During the past few months, many of us have done our fair share of worrying. In addition to worries over contracting the virus, some people may be experiencing financial pressures, loneliness and cabin fever. Young children are far from immune to this anxiety, having also been impacted by the disruption to their normal routine. They miss their friends and distant relatives and wonder when they will see them in person again and be able to give them a hug. Maybe they have overheard some media reports or conversations about the global crisis and are trying to piece together and make sense of what they have heard.
Often children find it difficult to understand and articulate their own worries. Their worries can manifest as a stomach ache or a teary tantrum and can make it difficult for them to sleep. The Ancient Mayans came up with a wonderful remedy to help children to express their worries and sleep soundly – they created Worry Dolls with their children.
Worry Dolls, or Muñeca Quitapena, are small hand-made dolls that originate from Guatemala. Traditionally, the dolls are made using a base of small pieces of wire or wood. The face is usually made using a piece of cotton, cardboard or clay. They tend to be dressed in Mayan style using left over scraps of woven textile. The size of the dolls varies between ½ inch to 2 inches.
According to Guatemalan tradition, children tell their worries to the Worry Dolls and then place them under their pillow when they go to bed at night. The Worry Dolls take on the responsibility of the problem, freeing up the worrier and allowing them to sleep peacefully. By morning the dolls are said to have gifted the child with the knowledge and wisdom needed to eliminate their worries.
The story of the Worry Doll is based on a Mayan legend. The origin of the Muñeca Quitapena refers to a Mayan princess named Ixmucane. The princess received a special gift from the sun god that allowed her to solve any problem that a person might worry about. The Worry Doll thus represents the princess and her wisdom.
The ritual of transferring worries onto a doll can be a great way for a child, or adult, to manage anxieties that build up throughout the day and impact on a good night’s sleep. The benefits of Worry Dolls are recognised in modern paediatrics and child psychology, having been found to offer comfort to children and to act as a trustworthy ‘listener’, guarding their worries and their secrets without question.
This wonderful tradition has even been represented in a beautifully illustrated children’s book, Silly Billy, by the well-known children’s author Anthony Browne. The story describes a boy who can’t sleep at night because of all the worries he has on his mind. His grandmother introduces him to the tradition of Worry Dolls and the Worry Dolls help to take his troubles away. He loves the Worry Dolls so much that he begins to make them himself - he even makes Worry Dolls for his Worry Dolls!
Making Worry Dolls at home might be a lovely craft activity to try out with your children. This activity is great for the development of fine motor skills and is a lot of fun! The dolls can be made using pipe cleaners, wooden clothes pegs, or any other craft materials you have in your home. Crafting a Worry Doll with your child will introduce them to a lovely Guatemalan tradition and create a pocket-sized listening ear in the process.