Feelings Activity for Play Therapy

Looking for a great play therapy intervention for feelings? For those of who are familiar with the new Disney Pixar move, “Inside Out”, I have a great feelings activity for you to do with children! If you haven’t heard of this movie yet, it’s been a great tool for therapists and parents alike to use to discuss five major feelings (anger, joy, sadness, fear, and disgust). The movie is an an eleven year old girl whose family moves across the country and it talks about the emotions that are in charge throughout the move. Well, just like any good Disney movie, there is a wealth of products available to go along with each of the characters (coloring books, stuffed animals, stickers, etc). One of the best finds for me so far has been this boxed book set, Box of Mixed Emotions by Brittany Candau.

Feelings Books

The set has one book for each feeling (Joy, Anger, Sadness, Disgust, and Fear). Each book ends with the next feeling in the book, so it makes it very easy to read one to the next. Like most kids books, they are pretty short and easy to read and pretty funny as well.

Just reading the books can prompt good discussions about feelings. But in play therapy, reading isn’t always so much fun. So… I have introduced the Inside Out Feelings Art Activity to a lot of the children that visit my office and THEY LOVE IT!

Feelings Activity Materials

  • Inside Out Box of Mixed Emotions Books
  • Drawing or Outline of a Person
  • Markers/Crayons in Blue (Sadness), Red (Anger), Yellow (Joy), Green (Disgust), and Purple (Fear)

Feelings Activity Directions

  1. Start by reading one of the books (they are short, so this only takes a minute). If the child is able to read, I alternate reading one and then having the child read one. Use your best emotional tone of voice to match the story!!
  2. After reading the book, “Anger”, talk about what Outside things make the child feel Angry. They might say “My little sister” or “Being told no” So they write those things in RED (because that’s the color of the book/character) on the OUTSIDE of the person outline.
  3. Talk about WHERE Anger affects their body. They might say, “It makes me hit her (in my hands)!” So, they take the RED marker and color in their hands on the INSIDE of the body outline.
  4. Continue with this process until you have finished all 5 books.
  5. After you talk about how outside things affect how you feel on the inside (My little sister took my Lego’s and that made me angry. I hit her!), you can start to talk about coping skills they can use to change the feelings on the inside. Deep breathing, talking to mom, going for a walk, etc.
  6. For older kids, you can then talk about the cognitive triangle (thoughts/feelings/behaviors) and more abstract topics. For younger kids, helping them to label and describe how feelings impact their body is good enough
  7. Finally, go back to the Box of Mixed Emotions and on the back, there is a prompt that says, “The Emotion in Charge Today”. The last book in the box will have the characters image show through. You can ask the child, “Which feeling is in charge today? Which one are you feeling the most of?” They then place that book in the back of the box and display it in the room.



8. In future sessions (or if at home, on other days/times), they can “Check in” by changing the Emotion in Charge.

Test this intervention out with your children and let me know how it works for you!



Why a white daisy?

Apparently, when people  are asked to draw a flower, the first one that comes to mind for a majority of people is the daisy shape.   This single flower (just the flower part without the stem or any leaves and on a solid black background) was show to study participants after being shown a high-arousal negative image. Examples of high-arousal negative images include awful things like violence, injuries and car crashes.  Two trials were conducted:  in the first subjects were shown a high arousal image and then either a) the flower image b) a mosaic of fragments of the flower image or c) a visual fixation point.  In the second trial, the high arousal image was followed by either a) the flower image, b) a chair (deemed a neutral image) or c) a blue sky with clouds (deemed a positive non-floral image).   Systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings were taken throughout the experiments.  

As expected, mean blood pressure was lower when participants viewed the flower versus the fixation point or the mosaic flower,  but what was unexpected is that the flower image actually reduced mean blood pressure to a level lower than the baseline.  Both the flower image and the blue sky had a similar positive impact in changing mood from negative to positive (with the blue sky having the most overall impact).  However, only the flower (not the sky) caused a reduction in mean blood pressure.  It was determined that viewing a simple flower image could in fact change a negative mood into a more positive one and also decrease blood pressure. 

The power of the single flower image was then studied in regards to salivary cortisol levels.  During this study, the high-arousal images were once again paired with the flower image, the flower fragment mosaic or the fixation point.  Once again, only the flower image was shown to significantly decrease stress during the recovery phase. One final examination looked at fMRI images of the brain during these conditions.  Through this imagery it was discovered that the flower image was effective in decreasing the amygdala-hippocampus activation that occurred after viewing the high arousal images. Researchers speculated that the flower image was a distraction tool that was helped prevent the recall of the stressful images.  

The brief viewing of this single flower image was shown to be effective at reducing negative emotions and created better functioning of both the cardiovascular and endocrine systems! Having such a simple tool available to help reduce stress and regulate unpleasant emotions and is one possible tool for interrupting ruminating thoughts or unpleasant flashbacks.  

About the Author Jen Taylor

Jennifer Taylor, LCSW, RPT is an experienced child and family therapist and public speaker who specializes in trauma, ADHD, and conduct problems. Discover more about her diverse clinical background and family. Reach out to Jennifer with questions or comments by emailing at info@jentaylorplaytherapy.com

Jennifer Taylor, LCSW, RPT is an experienced child and family therapist and public speaker who specializes in trauma, ADHD, and conduct problems. Discover more about her diverse clinical background and family. Reach out to Jennifer with questions or comments by emailing at info@jentaylorplaytherapy.com

  • This is the perfect activity that I was looking for in how to teach feelings (inside and out) to individuals who have intellectual disabilities. Thanks for sharing.

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