This April is the 22nd annual National Poetry Month. Two clinicians, Bob Nickles and CasSandra Calin, from Mental Health Services (MHS) at ChildSavers teamed up to share their perspectives. They shared that they believe children live in a world of symbols and speak with real voices. In this way, children and adolescents can be poets and young people can expand adults’ understanding of how to communicate.
One way to support children with poetry is to use fill-in-the-blank sentences to bridge the communication gap between child and adult. Structuring symbolic language allows self-expression to move beyond play into verbal or written narrative. This is easier for adult brains to comprehend. Shared language between adults and children assists families in developing private codes for hard-to-discuss topics. Consider the following:
If death was a color it would be ______.
If death was an animal it would be _____.
If death was a song it would be _____.
If grief was a season it would be _____.
If grief was a sound it would be _____.
For example, talking together about a “sneaky opossum” that hides in the trash instead of speaking directly about death, can create a safe distance for a parent and child to discuss something scary. Saying, “I’m in that long, long post office line today,” may be easier for children than describing symptoms of personal grief.
You can try this out by writing five lines about a feeling or event.
Line one: one word for the feeling or event you want to process (title)
Line two: two words to describe the event or feeling
Line three: three action words related to the event or feeling
Line four: four words about the feeling or event’s impact on you
Fifth line: another word (title) different from the first line.
This poem explores an emotion richly and deeply in a short amount of time. Forms such as these can enhance a child’s emotional vocabulary. They will have more words to talk about their feelings. For example, children may communicate feeling “sad” as an “oozing, sinking, flooding” feeling. Also, children will see their words on paper. That paper can be touched, folded, ripped, or hidden. Further, the paper can be used to share their idea with an adult who cares about how they feel.