Slime and other messy mistakes – Creating space for learning in therapy

Slime is undeniably messy and making it is even more so.  Whichever of the many readily available recipes you choose it involves mixing glue and other ingredients with a slime activator, such as liquid starch or borax.  Making slime is particularly messy when you make it with a child without using a recipe.  Having the ingredients available and suggesting that you mix these together, adapting and adjusting until the slime looks and feels right, is a wonderfully messy experience for children.  It gives them the opportunity to make mistakes, embrace the learning that comes from these, and to try and try again.

Anxious children often worry about making mistakes and this is often a topic that is addressed overtly in therapy.  Picture books, drawings and conversations can all help us explain what is happening in the child’s brain when they make mistakes and how this helps them to learn.  While this is helpful, it is also important that we give children the opportunity to experience this.  We want children to understand that mistakes help them to learn and to know this both at a theoretical level as well as an experiential one.

Hands on experiences, like making slime without a recipe, really engage children in this process.  As I’m making slime with a child I notice changes in their face and body and make tentative guesses about how they are feeling.   We tune into the sensory elements of the experience. For example, I might ask about what they notice about their arm muscles as they squeeze the glue from the bottle and whether there are other times when they notice that muscle tension.  Children experience the worry about whether the slime is going to work, notice the feelings in their body as the ingredients don’t bind or indeed as one immovable lump is formed, and can be supported to regulate themselves so that they can problem solve their way through this.

It’s useful to notice mistakes as you make the slime and talk about the learning that comes from this.  You might add too much of one ingredient and learn to add a bit more of the others for example.  If you are making slime without a recipe there will usually be many opportunities to reflect on mistakes and learning as you adjust and alter the quantities of the various ingredients.  You might even need to make a new batch and can reflect on what you learnt from the previous experience when you do so.

If you are an experienced slime maker, a title I happily claim, you may find yourself wanting to take hold of the ingredients and provide direction about the quantities.  It’s great to notice this urge to get it right and keep yourself regulated so that you can create space for the child to make mistakes in therapy.  If you find this is difficult for you it might be valuable to try a new slime recipe so that you too can have the experience of trying something new, sharing your feelings with the child about doing so.  Creating space for mistakes in therapy is about reflecting on our own mistakes and learning as well as the child’s.

Activities such as this engage different parts of a child’s brain and help them to integrate what they are learning.  The regulation that comes from playing with the slime as we talk is calming in and of itself and often supports children to be able to participate in the conversation.  After you’ve made the slime you can reflect on the process of trying something new, making mistakes and trying again and again.  Children usually love taking the slime home and it can serve as a good reminder of what you’ve talked about.

Our online short course has lots of other ideas about how you can help children who worry about mistakes.  You can check it out here.

Dr Fiona Zandt
Clinical Psychologist

To make sure you don’t miss out on our blog posts and free resources sign up to our mailing list here or below.

Our shared resources and posts are aimed at providing ideas for qualified professionals and are not a substitute for appropriate training and ongoing supervision.

Join our mailing list for child therapists now

Sign up to receive blog posts, free resources and information about upcoming workshops and courses. Our privacy policy can be found here.