I have worked with many children and teens who understandably have become afraid and very avoidant of their emotions (affect intolerance). It can be a tricky balance to encourage noticing feelings while not pushing to the point the child or teen becomes even more uncomfortable and avoidant.
For this sand tray intervention, I have the child or teen create a safe meeting room. I explain this room is for feelings to come and visit. I remind the child or teen that the feelings will not stay long but we can notice them and listen to their message. The child creates “rooms” for the feelings and then a large meeting room where the child can feel safe.
1. Create a safe meeting room. Invite the child or teen to include things that help them feel safe. Invite them to include things that help them remember that the emotion is only a visitor.
2. Have the child or teen choose a miniature to represent self. Encourage them to think about how far or how close they want to sit from the visiting emotion to still feel safe enough to still allow the emotion to visit.
3. Allow the child or teen to invite an emotion to visit.
4. While the emotion visitor is there, ask what important messages the emotion is bringing. Ask the emotion what they can help the child or teen with (fear keeps us from doing things that are too dangerous, anger tells us something is not okay, etc.).
5. If relevant, have the child discuss with the emotion how to still be safe in actions and words. “It’s okay for anger to visit, it is important. How can we be safe with our body and our words when anger visits?” This helps the child see the difference between the emotion and the behavior.
6. Move slowly and follow the child or teen’s lead and pace. Many children and teens will want to allow just one feeling at a time to visit each session.
7. Take a photo and print it! If an emotion visited and brought an awesome insight, allow the child to take home a reminder of this.