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  • Writer's pictureTricia Thornton

The Three A's Children are Facing

What are children dealing with the most on a daily basis? What am I seeing often in my therapy office? What can be done to help children with these three A's?

Anxiety - This is the number one issue I see children are facing today. Anxiety can take on many forms, for example, withdrawal, anger, fear, and feeling sick. When children are feeling anxious, it signals to their brain to react either by fleeting or fighting. Refer to my article about easily understanding brain development for more information. Children may not even know why they are feeling anxious, and that is where play therapy is essential. A child certainly may be able to verbalize the fact(s) about the situation, for example, "my mom and dad are getting a divorce." However, a child is limited to expressing the emotions involved with that statement. Their language is play, not necessarily verbal communication. So, through play therapy techniques, a child may have a chance to explore, experience and express their emotions. One common technique I use to help a child regulate his/her anxiety is the use of the sandtray. Not only, do they kinetically regulate, but they also can show me with the sandtray figures what their anxiety looks like. They are telling a story of their world in the sandtray.

Anger - This is the second most common issue I see children are facing today. Anger, like anxiety can be masked. It does not always look like rage or having a tantrum. It can take on the same faces as anxiety. With all the stimuli that are revving up our children today, learning to control their anger is very hard. They are being bombarded with images, news, and situations that cause them to become emotional. Learning to handle and to recognize their anger is the key. So, in my office, I will often use puppets and expressive arts to help a child recognize their anger. We will act out a typical day that may make them get angry by using the puppets. For example, I may use the dragon as their anger and the prince as them. If they can see it acted out, then they begin to figure out what they can do when the anger arises within them. Also, through drawing and even playdough, children can show me their anger. Drawing what they look like when they get angry is helpful for them to identify the emotion. The Anger Thermometer is also a helpful tool for children to begin to regulate their anger.

Abashment - The last A represents abashment, or more easily understood as confusion or even feeling embarrassed. Children often are in a state of confusion. They have so many people in their lives telling them how they should feel, act and look. They lose sight or understanding of how to be themselves. The key for children to become more confident in expressing themselves is to be able to identify a variety of emotions they are feeling. We will use several tools, such as acting out different emotions maybe even through dress up. We will also use bibliotherapy. A classic book is I Silly Today by Jamie Lee Curtis. We will read it together and then talk about each emotion and when they have felt that before. Using a classic board game such as Candyland can turn into a way to explore emotions through colors. When they land on a blue, what emotion may they feel and why? Another common way for children to experience the variety of emotions they may feel is to act out a scene in the dollhouse. Children begin to experience and express their emotions in a healthy way.

When children can begin to regulate these three A's, anxiety, anger and abashment, they are empowered. They realize that the emotion is not controlling them, but they can have power over the emotion. They are able to cope with the feelings that come up for them each day as they face various life situations.

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