One of the side effects of social distancing, self-isolation and distance learning is the undeniable move towards more and more screen time for all. Some fight it, some embrace it, most swing between the two with a mild apprehension of the long-term impact, whilst also sending little prayers of gratitude to the WiFi gods. 

Yes, maybe we are all screen heads now, but we are in a global pandemic! The rules have changed. Screens, like hand washing just have to increase… for now. As our work, social lives, education and all other activities shift us into digital worlds, it is good to remember we can still ground our families in the physical, and carve out time for connection.

Families containing older children aka Tweens have a unique challenge in striking the online offline balance. Tweens are a tech savvy bunch. They also have unique developmental needs which mean they are more sensitive to issues pertaining to social connection. They are learning about their identity and they do this through learning about their peers. Those who have ever tried removing a phone mid group chat conversation, know the horror.

Even without the horrendousness of Covid19, tweens are going through a lot of change. This may mean the additional stress of social distancing and uncertainty may result in the need to offer more support. They are able to conceptualise, argue and negotiate with impressive skill, but asking them about their feelings, may turn up shrugs of dismissal. Because of this, parents may have to get creative in how they communicate and connect with their tweens.

As a Play Therapist, I know that children communicate through play. Watching a child at a dolls house for example, may give us insights into how they may be feeling about their family or home life. But the dolls house may be a hard sell for a sophisticated tween. For tweens, play may include more of the expressive arts. Cathy Malchiodi is the creator of Trauma Informed Expressive Therapy. In her book: ‘Trauma and expressive arts therapy: Brain, body, and imagination in the healing process’ she outlines useful arts based activities suitable for children.

Body mapping is a great way to connect to children without too much talking and no screens. It promotes lots of reflection and may allow you to consider your child in a new way, as it allows the child to symbolically represent things that may be conscious or unconscious. It also keys into their natural inclination to question concepts of identity, individuality, and personal strengths.

What you will need

  • Large piece of paper or cardboard
  • Drawing materials (textas, pencils, pastels etc.)
  • Optional other craft materials like paper for collage, glue etc.

Body Mapping Process

Invite your child to do an art activity with you. Suggest you make body islands or maps. If you want you could make one alongside your child.

On the butcher’s paper, children lie in any position they like. Trace around them with a marker, making a body shape that is representative of an island. Imagine all the space outside the body is water.

Invite your child to complete their island in any way they choose. They might want to put in beaches, coves, caves, forests, rivers, volcanoes, rocky patches, towns or villages, vast grassy spaces, or any other thing they can think of.

Notice how your child constructs their island. Give them quiet and space to get into the flow of their creative piece. When they are finished you can ask them if they want to tell you about what they have made. Respect their willingness or unwillingness to share.

If open to discussion, together you may wonder at their island and what they have chosen to portray. It is important to not infer your own meaning to what they have shown you. Listen to their responses. They might be literal: ‘I put a volcano in my head, because sometimes it feels like my brain might explode.’ But it is more likely they will tell you a story: ‘Here is a big volcano, it is usually very still but it can explode sometimes, and the villagers all run for safety’. In your responses to your child keep your discussion about the island not about them. You might respond by saying ‘Oh it seems hard to know when that might happen, do the villagers get any warning? I wonder where they go to be safe?’

You could notice the overall feeling you get from the island, or wonder about specific little parts. Always remember to stay curious and open. Try not to pass judgement or become interrogative. Follow your child’s lead and let them decide what ultimately happens with their work.

It may be true that ‘no man (nor woman or child) is an island’ and in doing this activity, you are providing an opportunity for you and your child to feel this connectedness and see it represented. Covid19 has brought much change, I hope you find your islands have all the natural resources it needs to get through this challenging time.


  • Malchiodi, C. A. (2020). Trauma and expressive arts therapy : Brain, body, and imagination in the healing process. The Guilford Press. New York, London.
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