The Bear Necessities

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Let me introduce you to The Bears. These cards are great for my work with children & families, but I love nothing more than playing with them at home.

It makes for great practice. I learn something new every time. They can be used with children and adults alike.

There are over forty cards, each showing one bear. They vary in size, colour, position, facial expression and body language. No two cards match. There are no words, and bears appear genderless on the cards, this allows others to tell you how they interpret what is shown. You can use them all or just a selection.

We lay them all out and just look. Often I start off by asking if they (‘they’ being my daughter or the adult/child I am working with), can choose a card to show how they are feeling today.

I have had one card chosen with an explanation, and sometimes two or more cards, if they want to describe more than one feeling to me.

One child I used them with didn’t feel she could choose any cards, possibly for ‘wanting to get the right answer’. Its important to build up trust with a child if possible before using them. In that instance her parents were playing with us. I have used the cards when on my own with children though, and usually these moments have proved to be much more revealing.

It can be helpful to use open questions, such as ‘what’s happening here?’, or ‘can you tell me why?’20131006-122409.jpg
Other ways to invite feelings are to offer unfinished statements as a starting point. Examples of this are ‘today I feel……’ (invite them to choose a card) or ‘I feel like this when…..’ (invite them to comment on one they have already chosen).

It can also be helpful to use them to build a family tree. This can be carried out either in a traditional format, (choosing cards for both parents placing them at one level, with the child/ren on the next row down), or by asking the them to place the the cards in distance order relating to closeness of that relationship. I have also done this kind of play using rocks.

The cards come with a booklet containing suggestions for various ways to use them. The important thing to remember is, if you use them and they aren’t interested, it doesn’t matter. No big deal.

If parents use the cards and children observe this, they may also start using them at a later date themselves.

In my family they are a short (15-20 minutes) fun activity. Sometimes I use them on my own with my daughter, other times we use them with my daughter and hubby too. I’ve never used them with hubby on his own, but there is a first time for everything.

The last time we used them was this week, we were having a quiet half hour in front of the fire before bedtime, and our daughter asked if we could use them.

We placed them on the floor face up in front of us. I asked ‘how do you feel today?’ I asked Dd ‘can you choose a card for Mummy?’ And, ‘Can you choose one for Daddy?’

Replicating the physical appearance of the bear they have chosen affirms that you are ‘in the moment’ with them. If a bear is grumpy for example, I might hold the card up and then slump over, hang my head, frown, sigh loudly, and say ‘humppfh ….. I chose this because…….’.

This was the card she chose for Daddy, she said ‘ … now this may be embarrassing for you Daddy. Strong little bear! Because he thinks I want everyone to think I am superman!’20131006-122605.jpg
What was interesting was that she asked us close our eyes whilst she was choosing our cards, creating a private space where reactions were reserved, until after she was confident in her choices.

She made a game up where the two who were not choosing a card, had to touch noses until the one choosing, had made their choice. This was fun, but it also provided an opportunity for reassurance through touch, and bonding whilst awaiting the results. If I am conducting a play-session for a child I’m working with this level of intimacy may not be appropriate, but using touch regularly during exercises which explore feelings, can be very helpful.

Daddy chose this flying / soaring bear for Dd. 20131006-125257.jpgHe said ‘I chose this because our daughter knows she can do anything’.

I used questions I had not used before this time, to see what she made of them. When she had chosen the cards for herself & for each of us I said;

‘Here is the card you chose for Daddy. What do you think Daddy would say if we asked him what your strengths are? What is your daughter really good at Daddy?’ (Gesturing to the card)

On this occasion toilet humour was the response I got (not unusual) but actually this is still relevant, and should not be dismissed because their relationship thrives on jokes, playing rough and tumble, and of course, toilet humour.

She piped up (rolling around on the floor) ‘he would say my daughter is the best at trumps!’

Typically I was trying to jot down the odd note on my phone, about what we were doing so that I could write it up later. Creating a narrative is something so natural to me, and I enjoy knowing I’m leaving some insight into what her very early years were like, other than just photos, stories, and her school books.20131006-124608.jpgDd said ‘this is you, you are picking up your phone’. She asked ‘why are you always in your phone?’

Ok, she called me in on this, I admit, as a writer I do tend to use the notes app on my phone to capture the majority of ideas as they come to me. Sometimes this is just a word or phrase, and I have a very good memory, but the message I got this time was that to her, it feels like I am always on my phone.

We may not watch television but screen time isn’t restricted to TV alone. Message received loud and clear.

(Mental) note; less is more. Start using a pencil & pad during DD’s waking hours.

This raises a valid part of the process though – adults have to be open to hearing the truth as the child sees it. Some things that arise might be hard to hear. Both hubby and I have certainly had our fair share of ‘this is you when you are shouty / grumpy’ etc (insert difficult to hear but true adjective stated by child here). But at these times that’s when the cards are most effective.

Dd chose this card to represent her much loved cat Daisy.20131006-124939.jpg (I can’t believe I haven’t blogged about our cats yet, mental note; add cats to my topics list).

She stayed; This is Daisy because she thinks ‘I am so glad I have got a new owner’.

When my hubby’s father passed away he went to stay with his family for a few nights. Dd chose this card from the bears to represent Daddy and we put it up on the bedside table to remind us that he was thinking of us.20131006-070147.jpg

I will be lending these out to friends soon, and may play with them alongside my daughter and one or more of her friends.

Silence is important when playing this game. It is difficult at first not to actually attempt to have a conversation and start ‘Ooh how about this one for…..’ It is also helpful to only use the language the child is using (so that whatever is spoken is directly from them).

What happens is that whatever the feeling is, it is heard. It is not swept aside, dismissed, missed, mistaken or silenced. The voice of the child is heard. An interest is shown. And feeling heard can have a dramatic effect on their behaviour.

Coming soon…… home made vitamins, raw (unpasteurised) milk, vegetarianism, and frugality.

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One Response to The Bear Necessities

  1. Karenza says:

    Thanks for the recommendation and the detailed explanation! I’m going to do some experimenting. Might be useful for work too. xx

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