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No Sadness Here: What Child Clients Taught Me About Emotional Expression

Updated: May 23

I recently bought this new miniature toy at a conference. (Below) It looks like a slouching person with hands in pockets and downcast eyes. Of course if you know any play therapists, you probably know I bought more! We tend to see the power in toys as tools for emotional expression. More on that soon. 

As I searched through the exhibit hall full of weighted blankets, picture books, fidgets, puppets, dolls and more, I had a singular focus in mind: Sadness.



I’ve often asked children in the play therapy room, “Is there anything you needed for this little world that I didn’t have? What else do you wish you could add?” Lately kiddos told me

that they needed something to represent sadness and my choices just weren’t cutting it. I’d thought that maybe my snail, tortoise, rain cloud, pile of rocks or cage could be enough.


Emotional expression. You’ve heard the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” If that’s true then one pretend play scene must be in the millions. No two people experience sadness exactly the same way and so I’m glad I listened to the kids (who tend to give more suggestions than I can accommodate!) I purchased a few toys with sadness in mind actually: a baby-like monkey puppet with a high-pitched squeaker, a rubber sloth and another doll.


My goal is twofold;



I want to provide many options for metaphor so that children can safely approach all their feelings and experiences.
And I want to signal by my materials that whatever their state of mind or problem, I’m willing to bring painful or shameful things into the light together. 

If you’re raising kids, but don’t have the bandwidth for their big needs or were never taught a wide emotional vocabulary yourself, then I hope you’ll consider play therapy. Contact me for a free brief call to see if I’m the right fit for your family. 



About the author: Joy Cannon is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Registered Play Therapist and National Certified Counselor providing group and play therapy in her hometown of Austin, Texas. Her specialties include young children ages 3-7 years, caregivers of people with chronic illnesses or mental health diagnoses and leading groups.


Disclaimer: The above information is intended to provide a general overview of mental health topics or child development. This information is not a replacement for professional psychotherapy or diagnosis. Seek consultation from a licensed professional for personalized treatment planning.

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