Children are surrounded by Superheroes. Spiderman. Superman. Superwoman. Batman. Harry Potter. Katniss Everdeen. The list goes on. Superheroes journey to slay their dragons, and return victorious, with the elixir of life! Superhero books are published, movies get made, and children are told that if they believe in magic, they will win. If they believe in the impossible, their dreams will come true. But what if they don't believe in magic? What if their anxious or depressed minds can't focus on a concept as big as 'impossible'? What if getting through the day is tough because they are lonely, grieving, missing Dad who just died, and all they want is to somehow feel that they are worthy, capable and magnificent? Instead of focusing on the superheroes on their screens, and inside their books, maybe it's time to become the hero of their own story.
Play therapists work with a play therapy kit that enables a child to tell their stories through metaphor, instead of direct language. By using art, music, clay, sand, drama, puppets, masks, dressing up props, games and therapeutic storytelling, a child reveals their sadness and losses from the safe distance of the metaphor. Somehow talking about how sad 'Bill the Bird' is, feels a lot safer than saying 'I am feeling sad today' because those feelings are huge and overwhelming. However, when a child is ready, it's therapeutic to engage them in writing and drawing their own story. A story where they get to overcome their demons described in their own language. Children then become active participants, eliciting their own images, and creating their own myths. It's thrilling to see a child do this because ultimately they are exploring different coping strategies and building emotional resilience which will support their mental and emotional health.
Getting started is easy.
Here is an example. Ask children to write or draw their response to these questions:
Who is the main character in your story? Where do they live?
Once upon a time there was a Knight called Jack who loved baseball. Jack lived in a Medieval castle at the top of a mountain. His only clothes were a brown uniform which made him feel drab. He was surrounded by scary looking guards 24 hours a day who protected him from jealous intruders who wanted to steal his treasure. But Jack was lonely. Jack didn't have any friends. Jack didn't have anyone to talk to, or play baseball with. All he had was an old tv.
What is the character's quest for in life? What does he really want to do?
Jack's secret dream was to have a big party with people who weren't all Knights, where everyone laughed, with balloons and marshmallow sandwiches, and a chocolate soda fountain! Jack wanted to share his treasure.
One day something happens. What is it?
One day, the head guard told Jack that the cleaners were coming to spring clean the castle. Wow, thought Jack, some new people, I wonder if they will like marshmallows ...
Who or what can help the character achieve this quest?
And so, the cleaners arrived with their mops and buckets, and Jack saw that one of them was wearing a baseball cap for Jack's favourite team, The Thrivers. Jack watched all their games on his tv. Then Jack noticed that several others were also wearing these baseball caps. So Jack asked the baseball cap guy if he and his friends would like to have a party. He said that he would love that as he had always wanted to eat marshmallow sandwiches. He gave Jack his baseball cap to wear.
What is the standing in their way?
However, the head guard overheard Jack's conversation and told him to get back to his room and wait until the floors had dried.
How does the character cope, and solve this problem?
Then Jack remembered something he had seen on tv. To build a team you need players all wearing the same outfit, and someone who blows a whistle. Jack poked his head out of the window and counted twenty baseball caps. He waited until the guards went out for their lunch break. Eventually Jack whistled, and twenty baseball caps turned around and saw him waving. They all ran over to talk to Jack.
What happens in the end?
The baseball cleaners smuggled Jack out of the castle wearing his baseball cap, and the guards didn't notice because Jack looked like one of the team. The party in the woods was celebrated with huge marshmallow sandwiches out of Jack's treasure box, multi-coloured balloons, a gigantic chocolate soda fountain, and lots of laughter. Jack had found his very own team.