Well, I tried to coordinate “sand day” for the beach- but then I guess it’s a good thing that it didn’t work out that way because not everyone reading this has access to a beach!! More of you probably have a sand box in your back yard, though, and sand has turned out to be one of my favorites! There is something about the cool sand that children love, digging their fingers in and burying their arms as far as they can go. It’s relaxing, just like when we adults long for sitting in the sun on the beach and feeling the waves wash sand over our toes. So sand plays a huge role in play therapy. The sand tray also creates a space for a child to develop a new world using toys or drawing in the sand itself.
The boys have been begging for me to take them to my office and show them my sand tray and today was a perfect day for it. I shared with them the rules, which is really only one: Keep the sand in the box. Out of all the children I have worked with, guess who could not follow that rule? Yep… that would be my kids… maybe it was because the two of them were together… regardless- it was cra-cra.
Oh well, we are playing, right? Who wants to play with someone who can’t step out of the rule book? So I tried to relax a little bit, knowing at the end, the vacuum and I were going to have a date.
Sand is a great tool for relaxation. Often times I will start off giving them a chance to just feel the sand. We will talk about our week or our day as they strum the sand between their fingers. The teenager I mentioned earlier loves the sand. Sometimes we will sit and doodle on the floor and talk (I love my job), but mostly she plays in the sand and picks out the tiny pebbles and collects them in the corner. I don’t know… that’s her thing… but it works. Really, it’s about talking without eye contact. It’s about shared experiences, doing something side by side instead of me standing over them. It is so easy to do that with my own kids, to have them color while I busy myself with something else, when some of the best talks happen when I am sitting on the floor too doing whatever they are doing.
When I asked about how they felt in the sand they described that it felt “great” and “so soft” and they could “play in it forever!”
Sand is also great for creating an alternative world. I have seen it be a house where kids draw lines to separate bedrooms as they play with action figures in the “house”. I have also seen it be heaven. One of my favorite moments was going on a journey up into our “sand” heaven to visit a child’s dad and spend a day with him there. What a tour that was! The most therapeutic part was when it was time to say good-bye and the child got to be the one to leave and go home because she missed her house and friends.
After I let the boys play and dig for a while, I asked if they would like to pick one of the action figures as “them”. I had a bunch of Star Wars figures so it turned out to be Aidan, Jack, and Daddy. I got to be Daddy. Role playing is a great way to hear from kids what they enjoy about their relationships as well as what they wish could be. I loved watching the boys welcome Daddy home from work and have a tickle fest before bed. Aidan is definitely my affectionate one so he enjoyed giving lots of hugs and kisses and wrestling with Dad. Jack tackled him too of course, but spent more time burying his action figure (haha!)
Speaking of themes, some that you could look for (but not over interpret) are actions like consistently burying “certain people”, angrily burying, and creating valleys that separate people from one another. I will be constantly pointing out the danger of interpretation as we move through our 20 days, but when you see something curious, don’t be afraid to ask about it. If you don’t feel like you can ask yet, then keep watching and see what happens. Some of the best therapy in play is not anything we ever do- but letting them play it out. Kids will play the same story line over and over again, but that is their way of making sense of something. When we step aside (both our own agenda and physically step aside) they will often play it out and work out a new ending. As adults we talk it over with a friend and a banana nut muffin, but kids don’t have that ability, so they act it out. Don’t be alarmed if it is a repetitive storyline. Instead, ask to join in as a character at some point- you will definitely have the story line down!
The sand on the carpet was worth it. I already knew the boys had a special bond with their Dad, but seeing them play out their favorite parts of the day was awesome.