In working with children, which is amongst the client populations I work with, you need to be particularly creative. I need to meet them with an art material which will be simple enough to manipulate, not add too much frustration, yet also have the means for a wide range of self expression, and to build their skills at frustration tolerance, encourage step by step thinking, be calming in it’s “one thing at a time” process, and also encourage them to think of the end result and structure their project so that they can get the results they want.
I have found it. In the simple popsicle stick, or as they call them in craft stores “craft sticks”.
They are sold in boxes of over 500 pieces or in smaller amounts. They come in the traditional wood as well as multicolored. They are now coming in smaller sizes, or have slats to use them to build, similar to “Lincoln Logs” of long ago in order to be able to construct without using glue.
So what is so great about using a common craft item in therapy with a child, in particular, you may ask?
The repetitive motion of piling up one stick upon another,, the “building upon” motion that is calming and also allows a child to solve problems that could be structural that have to do with the stability and sturdiness of the bridge itself. Kids have to take their time, be systematic, develop patience and communication skills, learn about structure and how to build a sturdy structure that will not fall apart, and how one will access (or not access) the bridge at it’s beginning, middle or end point. This is all used in metaphor to work with different issues kids might be dealing with. The bridge can be used as a metaphor about going to visit on visitations, and going back and forth between divorced or separated parents, or it can be used as a metaphor of how one can “get over” one’s struggles, whether it be impulsivity issues (Bridges made with craft sticks work especially well with children facing ADD or ADHD or other developmental issues), bullying issues or conflicts with peers or siblings.
In preparation for working with this project with clients, we look at different bridge structures and discuss what type of bridge the client wants to build. A lot can be discerned by this. How much support will your bridge have? How will you get on or off your bridge? Will cars use your bridge ( I have toy cars in the office which can be used on the bridge as well) or will it be a bridge for “foot traffic” only? All of this is useful diagnostically.
Bridges can then be expanded by painting and decorating them, which only adds to the metaphor be explored and increases the client’s self expression. These sticks can also be used to build other structures such as “houses” or “boxes”, but I have found the bridge and it’s metaphors particularly useful. Craft or “popsicle” sticks are a tool that can yield so much!