This is an intervention shared by Paris to help children express their feelings. It can be used with individuals and families. The age range is four to twelve. All you need for this intervention is a ball of yarn, scissors, paper, markers, and finger puppets of bugs.
This intervention can be used to help clients identify their own feelings and verbalize them, learn coping strategies, and decrease the frequency, intensity, and number of worries clients experience.
As therapists we first need to normalize and validate their feelings. Explain that sometimes it can be difficult to have too many feelings and that they indeed can get all tangled up inside.
Here are Paris’ instructions for this intervention:
“We just go around feeling worried and anxious without even knowing why. Today we are going to untangle those worries. Let’s start by pulling out one thread at a time and naming it.” The practitioner then gives an example of one big worry and one small worry. For example, the practitioner might say, “I get a little worried when we’re out of milk, but I know we can go to the store and get some more.” Then pull some yearn out from the tangled ball. Deliberately pull more yarn than is needed to represent this worry. Then say, “I worry this much about it” and hold up the length of yarn. Then say, “Actually, I don’t worry quite that much about the milk, so I’m going to make it this long” and shorten the piece of yarn by a foot. Help the client to untangle at least five or six worries. Some will be small and some may seem like miles of yarn. As the child cuts each piece of yarn (the length reflecting the intensity of the worry), write the worry in magic marker on a small piece of paper and tape it on the yarn (this helps delineate one worry thread from another). Then tell the client that you are going to tie the worries up all around the room until they look like a spider web. Tie one end of the yarn to the door handle and the other to the top of a bookshelf. Let the client choose where some of the yarn lengths get tied. However, they should cross each other across the space so that the threads end up looking like a spider web.”
Paris indicates that the therapist may wish to invite the child’s parent to look at the web and have the child tell the parent about each of the worries.
The therapist and child can talk about ways to cut the worries down. The strategies to decrease the child’s worries may include: deep breathing and muscle tension/relaxation exercises, positive imagery, and thought replacement techniques.
This intervention helps children externalize their feelings and parents are able to “get a picture” of how their child feels. This can enhance the parents’ empathy and patience towards their child.
The client will take the pieces of the yarn home at the end of the session and whenever the child is anxious or worried, the child gets to give a piece of yarn to the parent as a signal to the parent. Then the parent can help the child accordingly.
Goodyear-Brown, Paris (2002). Digging for buried treasure: 52 prop-based play therapy interventions for treating the problems of childhood. Nashville: Sun Dog Limited.