by Maggie Mayo, CCLS, and Carissa Menard, CCLS
As we move forward and continue to embrace these difficult times thought the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping our minds occupied and our emotional well-being attended to can be challenging for all of us, including kiddos. As child life specialists, our job is to make the hospital experience less stressful for children of all ages and their families, as well as create experiences that cultivate joy and resilience. Below, we’ve outlined instructions for some of our favorite therapeutic activities so you can complete them at home with your kids. These will help promote emotional expression, decrease feelings of isolation and strengthen the ability to connect during and after the pandemic.
Supplies: Butcher paper or large roll of paper, markers and crayons, scissors, large manila envelope
Therapeutic benefit: Encourages a sense of connection/decreases feelings of isolation
- Unroll paper.
- Have your child lie down, place their back on the piece of paper and spread their arms so the entire top half of their body is over the paper.
- Trace your child’s upper body and wingspan from fingertip to fingertip and from head to torso.
- Have your child color their tracing however they choose. Most children choose to draw it to represent themselves.
- Cut out the tracing after it is colored and decorated.
- Have your child write a note to accompany their paper hug.
- Fold up the paper hug and place into the manila envelope.
- Address the envelope to loved one or friend and send off your hug!
Supplies: Tissue box, colored construction paper, scissors, markers and crayons, googly eyes, pipe cleaners or string, cotton balls, other fun arts and crafts supplies
Therapeutic benefit: Provides a way for your child to emotionally express themselves and have a sense of control over their anxieties and worries.
- Empty out a tissue box.
- Have your child choose what color they want to make their worry eater and trace each side of the tissue box onto desired colors of construction paper. Cut out the tracing and glue onto each side of the box.
- Provide your child with glue, cotton balls, and other craft supplies and have them decorate the sides of the box and the “face” of the worry eater. The “face” will be the side of the tissue box with the oval or circular opening.
- Cut out white paper into tiny triangles and help your child glue on paper teeth to the opening of the tissue box to resemble the “mouth” of your worry eater.
- When your worry eater is complete, cut many 1-inch strips of paper and leave a pile of the paper strips and a pen next to your worry eater.
- Explain to your child that whenever they feel worried or scared, they can write down or draw a picture of their worry on the strip of paper and feed it to the worry eater. Use this discussion as a time to promote other healthy coping skills, such as encouraging your child to also verbally share their concerns, request a hug when they feel sad, ask questions, or squeeze a stress ball to work out frustration or fear.
Supplies: Paper, scissors, markers, tape
Therapeutic benefit: Encourages positive memory-making while social distancing and gives your child something to look forward to. Each day, add a memory link to the chain. They can then plan on sharing with friends or loved ones once they’re reunited in person. This activity can also be fun to share day-to-day via video chat, and promotes social connections.
- Cut colored paper into 1-inch strips
- Write a new memory on a strip of paper each day
- Start forming the chain by shaping the first strip into a ring and taping together
- Take each new strip and attach around the already formed ring, and tape together
Play Dough Smash
Supplies: Play dough
Therapeutic benefit: Provides a healthy way for your child to discuss their emotions through play, as well as safe method for physically expressing any negative feelings, such as anger, anxiety and frustration.
- Lay out different colors of play dough for your child to use.
- Pick an emotion to discuss with your child (e.g., anger) and ask your child to choose something that makes them feel that emotion (e.g., the coronavirus).
- Have your child use play dough to model whatever they chose (e.g., a germ cell), encouraging them to be creative with shapes and colors.
- Prompt your child to smash their creation.
- Facilitate a conversation around the activity to encourage more emotional expression. For example, you could ask, “How did that feel to smash the coronavirus?” Continue molding and smashing to support additional emotions.
Note: If you don’t have ready-made play dough on hand, making some at home is simple and fun with this recipe from child life team colleague Jacqueline Nalian.
- 1 cup flour
- ¼ cup salt
- ½ cup water
- ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
- ½ teaspoon oil
- 2 or 3 drops of food coloring
- Place the salt, cream of tartar and half of the flour in a bowl and set aside
- Mix water, oil and food coloring in a separate bowl, and then incorporate into the flour mixture
- Knead the dough while slowly adding the other half of the flour, mixing thoroughly
- Keep dough in a sealable bag to maintain freshness