Show me a world, create a safe space


I started using a sand tray this week and it has been so helpful for the children I meet with. I tried a variety of techniques but I noticed an important theme…what makes the sand tray so powerful. It is that for those minutes the child is creating their world, they are in complete control. They can express what they want, change what they want, protect what they want, reveal what they want. They have a safe imaginary world that is so important because it exists and they are in charge.
I started offering children the option to make up rules for their world after they completed it. All the children I offered this idea to jumped at the chance. Kids follow rules everyday so being able to make up their own rules for their world is usually pretty exciting. The rules are also usually not reflective of the rules they follow at school or home and are very significant, “no violence,” “safe parents,” “no gun noises,” etc.

Don’t have a sand tray? Another intervention is to ask the child to build a safe place using blocks or Legos. Then they can make up rules for their safe place after they build it. Also, dry erase markers can be used to write directly on the blocks (if plastic blocks or Legos). Children can write rules or draw things in the world they want in their safe place (food, love, family etc.).

The difficult thing about this intervention is that it reminds us that we cannot always keep children safe, as sad as that may be. Sure, we can make reports to child protective services, we can connect families to resources, advocate, support, etc, but we cannot simply snap our fingers and make the community less violent, we cannot often monitor what goes on in the homes, what people say to them, what happens to them. But we can give children a safe space through therapy. A place where they can be in charge. A place where they can access and create what they need in their lives.
And that is a very powerful thing.

I just wanted to share this quick idea because I’ve been finding it helpful! Happy Saturday.


  1. I love your insight to the sand tray. I’ve used it for many years with wonderful success for all age groups. It’s a wonderful tool and technique for many of the problems youth (and adults) face today. For those who don’t or cant afford a large sand tray and the set up I recommend a small tray with a few miniatures. In my waiting room I have what was a chip and dip tray with sand where the “chips” would go and a few miniatures where the “dip” would go. I’m not surprised to come back into the waiting room after a session with a child to see that the parent has utilized it or is in the process of rearranging pieces when I come back.

    • Thank you! That’s an excellent idea and I’m sure that is very interesting to see what the parent has used it for as well! I am still very new to the sand tray and would love to chat more with you sometime! I’m sure you have many wonderful ideas!

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