Heart in Your Hand

A technique to assist children who are struggling with anxiety over the first day of school and/or separation anxiety.

  • As I watched my 4 year old put on her back pack and struggle to balance herself by the weight of it I realized that she is struggling to balance a lot more than just the physical heaviness of this large object on her back. She was trying to balance her emotions; excitement versus fear, happiness versus sadness and independence versus dependence. We discovered a little way to help her maintain that balance after she drove away in that big yellow bus.
  • Have your child hold out their hand and draw a heart on it in pen (or permanent marker)
  • As you draw the heart talk about how much you love them and that you will be thinking of them all day. Don’t rush this process, children are enticed by the fact that you are drawing on their hand, which is usually an activity that is not always accepted
  • Draw a heart on your chest/heart area
  • Give the heart on their hand several loving and loud kisses and then place the child’s hand on your heart – hold their hand there
  • While holding their hand on your heart – ask if they feel the love moving from you to them; tell them that you are sending all your love into them, that the two of you have a special love heart connection. Take your time with this, make eye contact, be expressive and excited by the touch/connection, make sure you are down on their level and physically close (see below for a little rhyme that you can say to them)
  • Remind them that anytime throughout the day they can put their heart that is on their hand onto their chest/heart and feel your love throughout the day – practice it with them – ask them to concentrate really hard and if they can feel your love
  • Give each other a big hug stating “now you’ve got my heart and love with you all day”
  • At the end of the day you can talk about when/if they needed to feel your love and remind them that you were busy sending them love throughout the day
  • Continue with this as long as your child needs it or adapt it as they desire;
    • have them draw a heart on your hand and kiss it, putting your hand on their heart so you can feel their love throughout the day
    • have hearts on both hands (one from both caregivers)
    • put their hand on your heart/chest when the ink is still wet so it transfers the heart onto/over the heart drawn on your chest and vise-versa

The power of this technique is the connection, and the true energy you feel when two people touch. The level eye to eye connection, the power of touch and the permanent mark – that even when they wash their hand it is still there, provides your child with a physical and emotional reminder of you.

As a child psychotherapist and play therapist I have suggested this technique for parents with children with separation anxiety. It is not only effective for the start of school but ongoing separation issues. And as a mother I have used it with my three children. At the end of the day they will often be able to articulate when they needed to put their hand on their heart to feel Mommy and/or Daddy’s love. It has assisted them in feeling loved and connected.

Honour the power of touch and the intensity of a love from a parent – the power of the two can assist your child in balancing that very heavy emotional backpack.

Tina Lackner, BACYC, MSc (CPT)
Certified Psychotherapist and Child Play Therapist
Professor, Child and Youth Worker/Care Diploma/Degree Programs, Humber College

Heart in Your Hand

_________________ (Name) I love you
Feel my love coming through
If you are sad and feeling blue
Know that my love is there for you

NOTE: This activity is an extension of the book “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn. Reading the book alongside doing this activity will enhance the understanding and acceptance of healthy separation.