Thera Pea Dolls: At home Protective Play That Won’t Break the Bank.

Thera Pea Dolls are a tool I use to teach Protective Behaviors. In my role as a child therapist and Protective Behavior consultant, I am always on the look out for different ideas to present as teaching utensils for parents to use with their own children if they want to. I like to suggest protective play resources that are either free or take little expense to make. One of the favored resources I use is Thera Pea Dolls. The dolls are simply a stuffed body outline that can be written on, or drawn upon, for numerous at home psycho-educational purposes. I make the dolls in a range of skin tones (I match the skin tone to the person I’m working with) and offer pens that will show on the material. When I have used dolls made from dark material, I give the child a whiteout pen and it shows up beautifully. My child client takes the doll home with them and I give the parents a “clean” doll to use, however they want, to reinforce what we have just done.

Is this something you would like to play with at home? A simple pattern for making the dolls can be found here. Although these particular dolls are used to prepare children for medical type interventions, the completed doll loans itself well to use as an at home Protective Play, “Thera Pea Doll”, resource.

Here’s a few ideas on how to use Thera Pea dolls at home:

A “Mini ME” doll: Great for developing and assessing self-esteem. Use the doll for the child to decorate as though the doll is themselves. Have a range of art and craft materials at hand – glue, pins, wool, buttons, material scraps – and watch your mini child develop. If your child has left out all their good points, consider decorating another doll in private and give it to your child as an expression of how you see them.

Projection of feelings: Because children don’t have the emotional vocabulary and sophistication that we big people do, they often can’t describe how they’re feeling. However, they can probably draw it. Provide your child a Thera Pea doll and get them to draw the funny/unusual/different/sad, etc, feelings in the place that they are experiencing it. Follow this up with a discussion on words that may be used to name the feelings.

Emotional Intelligence: Ask your child to write, or draw, on as many feeling words as they can. It’s good to help them work out where in their body they feel the word and write the word on the doll in that place. As a cheat sheet, use the poster of feeling words found in Do You Get Angry with Your Child? I Do, Because Anger is a Natural Feeling. Add newly discovered words to the doll over the next week. The greater feeling vocabulary your child has, the better the chance they can tell you when something is bothering them. Have a look at the “Word a week” activity, in Body Ownership, as an additional way of developing emotional intelligence.

Parts of the body: Ask your child to name the parts of the body. Write the words/draw the picture directly onto that part. You may note that private parts are, more often than not, left off. It is really important to have discussions about private parts. Children need to know that it’s not embarrassing to talk to you about those particular parts of the body. Consistent research tells us that it is important for children to have the correct terminology for ALL body parts, but as busy and concerned parents, we often fail to teach this. We use “nick” or “pet” names, or even worse, avoid mentioning those body parts all together.

Paper dolls are another free Protective Play alternative that can be used in similar ways as suggested above. An Australian site that offers some GREAT curriculum ideas around using dolls to teach personal health and safety can be viewed at . The lesson plan ideas offer an easy pattern for paper dolls and clothes. The pattern includes underwear to cover private parts with. This is an excellent alternative if you can’t sew or don’t have a sewing machine. It is also an activity that children can easily make themselves.

For a more comprehensive look at play ideas for teaching around body ownership or protective behaviors, please look at these articles:

The BITSS to Teach Children About Protective Behaviors;

BITSS of Body Ownership;

BITSS of Intuition;

BITSS of Touch;

BITSS of Say No;

BITSS of Support Networks.