Here, drama therapist Penny McFarlane shares two fun useful activities from her latest book, Creative Drama for Emotional Support, that will enable parents, carers, teachers, youth workers and others to help the little ones in their care manage difficult emotions and situations.
Mr. Angry Man
The purpose of this activity is to help prevent the child from being overwhelmed by his emotions. By encouraging a way of considering the emotion as something separate and outside oneself, the intensity is lessened and the feeling becomes more controllable. Mr. Angry Man presents a fun and enjoyable way of using this externalization and most children I have worked with have found personifying the feeling, drawing it out and then interacting with this character to be a novel experience. Somehow it seems to appeal to the spontaneous and whimsical in a child.
This activity usually proves to be more effective if used with an individual child in a quiet and uninterrupted setting. I usually start the session with some discussion about the ‘big feeling’, which sneaks up on him from time to time. We talk about how annoying this is and how much better life would be if we could simply tell it (or him!) to go away: the problem being, of course, that we need to recognize ‘him’ before he pounces. By doing this it is as though the child and I have joined forces against the ‘big feeling’. I am on his side!
Most children then find it easy to visualize and draw this character. Depending on the child and situation, the enactment that follows can be both entertaining and empowering for a child. As Mr. Angry Man I sneak up on the child who is, for example, just beginning an argument with his parent/friend/teacher and dissolve in a heap when the child turns on me shouting ‘Go away’. Again most children find their ability to control this situation, as epitomized by my reaction, to be hugely funny as well as confidence building.
The Two Islands
The transition from primary to secondary school can be a time of great anxiety for many children. By creating an ‘as if’ scenario the child can explore his apprehension and find out what it is that he is afraid of. More importantly, he can also discover how he can help himself to make this transition by looking at what he may need to take with him, actually or metaphorically.
Many children, on crossing over to the future island and sitting there for a while, discover that it is nothing like as scary as they had imagined. Some children, having made the transition, do not even want to go back to the original island. I remember one child with whom I was working, having crossed backwards and forwards a few times, decided that he was even going to throw away the stepping stones as he ‘didn’t need them anymore’.
Of course, this activity does not only apply to transition between schools but can be used with any imminent change in a child’s life. It can also be helpful in addressing, retrospectively, a period in which there may have been numerous changes. With one little boy who had changed school, house and family on many occasions, we created an island for each stage of his life. He then sat on each island in turn and remembered at least one good thing to take from that island. Using soft toys to represent all the good things, he hopped via stepping-stones to his island of now. Surrounded by the toys and with a big beam on his face, he announced that he would need a bigger island because there were ‘too many good things to fit in’.
Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.