Children who are traumatized will often externalize their feelings and memories because the impact of abuse is simply beyond what they can communicate, or the child may feel too frightened or intimidated to express what they are feeling. It is also common for abused children to act out by recreating the abuse done to them (which often is a sign of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)–common forms of acting out may include: aggression/violence, sexualized play, impulsive behavior, and showing what they feel or experience through play.

I found that creating a “Safety Box” really helped my children cope with abuse, and gave them a constructive outlet for their feelings. It will take time for a child to heal. Reinforcing safe, positive behaviors is one step towards healing and giving a child a sense of control over themselves.

What You Will Need:

* A Box or Container (Be as creative as possible–may also consider a basket, a safe, a backpack, a folder, a jewelry box or choose to make your own box!)

* Decorations for the box with glue/glue gun or tape. Some ideas: stickers, markers/crayons/paint, magazines or clippings, buttons, sea shells, artificial flowers/plants or bits of fabric/lace. Again, be as creative as possible 🙂

*A safe place to put the box in. It is important the child is able to choose where to put the box, and for an adult to remember where it is kept (in case they forget) and to keep that place safe. It is best to choose one place and keep the box in that once place. Also, establish rules with other siblings or family members not to go into the box, privacy is essential to a feeling of safety.

Step 1: Explain to the child that you are going to make a “safety box”. The “safety box” is a super cool box to keep your treasures in; it also is a safe place to put your feelings. Since you can’t touch your feelings, you can put things inside that are special to you, and remind you of your feelings. The “safety box” is your own box, and no one will go in it unless you say.

(Note: I tell my children that feelings are like the air inside a balloon. Your body is the balloon, your feelings fill you like air. When you have a “big feeling” or a tough feeling, the balloon fills up really fast and gets big. If you can’t talk about your feelings, the balloon feels ready to pop. If you ask for help (name special people to the child) with your feelings, they won’t get so big and you can fill your balloon with other feelings (name feelings: happy, excited, calm, etc).

Step 2: You may consider giving the box a special name, that is familiar to your child like: treasure chest, rocket ship, sandbox, Bob’s Tool Box, or use the name the child uses to describe their feelings (my children call their box the “Big Feeling Box“).  Using lingo familiar to the child will help you both communicate, and emphasize to the child that they are important and that you are listening. When the child can choose the name of the box, they will again feel more in control, and better be able to identify what is going on inside (ie: emotions, memories, fears, questions, etc).

Step 3: Decorate the box. What works for my family, is to lay newspaper on a table then spread all the materials on top of the table. I let my children choose how to decorate the box, and help when needed. I do not direct or tell my children what to do–I let their imagination do the work.  It may help to have some music playing in the background. Use lots of positive encouragement, praise your child as they go along; you want your child to feel comfortable with the box, and again to feel they are safe, loved and respected.

Step 4: Once the box is complete, you get to fill it! For my children, this is a gradual process. I don’t have any rules (haha–except no food inside!) and let my children make changes or adaptions as needed. It’s really interesting because my children seemed to know what should go inside, and why it is important without too much input from me.

Ideas of What May Go Inside: Photographs, Drawings, Rocks/Feathers/Shells & Nature Objects, Favorite Toys, Momentos, Cards/Letters, Stickers…

I would be aware that your child may create a story or a routine with their box. Allow the child to express themselves, and be available to share that with the them. The really cool thing about the “safety box” is that it becomes the child’s own creation–they have a safe place to externalize feelings while also receiving, from you, the love and validation they need.



Helpguide: Emotional & Psychological Trauma:

NIMH: Helping Children & Adolescents Cope with Violence & Disasters:

Parenting Sexually Abuse Children in Jewish Communities (Lots of information and help including how to discipline abused children, what to do when parents mistreat their children in public, specific populations of victims and much more…)

SupportLine-Problems: Child Abuse (resources in the UK, has safety tips for children and advise on how to talk to your children about abuse):