Container skill with children

Containment is a skill used in EMDR therapy. To practice containment, one identifies a container strong enough to hold distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings and imagines putting these into the container to take a break from them. It helps to keep the nervous system from being constantly bombarded by distressing things. Of course, one often has to revisit these things and deal with them on some level, but taking a break is good too. For example, a child may need to contain a trauma memory while at school to better focus on school work. Containment is about acknowledging, stepping back, and taking a break. It also helps one not over-identify with the distressing thought, feeling or memory.

In my early EMDR training, I was taught how to incorporate this skill with adult clients. Later, I integrated play therapy techniques to teach it to children. I teach this to children using puppets to illustrate the concept first. I draw a memory and show how the memory follows the puppet around even when he/she doesn’t want to think of it. Then I have children create their own container. They can draw the container or even make it using boxes and craft materials. I teach the child that this puts them in control of what they want to talk about, think about, and what they want to take a break from. In Tele health sessions, I teach this using the white board function in zoom for them to draw their container (unless they have their own craft and art materials at home).

If the skill doesn’t seem to be working, invite the child to make the container stronger. This can be done by incorporating guards, locks, chains, magical spells… get creative! The stronger the container feels in the child’s mind, the more effective the skill will be.

I have even had children draw their container, or take a photo of a box container they made. The child can then carry the small photo or drawing with them to school (or anywhere!) to remember the skill.

For more information on EMDR therapy, check out EMDRIA.org.

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