Clay Problems & Rock Problems

Lately, my children have been worried, grieving, and stressed. My older son is having an especially difficult time. This post is about the guidance I've been seeking to help him cope and how I taught them the lesson about it all.

This past weekend, we created a church service at our house with just the four of us. We decided to have my husband play a few hymns that the kids recognized on the piano and sing together. Then, inspired by my amazing school counselor friend, Julie Rishel, who uses this clay and rock metaphor, I talked about problems in the world that Heaven doesn't have and we worked our way into coping strategies.  

Coping strategies are something that can benefit all children. Read on for more about Clay Problems, Rock Problems, and how to make your own Coping Toolbox.

Clay Problems

I started by giving talking to the kids about our imperfect and sinful world. I reminded them that God is perfect and Heaven doesn't have problems or pain. But, I said, "We do have problems on earth.  Some problems are like this."  I gave the kids Play-doh.  I told them to make it into a snake.  

Then, I told them to change it.  They made it into donuts and then pizza.  Then, I talked about how some problems can be changed.  We can adjust a detail or come up with something we can do to tackle the problem.  I gave an example to my three-year old that he would relate to. I said, "You know how sometimes you want to turn on a light in a room but you can't reach the switch? That's a problem that you can do something about.  You can change it like this dough.  What do you do to solve that kind of problem?"  He said, "I get a step-stool."  "Right!" I responded, "We do something to change the situation and solve the problem or part of the problem."

"Sometimes, though, we need others to work with us to make change and solve a problem." I told them to work together to make a smiley face out of their dough.  (This was pretty quick and simple!) They got it.  So, we moved on.

Rock Problems

Then, I handed both of the boys rocks.  I asked them to make the rocks into a snake.  Right away, my three-year old said, "I can't crumble it into a snake."  I said well then can you make a donut or a pizza?  He knew immediately again that he could not.  This was good logic.  I said, "Some problems are like this. We can't change them.  We can't adjust them the way we could mold the clay and make it into something different.  With rock problems, we can't do anything.  Sometimes that is difficult.  So, we need coping strategies to get through that hard time or frustration or sadness.  

Julie has a physical toolbox in her guidance classroom that students can go to and select tools that they feel would help them to cope.  You can make your own coping toolbox at home that is available to your children as reminders of what they have readily available to cope. After they get used to the techniques and mature a bit, they won't need a physical toolbox, but this is a wonderful idea while they are young.  

Below are things you can add to your "toolbox!"

Stress Balls

Take a balloon and blow it up a bit to stretch it out. We tried to choose some of the largest balloons in our variety bag.

Have an adult hold the balloon open while the child tears tiny bits of Play-doh and filling the balloon.

Fill the balloon to an appropriate size for your child's fist.

Squeeze it in a time of stress!

Calming Search & Find Jars

Gather 15-20 tiny treasures. Party favors are great for this! Photograph them Top-down with good light.

Gather a clean empty plastic jar with a wide-mouth lid.

With rice in a bowl and using a tablespoon, alternate 1-2 TBSP of rice & a toy. Kids love to help!

Keep alternating! Don't completely fill. you need to allow for some movement while they play the search game.

Glue the lid on and wait 24 hours for the glue to dry. Print your photo of treasures and glue it to the lid.

Let the searching begin. This is a great coping activity!

Magic Dragon Breathing Tubes

Paint a toilet paper roll. Gather light ribbons or crepe paper pieces.

Glue the ribbons (the lighter-weight, the better) into the inside of the roll.

Glue them all around the inside. You could do a theme, but we used what my kids liked.

Kids can breathe through it to cause the ribbons to "dance" and helps them stay calm.

What else did we add to our "Coping Toolbox?"

Tiny containers of bubbles

Visual Cards for Coping Strategies - Click to access

Hopeful Help

I'm prayerful and hopeful that these techniques and others listed in "Other Resources" help you or your child. It will be important to remind children that these aren't magic spells that suddenly make pain disappear, but are techniques to make sure that the pain or sorrow doesn't take over your whole being - these techniques can help you continue to function and move through your grief or anger as you incorporate them into your habits. 

Thank you for reading. I pray that these resources can be a blessing to you in your sadness and grief. Feel free to share these widely. If there is something you'd like further information or resources about, use the comment bar to request more or leave kind notes. Log in through Facebook, Google Plus, or Smug Mug to leave comments.

Peace and grace to you.


This post was designed to help others with something that my family is working on. Most of my posts are chances to read about joyful stories. Check out this really fun post from last week!

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