If You Don’t Talk You Pop: A Technique for Talking about Therapy with Kids

So you’ve been seeing a kid for therapy for a while. Each week you talk about coping skills, family drama or whatever is going on in that child’s life. You feel like you are doing great work.  Then, you (or someone with whom you work) asks the child why he comes to see you.

What do you get in response?

In a perfect world, the child would reply “I see Ms. Amy because she helps me with my problems and allows me to have a safe place to play and talk.”

However, the reality is often more like “I dunno.” OR you get the blank stare. OR the shoulder shrug.

When this happens, I am crestfallen. My mind immediately thinks- what have I been doing these past several weeks/months? Did I even go to school? Have I been talking to myself?

To combat this feeling and help my kids understand the why of therapy better, I began to do this technique with each child during the first session to talk about who I am and why they are there (in general).

This technique allowed me to not just to tell but SHOW the kids in my office why therapy helps and what happens if one doesn’t talk about feelings.

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Although this technique takes a bit of prep, it’s super easy to do and very inexpensive.  Since I end up doing this technique with almost every child I see for therapy, I buy the materials in bulk and then whip them out as needed.

This technique introduces therapy in a fun manner and reinforces that play therapy is just that- play.

If You Don’t Talk You Pop!

Materials Needed:

One bottle of vinegar

One box of baking soda

A flower vase

Food coloring

A large waterproof bucket

This technique uses the age-old science experiment we all did in 5th grade science class to make volcanoes.

To do the experiment, you simply place baking soda, food coloring (red or whatever color the child desires) and then vinegar into the flower vase.

When you add vinegar in with the baking soda, the liquid will bubble up and come over the top of the vase, resembling the way a volcano explodes. You need to make sure you have the vase inside a bucket for easy clean up and to avoid stains on your floors.

Depending on the child’s age, I allow the child to do as much as possible of the experiment by herself. The kids love this freedom and I have already started the process of developing the inner voice as one of  “I can do cool things.”volcanopop

Word to the wise: your client will do this as many times as possible until the materials are gone.  Just know this and prepare for it. Every child who does this experiment exclaims “Wow” or “That’s really cool.”

That is my cue for talking about what is happening in the volcano and how this is similar to what happens if one does not talk about feelings.

I will gather from the child some of the bad choices that happen when negative feelings bubble up. Most of the time, my kids are able to list a huge list of negative consequences, being very familiar with these.

I then talk about how when we don’t talk about feelings, they often build up inside of us, much like what happens inside of the volcano. When we do not let them out through talking or play with someone one we trust, we often have meltdowns or “explode” on others.

Again, we are talking while we are doing the experiment, connecting the words to what is happening in the child’s hands.  I repeatedly reinforce the idea that talking about feelings leads to feeling better and better choices.

This is where I come in as a play therapist- I’m able to help you (the child) make better choices by getting the feelings out. Once the feelings are out, the pressure goes down and better choices happen.

To date, I’ve never had a kid who hates this technique or just doesn’t get it. They all love it and it sets up play therapy as fun and explains in actions and words who I am and how I can help.

At one point, I even had a client’s mother come back and tell me that her son had told her that he learned “If you don’t talk, you pop!” I never said that during the session! Just from talking and doing the experiment, he was able to learn that lesson himself.

Have you ever used this technique in your practice? What are some of your favorite ways to explain to the kids you see about who you are and what play therapy is?