In Guatemala women are craftily making handmade dolls of wire, wool and colourful fabrics that appear to be in traditional Mayan style. The purpose: to take all your worries away.
Local legend tells of Muñeca quitapena, a Mayan princess named lxmucane. It’s thought that in ancient times the princess received a special gift from the sun god that allowed her to solve any problem that plagued the human mind – ‘worry dolls’, in modern times, symbolise and embody the same concept and idea.
An older woman living in Guatemala making worry dolls for sale explains that everyone, including her daughters, believe in the power of worry dolls. “When they are afraid, I tell them to grab a doll and explain their worries to it. Then they put them under their pillows, and in seven days, all their worries have been taken away.”
Worry dolls are given to children, specifically, who talk to their dolls about their worries and fears. After resting their head on the pillow under which the doll lies, the children are thought to literally have slept over and moved on from whatever was bothering them – a concept that, if you think about it, makes a whole lot of sense.
Charles Schaefer, et al. explains in Essential Play Therapy Techniques: Time-tested Approaches, that worry dolls have “therapeutic” benefits. They encourage children to acknowledge how they’re feeling in a non-threatening way so they can process and move on.
They explain, referencing studies conducted on the brain:
“Eisenberger, Lieberman, and Williams (2003) showed that putting problems into words eases emotional pain... Participants who had less activity in the anterior cingulate cortex and reported feeling less distress, showed more activity in the area of the brain associated with language production and verbalising thoughts (the right ventral lateral prefrontal cortex). The authors concluded that verbalising emotions activates the prefrontal cortex, which serves to suppress the region of the brain associated with emotional pain.”
Worry dolls are often sold in bulk – sometimes as souvenirs – in Guatemala. But you don’t have to have a worry doll, specifically, to encourage this particular form of play therapy. It may just be a matter of encouraging them to talk to their favourite doll or stuffed animal that they already carry around everywhere they go.
Does your child have a worry doll? Which therapeutic techniques have you used to get them to open up? Tell us and we may share them with our readers?