Playdoh Power Play: Putting Worries in their Place
Hello, my friends! It’s been a minute since my last post, but I’ve been thinking about you. And today I’m excited to share a super simple 5-minute activity you can try with your kids. It’s a reminder that worries are NOT the boss, and that we have some power over our thoughts.
I’m not sure what things are like at your house right now, but for me when I was a kid, back to school season was a time filled with worries. This activity is not season specific though and can be used any time!
The main idea is this: We can’t always control the thoughts that pop into our heads (for example, “what if’s” about the upcoming school year), but we DO have a choice about what we do with our thoughts once we notice them. We are bigger and more powerful than our thoughts, and we don’t have to spend time with the unhelpful ones! We have the power to shift and change those thoughts, or let them go altogether.
This is an idea I want to share with each of my clients. I hope that through the art therapy process they discover, experience, and begin to embody their own power, and feel well equipped to navigate their thoughts and feelings with agency.
Here’s one super simple way to explore this idea:
If videos for kids aren’t your jam, or if you prefer to read instructions, here’s a written description:
Using playdoh, begin to work with it in your hands. While you’re getting reacquainted with the sensory experience of the playdoh, remind your child about how they can’t always control their thoughts, and it may sometimes feel like an uninvited thought or worry just pops into their head. Even though this is outside of their control, they can choose what to do with the thoughts or worries when they notice them.
Invite your child to think of a thought or a worry that’s been bothering them. You can model the process by identifying a worry you had when you were a kid, or offering an example that might be relatable for them. If kids don’t feel comfortable naming their worry, that’s okay too. For this activity, they can just think of it in their head.
Then, invite your child to make a form with the playdoh to represent their worry. Make one for yours too.
In the art therapy world, this process is called externalizing. It’s when we take something internal like a thought or a feeling, and we give it a physical presence with actual materials that exists in the world outside of us.
Externalizing has many benefits, including helping us to see our thoughts or emotions as separate from our identity. Once our internal experience has a form outside of us, we can decide what we want to do with it and how we want to be in relationship with it. This is where we can explore our agency.
After creating your worry forms with playdoh, ask your child what they would like to do with theirs. Let them know that you’re going to try squishing yours. Take a deep breath while holding the worry form in your hand, and then squish it in your fist on your exhale. How does this feel? Do you like it? Does it feel scary? Weird? Empowering?
Experiment with other options. Make another worry form and try flattening it under your open palm. How does that feel? What else could you do with a playdoh worry form? Rip it apart? Throw it on the ground? Turn it into something else? Try these with your child and share about your experiences.
Regardless of what your child chooses to do or not do with their creation, observe for them that they are in control, they have the power, and they are making the choices. Let them know that just like how they have the power to squish or save their playdoh creations, they also have power to “squish” or hold onto their thoughts when they notice them.
Playdoh is, by nature, a material for temporary creations. We make things and then we let them go. When we’re finished playing, we put the playdoh back into its container for next time. This is a great reminder of how our thoughts and feelings are temporary too. They come and go, but they don’t last forever.
I’ve noticed that this activity often feels empowering, energizing, and encouraging. It helps to shift anxious energy and channel it into creativity. It opens conversations about worries, while offering a playful way to feel bigger than those worries. It puts worries in their place, so to speak.
I hope that if you try some “Playdoh Power Play” at home, it’s helpful for you! And I would love to hear about your experience. You can email me and let me know how it goes.
I’ll be thinking about you during this transition time over the next few weeks. You’ve got power and you can do hard things!