Today on Lionfighters, we have another guest post by Sean Akers, PsyD, a licensed clinical pediatric psychologist here at Children’s.
Living through cancer treatment is often an extremely emotional experience for kids. And sometimes they struggle—consciously or otherwise—to express their feelings about what’s going on.
But emotions for kids are tricky. It can be difficult for both you and your child to find a way to communicate about them, especially if you have a very young child whose verbal skills are still developing.
Sometimes, you have to get creative in coming up with ways to get that dialogue going—even if it turns out to be less of a dialogue and more a “play session.” The goal is to trigger creative expression, however it comes.
Why Is Creative Expression Important For Kids?
It’s important to be aware that kids are still kids, as obvious as that sounds. Sometimes, we approach kids like they’re little adults, with the same verbal capacity and conceptual abilities. But that’s not true.
This means that, for many kids, sitting and talking about their feelings for an hour is just not something they can do. We need to help them communicate in their language. Activities at their developmental level can be ideal for this.
How Emotions For Kids Can Come Out In Activities
Many young kids express themselves through play. So, joining them and watching how they play can be a good way to gain insight into what they’re feeling.
For instance, if they’re playing with LEGOS, what are they building? Are they bringing up aggression or anxiety, or some other emotion in the creations they’re building and the scenarios they’re acting out?
With older kids, it can be more a matter of using play as a way to open up a conversation versus talking to them face-to-face, which can make them uncomfortable.
For example, even just talking while playing a card game together can be a lot more comfortable for them and allow them to more easily and openly talk to you about what they’re feeling.
Your child can also express her feelings creatively through things like:
These can be very powerful ways for her to express what she’s going through without having to sit down and have a face-to-face discussion.
How Can You Get Your Child Started?
To help your child express his feelings, start by getting to know what and how he plays. You can tell a lot this way. For example, does he jump from task to task, or is he more methodical?
If he’s a “jumper,” you might put out quite a few toys and activities to choose from. If he likes to complete a task, maybe something more in-depth like writing or storytelling would suit him better. He could even draw a comic, scene by scene, while you ask, “And what happened next?”
You can also look at whether your child is more “hands-on” or more of an observer, whether she likes to direct what’s happening or take cues from others, or whether she’s more physical, verbal—or both! All of these factors and more can help you come up with the right activities and games for her.
Each child is different and it’s important for your child to find the right activity that best allows her to express herself. This is something I keep in mind with every child I see in my role as a pediatric psychologist.
For instance, some kids hate writing, so I typically don’t ask those kids to journal. Instead, I try to find out what each child’s strengths are and encourage her to cultivate them—whether this means making art, acting, or building with LEGOS.
In a sense, the activity is the canvas that your child can “paint” her emotions on. And that ability creates a picture of her emotions that can be an important part of the healing process.
What are some creative ways you’ve gotten your child to express his feelings during or after cancer treatment? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.