"Feelings Stones" for Parents
Naming our feelings is a really useful thing to be able to do. It is a way in which we can externalize what we are feeling inside and in doing so, somehow removes the weight of the feeling and puts it else where. In a sense, it is an imaginative process in that you are using your use of language to help label what it is that you are feeling, making it tangible. If the feeling is now a word, then I can experience it differently to when it was just a feeling.
But what about our little ones who might find it difficult to label what it is they are feeling with words? What if words are entirely unmanageable like for example a child who is non-verbal or a child who just finds words really difficult? Words can be difficult for many children regardless of circumstance and so this really simple directive can be a helpful way to support children in externalizing their feelings without the need for words that you can do at home!
Of course you can create your little depictions in any way you like but what I find works well with the use of stones is that they are very durable.
All you will need are;
Some relatively smooth and round stones - at least ten that will depict the basic feelings of happiness, sadness, anger, confusion, fear, silliness, curious, embarrassment, relaxed, worry, and one more for "something else".
Acrylic paint - any acrylic paint should be fine, however, you can get some great acrylic pens in a variety of sizes dependent on the level of detail you wish to use. Also do not rule our good old sharpies as an option and are great for fine detail. Sharpie makers are permanent so they will not wash off, however the acrylic will last that big longer.
If you are working with paint then it is a good idea to have a variety of sized brushes to work with (one medium, one fine should be perfect).
You might also want one very fine permanent black marker for outline but that is up to you.
You really can create your Feelings Stones in any way you like. Here is a sample of some of mine but you might like to use "emoji's" or more elaborate characters you feel that your little one would engage well with. A popular reference that is often used in identifying feelings directives is the movie Inside Out. By all means depict these characters if you wish, just be mindful that there may be a limit on depictions to chose from. Whatever you chose, however, be sure to have the "something else" stone.
The "something else" stone can literally be a stone with a question mark on its back and can be chosen if the child feels that none of the stones depict their feeling accurately. It can also be an empowering opportunity for the child to name the feeling themselves if this is something they would like to do. However, remember there is never any pressure to do this. The feeling will still be tangible for the child without naming it. That is what is important here.
It is a good idea to keep the Feelings Stones in a special place and refrain from allowing them be part of every day play. While this could be useful in a different capacity if your aim as parent is to help your child to communicate their feelings safely it really is crucial that they are treated as as important as their feelings. It might be an idea to put them into a special box or a pretty felt bag where they can be safe.
Above all, you know your child best and so use that to inform how you use your Feelings Stones. You know when your child is struggling, listen to that. Try not to use them for every "strop" over the toy they wanted in the shop. Take them out when you know there is something really troubling them.
Before you lay them out make sure to acknowledge that you recognize that there is something troubling your little one. You might say something like, "I can see that you are having some big feelings. Do you think you might be able to chose a Feelings Stone that might look a bit like what you are feeling?" Your child will hear that you recognize that they are struggling and that it is OK. They will also hear and see that there is an interesting way of potentially communicating this and so should engage freely.
Remember that whatever they chose is OK. The stones that depict fear, anger, sadness.. will be a big one. Try to just sit with it with them and refrain from moving in to too much talking as this might create a refrain from using them again in the future, particularly if the feeling is not nice. Acknowledgement is key in all of this.
If it something lighter, maybe it's a stone that depicts something happy or silly; great! Sit with that too. This could be a shift for your child as a result of the very act of you tending to their feelings in a different way.
If it is "something else" this might be an invitation to talk if they are able. You might be curious about that with them. "oh, that's interesting, I wonder what that's about..". Remember, always let your little one remain in control. It sounds simple but it is something that we can so easily forget to do when we have a strong desire to understand what is going on for them. The aim of this way of communicating with your child is that your child is able to experience a new way of making their internal world tangible. It is not a way for you to know what exactly is going on for them.
If your little one is able to verbalize with you, this activity can be a natural gateway in to a verbal conversation and that can be great, just be really mindful that this is not what the aim is and that the choosing of the stone is where the important work has already been done.
If you do decide to try this out with your child please do enjoy the process. There will be some art making required on your part as parent which might feel daunting if you have not had that art making experience in quite a while. Just be kind to yourself in that. Try not to become critical of yourself in the process and remember your intentions. Allow yourself to be silly in it. Perhaps allow the process to be a time where you can connect with your own inner child and be kind to her/him.
Note: As always remember this is not an art therapy intervention. This is an imaginative approach in helping our children to externalize their very important feelings. If you really struggling to support your child in something that is beyond your grasp right now, please do seek out professional support.