These are my Big Feeling Eaters. Okay, so they are really called Worry Eaters, but I certainly DO NOT want to discriminate on the types of feelings they could eat. Angry, sad, or jealous feelings are just as important as worried feelings!
These cute little monsters are anywhere from $16.00 to $22.00 on Amazon but you can find them at Zulili on sale sometimes. Visit this page to get notified about when they might have them on sale. The awesome thing about these monsters is they come in such a BIG variety all with their own unique names like Flint, Polli, Enno, and Ping. I couldn't decide on just one so I bought three (sadly Schmidt did not make the photo shoot). This may be this pull inside me to allow children as much choice as possible, OR it could be indecisiveness. Either or, these three live out their lives in my playroom.
If you are just starting Play Therapy or child and adolescent counseling with a tiny budget you can get these ZIPIT Monster Pencil Cases for around $8.00. Still too high? No worries I have your back – check out my Pinterest board for how to make your own with supplies you probably have on hand to live in your office. My favorite (even when I use my Big Feeling Eaters) is to make one out of tissue boxes for the young person I am working with to take home. And if I know one thing about therapists we go through a ton of tissue boxes. You can even recruit your office mates to save them for you!
The other supply you need for this activity? Little colorful strips of paper to write the big feelings on. The young person gets to choose what pieces of paper best represents their feeling and trigger for the week giving them a sense of empowerment and control.
Now that we know WHAT these guys are, let’s dive a little deeper into what you DO with them. I love to use these guys for compartmentalization or a container exercise, which can be incredibly helpful for those young people who ruminate on big feelings and let them take root and live in their brains and bodies. When this happens sometimes there is little ability, energy, or focus on anything but those darn big feelings.
We see this all the time with the young people with whom we work. This might look like worries that prevent a child from going to bed on time, a child becoming so angry that it is not her turn for the iPad that she is unable to let these feelings go and carries them all the way to bed time (with a couple of blow ups on the way), or the young person who becomes so distressed when his basketball team loses that he can’t stop crying.
If you are trained in EMDR this is a great activity to do before you enter the desensitization and reprocessing phases so clients have a container at home. Or for those incomplete sessions you can offer the Big Feeling Eater to contain the memory. It’s also an awesome Cognitive Behavioral Play Therapy technique.
Here’s my scrip that I use to talk about this concept with young people:
“These are my Big Feeling Eaters. They live here in my office and LOVE to help out young people. Their job is to eat big feelings like anger, sadness, jealousy, and worry. Their bellies can ONLY get full when they eat big feelings from children like you! They love to help out the young people I work with to make them feel better by eating all those big feelings that don’t feel good to them in the moment and that might make it hard to do the things they want! AND the young people I work with LOVE to help out the big feeling eaters by giving them some of their big feelings that aren’t working for them. Their bellies only feel full when they are eating big feelings. Anytime you come into this office and have a big feeling you want to get rid of you can choose to write it on that paper over there and feed it to the Big Feeling Eaters. The only rule is they have a super secret detection system, in if someone puts in a big feeling that isn’t safe then they will let me know. Otherwise the feelings will digest and make their bellies full!”
I also intentionally leave the big feelings in their belly. WHAT? Doesn’t this violate confidentiality?
Well…I want to normalize that others have big feelings too. Children are never left in my office without supervision, and rarely someone will try to reach it and look at the big feelings. When this happens I will say something like “OH NO! Those feelings are digesting – we can’t reach into their bellies and take them out. It would be like if someone reached in your belly and tried to take out your lunch – it would feel yucky!” I have never had a child not respect this boundary.
The other piece to this is that I check the big feelings after the child leaves. If there was any identifying information (which there has not been yet) I would remove that big feeling. Most of the time it sounds something like “my math test”, “going to bed by myself”, "being sick" or just simply the feeling word. None of these big feelings could ever be identified and connected to the young person, so they stay and it can be powerful.
A lot of the time young people will run and crunch the Big Feeling Eater’s belly and say “ohhh they’re still digesting”. OR other times they will make a comment such as “I bet I’m the only one who has fed them” only to discover that there are other feelings “digesting”. Recognizing that they are not the only child with big feelings, because sometimes it can seem that way, takes the shame out of the worries, tantrums, and tears.
Some young people take it and run with it wanting to deposit feelings each time. Others know it is there for them when they need it. Overall it provides empowerment that we are in control over what we choose to occupy our minds and how we can regulate emotions with compartmentalization and container activities.
If you had a Big Feeling Eater what feelings would you put in there this week? Frustration with paperwork? Stress with not enough time for emails or collateral contacts?
Do you have other favorite compartmentalization activities you like to use with young people? Drop a comment below!
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I'm Ann Meehan, an LPCC, RPT-S, and EMDR Consultant. I help other therapists grow in their passions as play therapists, trauma therapists,and child and adolescent therapists.