Creating alternative Worry Bags: helping CYPs to manage their worries

When working within specialised play, I am privileged to sit alongside many children and young people as they share and work out some worries or anxieties they may have.

We may create pictures, use paint or clay- make up stories, or re-enact situations using medical play, for some this is challenging, so I wanted to think about a way of connecting through story and small world play that was honouring their individuality.

Sometimes the worries are about hospital visits or stays, medical procedures, and sometimes they are about external events or experiences, and whilst working within confidentiality and safeguarding parameters, I wanted to explore this a little more.

External worries can impact children and young people during a hospital stay or outpatient visit, and these can build up, a bit like a Jenga tower, which although solid, it only takes a few pieces to become dislodged before the whole tower collapses.

There are times in all our lives when things just pretty much topple us, whether it be home, work, school, college- this is no different for children and young people in hospital.

Often the things that worry you externally don’t stop when you come into hospital, but rather are on top of medical processes, strange noises, too many people, the smell, and not being in your own bed, with your own things.

So I thought about the story “The huge bag of worries” by Virginia Ironside, and work I had done whilst training with Worry Monsters, and Emotion Stones, and adapted it with the help of children and young people.

The above resources are really effective in starting conversations about tough stuff, but within healthcare we are restricted by both financial pathways and infection prevention.

So I have found a way of re-creating a tool which can be offered and taken away by the child or young person which is adaptable, mobile and can be used in many ways.

A fluffy pencil case, with goggle eyes, or a plastic pencil case- it works best if it has a zip.

Then a small selection of small world characters- if you can find the ones with facial expressions they work better, equally pebbles that can be designed by the child or young person, or wooden craft discs.

The reason behind using the above, acts as a conversation starter but it also bridges the gap when words are tricky to find and share. Worries come in all shapes and sizes, and emotions feel and look different for each child or young person.

It is then that you can start to introduce their own worry bag, this could be done alongside the book, this helps to bring the activity together, and takes a little pressure off, because listening is as important as doing.

Sian Spencer-Little

Research Health Play Specialist

Great Ormond Street Hospital