We have a strategy you can use if you are a parent, teacher, or in some other nurturing capacity and concerned about a young child dealing with a life issue that is causing worry. Theoretically it works best for kids between the ages of around seven and eleven, coinciding with the concrete operational stage of development, but I have mainly used it for clients between seven and nine because the idea can seem dorky to older kids. You have to judge for yourself how you think a child will respond. We will soon get into why this strategy seems to provide relief at the concrete operational stage. I have used worry eggs many times in counseling and they work great to temporarily take the pressure off while also helping to create a context for later counseling conversations.
Just purchase plastic eggs that you can pull apart, like the ones you get at Easter. I always use sizes that fit within an egg carton so that each client can have a carton to put multiple worries into. Then instruct the child to write down on a strip of paper the specific issue that is causing anxiety. Take it, put it in the worry egg, and explain that you are going to look after it for a while. You will take temporary ownership over the problem, promising they can have it back later.
Kids at the concrete operational stage think logically about concrete events and objects that are in front of them, but have a hard time thinking in abstract ways when they cannot relate their thoughts to the concrete situation. And therein lies the power of this strategy. A child visibly sees the free floating worry get written down on a piece of paper and then sees this piece of paper transferred to a caretaker who will look after it. The ephemeral is turned into the concrete. You will also make a powerful emotional connection because you have offered to shoulder the burden.
People of all ages see their issues differently when they can pin them down and say them out loud. I see this happen all the time in therapy. Often the most painful parts of life have never been vocalized. When they finally are, some of their power immediately dissipates. For a child who lacks the efficacy and power that an adult has, this experience is very important.
Obviously we don’t want to ignore issues or forget about them. Why I find this strategy useful is that the power is placed in the hands of a child to decide what is causing the most stress and dysfunction rather than in the hands of an authority figure. We come back again and again to the eggs and monitor if ownership can be taken back or if they can just be thrown away. It gives us a valuable window into the inner workings of a child’s mind.
One caveat is that we have to intercede if there is abuse of any kind occurring or if the child is in danger. In these situations ignoring the problem by using the eggs would be unethical. But life issues like difficulties with schoolwork, grief, trouble fitting in with classmates, or shyness are all gravy for providing temporary relief and creating a powerful framework to start moving towards growth.