The magic of sock puppet pets

The therapeutic benefits of sock puppets to help children express what is troubling them when they are not able to find the words to express their feelings.

Most children love animals and having pets enriches their wellbeing in so many ways. Pets can reduce stress, anxiety, and playing with a pet can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax us. They provide valuable companionship, ease anxiety, build self-confidence and encourage playfulness.

In times of severe adversity, stress, and trauma, pets can provide people with “a source of nonjudgmental support, stress-reducing companionship, positive outlets for joy and laughter, a safe haven for physical touch and emotional vulnerability.” When young children form a bond with a pet dog or cat, it can exert a positive influence on biological, psychological, and social wellbeing. (O’Haire et al., 2019)

Research shows when children are asked to list the ten most important individuals in their lives, they frequently include pets, and 42% of 5-year-old children spontaneously mentioned turning to their pets when they are feeling sad, angry, happy, or want to share a secret (Melson).

Our pets Hamish and Milo are very much part of the family and always seem to “just know” when we feel sad or worried, need a hug or time to play, and it’s for this reason, that we wanted all children to have their very own pet; a sock puppet pet!

“Our children absolutely love the sock puppets.”

Teacher, Greater Manchester

Sock puppet pets therapeutic benefits of puppets Milo

Puppets have been shown to provide healing qualities to children processing trauma

Children often struggle with communicating their feelings. Play is a way to communicate that is very effective for children and the sock puppets provide a safe distance from uncomfortable feelings, memories, and fears. Puppets can help bring a child’s problem comfortably into the room and they often speak for the child, making them feel not so alone. So having their very own pet in the form of a sock puppet can be a very powerful way of helping children to feel cared about, listened to and not alone.

Even when some of our schools have said they were unsure how the children would take to the sock puppets, we have been delighted to hear how much the children do love them and that they have become a joyous connection for the children.

“We weren’t sure if the sock puppets would work with our children, but they absolutely love them.”

ELSA & TA, Poole

“Bertie has become a true friend and a regular feature of all our sessions.”

Family Support Worker, Bournemouth

We know that it’s often the adults who are more nervous than the children about how to use the sock puppet pets and we have some tips to help. We have been excited to hear when some pastoral staff have surprised themselves in how much they have enjoyed using the sock puppet pets too!

We’ve received feedback on how the adults are enjoying making them just as much as the children and how in some schools the adults have had their own practice sessions to develop their confidence and the approach. We even have one school that has said that EVERY member of staff will have their own sock puppet!

Sock puppet pets therapeutic benefits of puppets

Our sock puppet training video demonstrates using the sock puppets and will help develop confidence to really maximise their impact.

A few key tips in using sock puppet pets to help create the magic in your approach:

  • All children and the facilitating adults need to have their own sock puppet pet. Have a ‘sock puppet making and getting to know you’ session prior to the start of any of the 10-week programmes where the children and adult make and personalise their own sock puppet. Everything you need is in our sock puppet kits!

  • Encourage the children to get to know their puppet (and complete their journal pages), give it:

    • a name,
    • a character (noisy, shy, imaginative, funny, creative, sensible, clever, clumsy, etc),
    • a voice,
    • likes and dislikes,
    • hobbies.
  • Use the puppets in different ways as they can take on different roles e.g. they can be talked to, to enable children to explore difficult issues at a safe distance, in role play they might be a friend or someone the child has a difficult relationship with, and they can be used for storytelling and practicing approaches and problem solving strategies.

  • Practice talking to your sock puppet in the mirror so you can see what it looks like and how its mouth moves as you talk. Try different ways so that you can model to the children and create the magic in your approach.
  • Have fun! Puppets, first and foremost, are fun! They are a great outlet for children to engage and express themselves so let their, and your, creativity flow and just have fun with it! Silly voices and funny expressions all help create a relaxed, warm and friendly environment too!

The puppets can be extremely powerful in helping them to feel safe to talk about difficult feelings and experiences without them feeling exposed or vulnerable. They can be frustrated, worried, sad or angry about something, and it allows the children to explore those complicated feelings and situations without feeling overwhelmed.

We hope you enjoy using them and have fun too and are always keen to hear your stories and see photos of your sock puppet pets!

Hamish & Milo Wellbeing Journals
Sock puppet pets therapeutic Wellbeing Journal

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Hamish with newspaper cartoon