Target Population: Children ages 7 to 12
Materials:
  • Drawing block
  • Drawing materials of the client’s choosing (colored pencils, crayons, markers etc.)
  • Other craft supplies (e.g. playdoh, clay, glitter, ribbons, stickers, cotton balls)
Instructions:
In the story of Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie, Neverland is a magical place where some of the characters in the story reside. The main character in the book, Peter Pan, is known for his refusal to grow up. Neverland thus has the reputation for being a place that children retreat to or escape from the real world. According to the original author, Neverland exists in children’s imagination.
Start by providing them with the materials to draw or mold out their own Neverland.
As they are doing so, engage them in a discussion of the following questions:
  • Who is present? Any family members, friends, others?
  • What are these characters like (i.e. feelings, thoughts, characteristics, attributes)?
  • What is present in the surrounding environment? Ask about features that stand out in their version of Neverland.
  • What is going on in Neverland? What activities are in the area?
  • What is appealing about the place? What is not appealing?
Once the client has completed their imaging of Neverland, engage them in a discussion about the following while validating their experiences and feelings:
  • What will growing up look like?
  • What are their hopes for when they do grow up?
  • Do they have any fears about growing up, and what these fears look like? (In later sessions, possibly explore where these fears possibly stem from.)
  • Positive aspects about growing up? What are they looking forward to in growing up, and what are they hesitant about?
  • What is in their control and what is possibly not?
Rationale:
Cinematherapy, or the use of movies in therapy, is quickly replacing bibliotherapy in popularity (Dermer & Hutchings, 2000). Movies provide a shared experience between the therapist and client, as well as allowing the client to have a “safe distance” from issues that are difficult to discuss (Dermer & Hutchings, 2000). In other words, instead of discussing a personal dilemma in the client’s own life, the client can discuss the dilemma through the fictional characters and plot of a movie. This way, the client can have a safe distance from the deep emotions involved with the personal dilemmas of the same topic in their own life.
For example, It is possible that some young clients, especially older children, may be embarrassed to admit their fear of growing up to the therapist. By talking about it through the medium of Peter Pan, this may make the topic more accessible to the client. Boulton (2006) suggests that J. M. Barrie’s character of Peter Pan addresses “universal dilemmas about coping with the realities of life” (p. 308). In other words, whether or not a client is embarrassed, the fear of growing up and facing adult responsibilities is essentially universal, and an issue that all individuals must face.
Peter Pan (1953) is a good film to utilize in addressing the fear of growing up since it also adequately addresses the negative consequences of Peter’s seemingly perfect plan of escaping adulthood (Boulton, 2006). First of all, when Peter tried to return home to his mother, he sees that she replaced him with another son. Therefore, immortality would lead to family members aging through different life stages without you. In addition, Boulton (2006) explains that as a child who doesn’t develop emotional or intellectual maturity, Peter lacks basic empathy for others and is at times an extreme narcissist. Part of growing up means developing empathy skills in order to connect better with others and have more mature, two-sided relationships. Living in Neverland means missing out on these mature friendships and relationships. By discussing these issues with young clients, hopefully they will see that although spending an eternity in Neverland seems ideal, it would come with some negative consequences as well.
Expected Results and Troubleshooting:
The hope is that this activity will be a creative outlet for young clients to create an imaginary land while also engaging them in a discussion about the common fear of growing up. Many children identify with Peter Pan’s fear of growing up and wish they could go to Neverland with Peter the same way Wendy did. This activity allows children to live out this fantasy and make their own version of Neverland. However, the discussions this activity elicits will also allow children to play this fantasy out and discuss the possible repercussions of not growing up. The therapist can normalize the child’s fears (e.g., responsibilities, boredom, etc.) while also discussing some of the positive aspects of growing up (e.g., more freedom, not living with parents, etc.).
One possible issue could be if the client has not seen Peter Pan. This would probably be rare, since Disney’s animated Peter Pan (1953) is a classic movie that most American children have seen. However, if this is the case, the therapist can show a few clips of the movie, provide a general summary, and suggest that they see it at home. The therapist can also lend the movie to the child with the parents’ permission.
Another possible issue with this activity is that the client might become too wrapped up in the Neverland they created, deeply wishing to go to their own Neverland and never grow up. If this occurs, the therapist should check in with the client and play out the scenario of staying in their personal Neverland forever. They can discuss the positives (no responsibilities, no boring jobs, etc.) but also the negatives (never getting married or having kids of their own, never seeing their parents again, not getting to grow up with all of their friends, not going to college, etc.). The therapist should validate the client’s wish to stay in his Neverland forever and discuss the painful aspects of growing up. However, by playing out the scenario of staying in Neverland forever, this will hopefully help the client see both sides of the situation. In addition, the therapist can discuss ways in which the child can still indulge in childlike activities while an adult (e.g., the child can still play sports, go to the amusement parks and do childlike things with their own kids).
References:
Boulton, N. (2006). Peter Pan and the flight from reality: A tale of narcissism, nostalgia and narrative trespass. Psychodynamic Practice, 12(3), 307-317. doi:10.1080/14753630600765709
Dermer, S. B., & Hutchings, J. B. (2000). Utilizing Movies in Family Therapy: Applications for Individuals, Couples, and Families. American Journal Of Family Therapy, 28(2), 163-180.
Disney, W. (Producer). Geronimi, C., Jackson, W., & Luske, H. (Directors). (1953). Peter Pan [Motion Picture]. United States: Walt Disney Productions.