Anxiety technique – Playing to teach

Newsletter by Family Graffiti | Published on 12th March 2018

Playing to teach... in 4 easy steps

Remember, you want to start to feed in good experiences to start a positive recall in your child’s cognition.


Children learn best through play so set up a game of toys!

1. Start a game with toy characters and steer the game to imitate and include their anxious environment – for instance, playing dollies, soldiers, cars whatever your child loves to play and incorporating bedtime, dinner time, school, parties… whatever their fear is.


2. There are two routes this play can take – your child could simply accept the game and play along, or they could explore their own feelings. Either is great, BUT always start with positivity – assume that the characters are going to have a positive experience (a fun bedtime, a fabulous party, an adventure at school) role model the desired behaviours through the character and positive play.

3. However, also end positively – if the child’s character starts to explore their feelings ‘my character doesn’t want to go to school mummy’ for instance then use the characters in the game to help the child to explore their anxieties – ask searching questions – ‘What’s stopping *toy’s name* from wanting to go to school?’ ‘How can we make it easier for them to go to school?’

4. Your child will find it easier to communicate and ‘see their feelings from the outside’ and so will you. Do not finish the game once they’ve externalised their thoughts, and do not relate them to the child – just use natural curiosity, calm, and a gentle encouragement to help the characters to work through the toys problems. Let your child work with you to, or even better offer their own solution to, solving the toys problem. 


This is a simple yet effective strategy to externalise the problems a child faces without confrontation or humiliation. It also gives the child a safe environment in which to explore and reason different outcomes that they may not know or have explored yet. It also creates the perfect opportunity to attach a positive recall - the time they solved their own problem and overcame and explored their anxiety.

It's all about that cognitive process...


The Cognitive Process

  1. Receive information (learning: hearing, seeing, touching, sensing, tasting)
  2. Retain information (stored, indexed to previous events and ready for recall)
  3. Recall information (how we think, when an event re-occurs)
  4. Reacting to this information (how we behave, because of this thinking)

A practical definition of cognition would be the process by which we learn, think, feel & understand. This process determines how we should react (behave) in a given situation.


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