Six play-based therapy activities that help regulate a child's emotional behaviors

By Erika Rivera 11 January 2021

Many psychological conditions burden a child’s social and emotional development and their academic engagement. Triggers like anxiety, depression, and PTSD are reasons children experience academic difficulties that lead to low grades and threaten their overall development.

Because teachers often struggle to engage students with these types of conditions into their lessons and academic activities, it’s essential to find ways to help them connect with the classroom and themselves and, most importantly, decrease the behaviors that accompany these unfortunate psychological circumstances.

Below are six play-therapy activities that both parents and caregivers can implement with children to facilitate communication so they can better connect with you about their feelings and emotions.

Secret Handshake

Most children feel encouraged to share their feelings and personal situations with you when they feel connected to you. A secret handshake can build a foundation of trust and confidence as it helps to create a bond between you. When kids think that they could come to you about their feelings, it’s easier to understand their needs, and you could better assist them.

What to do:

  • - Create a secret handshake with fun hand gestures.
  • - Make sure that the handshake is long enough to make the child feel important but short enough to keep it fun and easy to remember.
  • - Try this secret handshake any time your child will make a transition, for example, before leaving for school or before bedtime.
Child Journal

Healing inner hurt feelings with a bandage

Children don’t always talk about the challenges they encounter with their siblings or peers, which often lead to inner feelings that a parent or caregiver can’t distinguish. This activity aims to heal any hurt feelings that are stored on the inside by encouraging the child to open up about the things they feel and placing a bandage in the area of their body to help them heal.

Materials: Bandage

What to do:

  • - Start by asking your child how they feel today.
  • - If your child responds with a positive answer, explain that sometimes we hurt on the inside and sometimes it’s difficult to tell what one is feeling like when we are sad or disappointed.
  • - When you notice your child opening up, offer to place a bandage over an area of their body that will help these hard-to-distinguish hurt feelings heal.
Child Journal

Draw your World

Parents and caregivers can’t always understand the reason behind certain behaviors. However, encouraging children to depict their world in a drawing can help reveal so much about their feelings and emotions.

Materials: Crayons, markers, or paint

What to do:

  • - Have the child create a picture of their world. Explain that there is no wrong or right away to fulfill the drawing.
  • - If you notice that the child is having difficulty drawing his or her world, make sure you offer feedback on the elements they could draw. The drawing can include pictures of family members, friends, pets, places they like to visit, and activities they like to do.

Parents and teachers find that drawings can reveal information about stored emotions. Therefore, make sure you analyze the picture when they conclude to determine what areas need attention to help the child.

Child Journal

Musical instrument creation

Music can be considered a therapeutic healing tool as it can help lift a person's spirit and regulate any individual's overall emotions, including children. For this activity, start by engaging the child in the creation of the instruments. Allowing a child to help you create an activity always makes them feel important and involved.

Note: If you’re a caregiver who’s planning to try this activity with several children and want to make sure you have enough supplies, contact your students’ parents through Child Journal to have them help you provide enough materials.

Materials:Empty tissue box, rubber bands, empty paper towel roll, wax paper, glue or tape, and dry beans/rice

What to do:

  • - Ask your child to accompany you to find the materials listed above to make a guitar and maracas
  • - Grab the paper towel roll, have the child fill it with dry beans, cover the end of each roll with wax paper, and attach each end with glue or tape to make the maracas.
  • To make a guitar, wrap the rubber bands around the opening of the empty tissue box; this will help create a musical sound when strumming it.
Child Journal

Message in the Mirror

Challenges like bullying and rejection are factors that affect a child's self-esteem and often lead to emotional distress. This activity aims to encourage the child to feel good about themselves and remind them that they matter.

Materials: White Crayons, white construction paper, and watercolors

What to do:

  • - On the construction paper, write down all of the qualities that you love about your child. You can use phrases like you’re smart, talented, pretty, and awesome.
  • - Next, allow your child to paint freely all over the message mirror/construction paper.
  • You’ll notice that the watercolors will begin to reveal the hidden message. Continue by reading them to the child in an enthusiastic manner to remind them of all of the good qualities they possess.
Child Journal

Make a puppet

Puppet play is very useful in revealing a child's social and emotional issues because they can use them to act out the situations in their world. In fact, puppet play is often used at play-therapy sessions because children tend to project their emotions onto the puppet, where it’s easier for them to convey their personal feelings.

Materials: Paper lunch bags, crayons, markers, and googly eyes

What to do:

   - Work alongside the child to create a variety of puppets with different emotions. Allow the child to create as many as he/she wants to provide them with a selection of different puppets.

   - Create the puppet's mouth by putting your hand inside the bag and drawing on the bottom flap to create it.

   - Once finished, allow the child to engage with the puppet. Monitor his stories, songs, and play as a way to gather information about their feelings. If the child is not opening up, make sure you also ask questions like how was your day or what are you thinking to identify any triggers that may be affecting your child’s mental wellbeing.

Child Journal

Once you’ve collected valuable information on the child, make sure you photograph or take video footage of the activity to share with parents through Child Journal. Parents always appreciate footage of their child’s special moments and can potentially help pinpoint any behaviors that may pose a threat to their development.