Puppets Speak. Children Listen. And Respond!
Inspired. Creative. Or even magical. Whatever word you use, what we know for certain is when Side by Side’s Hilda Leon introduced her puppet Molly to her remote therapy sessions, it made a world of difference for her younger counseling clients in the North Bay who range in age from four to ten.

After the shelter in place order required a shift to remote therapy, Hilda noticed that her young clients were having trouble staying engaged and sharing their feelings, yet they badly needed her support. An inspired idea was born. “I said to myself, ‘OK Hilda, you have puppets, let’s use those puppets.’”

There are countless articles about the effectiveness of play puppets in children’s therapy, but Hilda understands the power of puppets from personal experience. “When I was younger, I needed help processing a trauma I had experienced,” says Hilda. “My therapist used a puppet. I knew I had to try the same technique with my own clients.”
Enter Molly. Molly is goofy, happy, relatable, approachable, and goes with the flow. Hilda introduces Molly gradually, giving her clients a chance to get used to the puppet. “I talk to them first and Molly is my sidekick,” she says.

Kids often find it easier to talk to Molly. She keeps it light and fun. “They are able to talk about difficult things with Molly that they might have trouble expressing directly to me,” she explains.
Hilda is also careful to balance the conversation when Molly is present. “I don’t want to overpower the conversation with happiness because youth need to know that it’s OK to feel sad.”
One pre-K client recently expressed sadness and anger over coronavirus. When Molly piped up, “Yeah, I’m sad too! I don’t like that virus either!” it stopped the young client in her tracks. “It literally took her breath away to hear that she was not alone with her anger. She couldn’t believe it that someone else felt angry too. That was a powerful moment for all of us.” 
Hilda’s puppets keeps younger clients’ attention longer – what might have been a 10 minute Zoom session with an unfocused child has expanded to a half-hour or longer, allowing Hilda to do more in-depth therapeutic work.
SBS's Hilda Leon with her puppets
at our Santa Rosa offices
Molly also helps a ten-year-old client who has ADHD. “This youth is usually rocking, jumping, or throwing things,” says Hilda. “It’s very difficult to get him to engage, especially through a screen.” But the minute he met Molly, Hilda saw a side of him she had never seen before. “Molly brought out the sweet, kind, gentle little boy that I knew was in there,” she says.
Hilda says there is a silver lining in this experience. “My young clients are learning that they are adaptable. Youth are more resilient than we think they are. Parents worry of course, but kids are strong! They will talk to their parents about what they are feeling. They want to share. They just need to be given the right outlet.”