmental stages. This factor mixed with how each developmental stage can break down, so to speak if internalized behaviors are not intervened upon

With that said, the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is not well adapted for young children Stakeholders have suggested adjustments to the current criteria for certain internalizing behaviors such as depression for young children. These adjustments include a developmental adjustment to the death preoccupation symptom—for example, “persistent engagement in activities or play themes with death or suicide” Overall, little research has been established in the area of childhood internalizing behaviors

What symptoms are most prevalent? What symptoms should parents look for?

These are complex questions and, once again, predominantly dependent on the individuality of every child. In the book, I refer to it as a child’s unique formula. A child’s unique formula consist of everything from his or her family size to temperament and culture. So many factors are included in symptomology. For example, some cultures promote silence and solitude while others do not. The Play Prescription outlines symptoms and what stakeholders should look for, especially to rule out other possibilities like sensory issues. The more adapted and personal the interventions, the more successful stakeholders will be in supporting childhood internalizing behaviors.

Mental health is becoming more known, but many people still consider it a taboo subject or do not understand the significance of it. How do you fight the stigma towards mental health to parents, families, or the public who still hold this perspective?

Stigma is something I’ll never understand and am candid and straightforward with my opinion: “If a child had a physical wound such as a broken leg, would you deny him treatment? Then why deny an emotional wound or try to make light of it, judge the child and his family, or hide it?

What motivated you to write The Play Prescription?

I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression for most of my life—since it rooted itself in my childhood. I truly believe had symptoms been intervened upon, I could have avoided many painful mistakes and challenges. Don’t get me wrong, I know adversity builds character, strength and molds a person. In due course, my experiences catapulted the book and many other of my passions and pursuits, but internalizing behaviors cause your entire being to ache. Aching not easily forgotten.

What’s on your professional or personal bucket list?

My bucket list currently consists of one goal: to open a location on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico that provides healthy, and creative outlets for young people who may be experiencing an internalizing behavior(s). Creative outlets, referred to as creative pathways in my book such as painting, gardening, weaving, beading, and pottery, to name a few. The list is endless!

What other books or resources have aided you in your early childhood career and would recommend to other early childhood professionals?

Hmmm, . . . there are so many. A few off the top of my head include . . .

  • Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv
  • Natural Playscapes by Rusty Keller
  • What if Everybody Understood Child Development? By Rae Pica
  • And, although not an early childhood film, the movie, Stand and Deliver beautifully portrays how every child/student can succeed and should be valued.