Eventually, you will probably run into a child who needs help coping with different situations in life. Maybe you already know a child like this or are preparing for the future when you might meet one. Regardless, you can be prepared with various therapeutic activities to help these children cope with their emotions. These practices are valuable tools to help them experience success and growth.
Therapeutic Activities for Children
At first, these techniques should be used at home, but later can be practiced in other social settings, such as high school. Don’t let young children flounder! Provide the appropriate outlets and activities so they can experience peace and balance. You may even find some of these activities helpful yourself.
Drawing Out Feelings and Thoughts
Most people assume that we understand our emotions. However, that is often not the case. Many people when asked what they are feeling are unable to answer. It isn’t an uncommon problem.
Not being able to express yourself is frustrating enough, but trying to understand a child who is unable to express themselves can be even more frustrating. One therapeutic activity to help a child express their emotional state is drawing. In order to practice this therapeutic activity, you will need a few supplies.
- A writing utensil (crayons, markers, paint, colored pencils, chalk)
- Something to draw on (paper, whiteboard, chalkboard, appropriate hard surface.)
When you notice your child is upset, you can encourage them to try this activity or even adopt it as a weekly check-in. It’s better to understand how your child is feeling before they act out inappropriately. So using this as an emotional barometer is often very effective to help you gauge the emotional state of the child before things get out of hand.
Sometimes, children don’t fully understand what is bothering them. To understand what is going on, they need time to think more deeply about what happened in order to calm down and begin healing. Journaling is a tremendous way for them to do this. Everyone journals differently so encourage the child you’re working with to find what works best for them. Give them the freedom to choose how, when, and where they want to journal.
Journaling is a reflective activity, which allows the student to think through their experiences in a safe place. Once they get it down on paper, they are able to look back and see how they experienced the situation.
Since children spend so much time writing at school, it can be difficult to motivate them to journal. They will likely perceive it as another homework assignment. But, if you encourage them and give them the freedom to express themselves in their own way, children often fall in love with the process of journaling. If a child doesn’t know where to start, then help them by offering some simple prompts to get them going. Here is a list of journaling prompts for children.
- What is something you liked today?
- What is one thing that you disliked today?
- Who did you talk to the most today/this week?
- What friend would you play with every day if you got the chance and why?
- What was the weather like today?
- What is your favorite/least favorite scent? What does it remind you of?
- When did you get to relax today? What did you do?
- When you woke up today, what did you think your day would be like?
- What do you hope for this week?
- When you are scared, what do you do?
- What is one thing you think someone else should know today?
- What emotion did you experience the most today/right now?
Feel free to be creative. There is no right way to journal. Some children will enjoy reporting their reflections to you as you pretend to be a reporter interviewing them, while others will want to write their words down to read later.
Older children may prefer to write their thoughts in a diary for a sense of privacy. When you judge a child is old enough for this, explain to them what privacy is and why it is important. If for any reason you are concerned about unsafe behaviors or thoughts, then share with the child about the importance of relaying those feelings to a trustworthy adult (preferably you), so they don’t have to struggle with them alone.
Journaling need not be limited to pen and paper. There are many digital ways to journal whether on a phone, computer or tablet. Remember, the point is for kids to be writing. So encourage them to find what type of journaling works best for them.
Sometimes fear is what holds children back from expressing what they are really feeling. Children need to learn to say what they are thinking. It isn’t something automatic, it needs to be learned just like they need to learn how to ride a bike or tie their shoes.
And how do they learn? By practicing. Role-playing is one way to get kids to practice expressing their feelings. In a safe environment, they are able to try and engage a real-life situation to better prepare themselves for the real thing. It will help them be more comfortable and confident for when the real thing happens.
Very little is required to role-play. You just need the child and yourself. Here are some simple scenarios you could practice.
- Bullying at school: Gaining skills for conflict resolution.
- Peer pressure: Learning to say “no”.
- Shyness: Growing your confidence.
- Anxiety: Overcoming your fears.
Try to make the role-play as realistic as possible. Find out specifics like names, places, and things that have happened, then try your best to really fill the role you are playing. By doing so, you will be a creating a safe place for them to really practice and express themselves. You can also try using different tones and responses to help them feel ready for whatever happens.
Prayer or Meditation
Prayer and meditation can also be a therapeutic tool for children. It is important for you to properly explain the power and meaning of prayer so that the children can experience the healing power God offers in prayer, and the peace that he provides in meditation.
Modeling prayer for children is a good place to start. After they see how to pray, they can begin praying on their own. Meditation is often led by a leader, so you can instruct the child how to sit and listen, and then lead them into the experience of mediation.
You can either use your own personal prayers as a model for your children or basic scriptures to structure their times of meditation. Here are a few pieces of Scripture to get you started.
May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry. – Psalm 88:2
May my supplication come before you; deliver me according to your promise. – Psalm 119:170
Hear me, LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. – Psalms 86:1
“When I came to the spring today, I said, ‘LORD, God of my master Abraham, if you will, please grant success to the journey on which I have come.” – Genesis 24:42
Hear me, LORD, my plea is just; listen to my cry. Hear my prayer– it does not rise from deceitful lips.– Psalms 17:1
Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help, as I lift up my hands toward your Most Holy Place. – Psalms 28:2
At first, children may struggle to understand these verses, but with you there to help explain them and give them context, then they will be able to apply them in prayer and meditation.
Meditation also helps kids to relax. Here is a short, kid-friendly guide to meditation.
Simple Meditation Idea
- Begin by explaining the purpose and practice of meditation. Meditation is personal so it’s not always easy to explain, but make sure they understand it comes down to their participation and engagement. Help set up their expectations for what the experience could be like.
- Start in a quiet place.
- Suggest for them to close their eyes (it is okay if they decide not to) so that they won’t be distracted and can focus on their breathing.
- Take slow, deep breaths and ask for them to join you.
- Encourage them to focus on a place they find relaxing (for younger kids ask for them to think of a place they like to have fun, and then use “fun” instead of “relax” for the rest of the meditation).
- Ask them to pretend they are in their relaxing place.
- Ask them what they smell, hear, and see in the relaxing place.
- Suggest that they think about their emotions (don’t force them to think about their emotions, but give them the choice to).
- Finish by taking one more slow, deep breath, then tell them when they are ready, they can open their eyes.
- After, ask them about their experience meditating.
Like adults, children will have days where they feel tired and overwhelmed. Just because they are children doesn’t mean they don’t have stress and worries. Like anyone else, they will need to learn how to manage these and care for themselves.
The problem is children often don’t understand how to care for themselves. So how can we be proactive and help teach them to process the difficulties of life? We can begin by teaching them about self-care. From an early age, we can teach them to be intentional with their time and have them focus on life-giving activities. Here are some simple self-care ideas for children, which they can practice on their own.
Daily Self-Care for Children
- Color (in a coloring book or free drawing).
- Listen to music (bonus; sing along).
- Watch funny videos.
- Play with friends.
- Play an instrument.
- Go swimming/exercise.
- Cook something simple.
- Sit in nature and enjoy the scenery.
- Go for a walk in your neighborhood (with another person, if too young to travel alone).
- Paint your nails.
- Read a book.
- Do a puzzle.
- Take a nap.
- Take a bath.
- Play a video game.
Learning self-care might seem unnecessary for children, but this valuable tool will help them establish healthy emotional rhythms for the present and the future.
Sometimes, as adults, we aren’t emotionally prepared to support our children because we are not taking care of ourselves. If this is the case, the suggested self-care techniques above can be practiced independently by the child. Ask them how the activities make them feel, so they can find what is most helpful and continue to refine their self-care.
The main point of self-care as a therapeutic tool is for the children to understand their actions and behavior can impact their emotional state. As a result, they can fight for emotional health through intentional patterns developed over time.
Should Your Child See a Therapist?
If these ideas for therapeutic activities are helpful but you still feel like you need more guidance, then a session with a therapist may be helpful. There are many trained psychologists specializing in children and family dynamics, who can help you work with your child. A therapist will be able to determine specific next steps for you and your child on the road to wellness together.
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