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Thursday 18 September 2014

Play Therapy for Families Living Apart


When I first began researching and setting up activities for Wugs 18 months ago, I was especially interested in the idea that children can express their thoughts and feelings and experience healing through play.  What a wonderful, natural capacity to have at our disposal!  Back then I couldn't see how it would apply to my own children.  That is, until a month ago...

My husband's job in Singapore draws to a close in just three weeks time and it was about a month ago that I started packing up the toys to be included in the shipment to the UK.  It was whilst doing this, that I discovered that Wugs had associated certain Duplo figures with members of our family. Our family are in Malaysia and the UK and the children see them only once or twice a year. On this particular occasion, my husband's family had visited us in Singapore and their departure was especially distressing for Wugs.  I used this as an opportunity to talk about the family members - what Grandma, Uncle R and Auntie T would be doing back in Malaysia. During this activity I uncovered a whole world of emotions that Wugs doesn't readily express.  I decided to put aside some of the Duplo figures, other figurines and accessories and bring them out again for some more play to help him understand our move to the UK.


We revisited this activity today as my husband's family paid a final visit at the weekend and Wugs has been asking where they have gone. Also we skyped my parents yesterday evening, so Wugs has overheard a lot of conversations about our impending move.

I set up the play worlds using two Duplo baseboards - one representing the Malaysian family and one representing the UK family.  Each baseboard was divided up into different scenes that reflected the typical activities carried out by the family members.  There was Grandma cooking and going to work at the doctor's surgery (we had the doctor Duplo figurine so that was helpful!), Dadda watching telly, Uncle R and Auntie T shopping for toys and cakes. There was Nanna trying on new clothes in the bathroom  (Wugs discovered the joys of clothes shopping and make-up during Nanna's last visit.  I included the toilet as Wugs is being potty-trained at the moment so he is fascinated by it), Grandad sitting in the garden with the cat, Kitty, having a cup of tea, Uncle M and Auntie J looking at a map (they enjoy travelling) and cousin G sleeping and using his slide in the garden. I added a couple of other activities to the play in case Wugs didn't want to use it in the way I intended - in Grandma's kitchen we used a couple of bottle tops to represent saucepans and bowls and gave Wugs some Fischer Tips which he moulded to create the food that Grandma was cooking.  Wugs filled the bowls with "chicken rice and kai lan" and "ice cream" and gave it to Dadda.  The other activity I included involved making clothes for Nanna to try on.  We used tissue paper and stickers to create the clothes and glittery pipe cleaners to make jewellery.  Wugs also decided to dress up Uncle M and we made a glittery collar for Kitty.



I set up the baseboards on separate tables with a Duplo aeroplane on each so we could "fly" to Malaysia and the UK, hoping to convey the idea that each family was only a plane ride away. Thankfully Wugs doesn't appreciate distances yet!   

The real value in an activity like this isn't really in how it looks visually (although I've included lots of photos - mainly for my family who may be curious to discover which Duplo figure they are!  The only ones I influenced were Grandad and cousin G), but in the conversations we had.   Wugs used words like "sad",  "enjoy", "I'm worried", "I've lost [person's name]" and took charge of the flights from one country to another.  It made me realise that another important aspect of play was Wugs' control over what happened during it, in a way that he cannot necessarily control the upcoming events in real life.  I would imagine that this type of activity could be beneficial for children whose families are experiencing divorce or the loss of a loved one as well.

In some ways, what we did wasn't any different from a normal free play session.  The difference is in the detail.  The items included in the play worlds were specifically aimed at evoking positive memories or preparing Wugs for what he will see in a few weeks time - giving him a chance now to work through these changes before they actually occur.  As he was talking away, I didn't direct the conversation, but let him talk about both the positive and negative emotions he was experiencing.

What we used:
Duplo/Happyland Figurines and Accessories
Duplo Bricks and Baseboards
Bottle tops
Fischer Tips
Coloured tissue paper

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1 comment:

  1. This is a very sweet idea - great for young lego-lovers experiencing big changes, but of course it doesn't have to be lego either.

    Good luck with the move!