July 17, 2015

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!



About the Author

Jen Taylor, LCSW-C, RPT-S is an EMDR Approved Consultant and Certified Journal to the Self Instructor.  She is a therapist specializing in complex trauma, an international play therapy teacher and a published writer of multiple play therapy chapters.  Jen is the creator of the original 2017 Play Therapy Summit and many other innovative programs for mental health professionals.  Jen uses writing therapy, play therapy and expressive arts for her clients and for other mental health professionals so they can lead more joyful and meaningful lives.  Jen encourages people to try new things and create daily habits that allow for incremental progress towards previously unimaginable results.   Jen is a travel enthusiast, an avid reader, and a girl who lifts weights and runs for fun.  

  • 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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