Our colleague Rachel shares activity ideas to help children express emotions or use as coping strategies

‘These activities are for ages four and up – each age group tends to interpret the activity in their own way and that’s okay,’ says Rachel

The gingerbread man

On a piece of white card draw a gingerbread man shape. If you are lucky enough to have chalks and a garden, you could draw around yourself and colour yourself in (don’t forget to take a picture for when it gets washed away).

On your own image show how you are feeling – be as creative as you like to show this. You can use different craft materials to show different feelings, such as butterflies in the tummy, or simply use colours. Each colour could represent a different emotion such as red for angry, yellow for happy etc.

Be mindful not to interpret your child’s picture – ask and be curious about their decisions rather than coming to conclusions. You could use phrases such as ‘could you tell me about …’ or ‘I’m interested in …’.

They can write on the drawing and it may help for you to write some feelings down for them. Feelings could include lonely, despair, happy, angry, worried, rejected, confident, guilty, helpless, scared, tired, joyful, jealous, needed, capable etc.

This exercise is helpful for children who struggle with verbalising emotions. It also helps children to connect what they feel with where they feel it in the body. With this knowledge they can begin to recognise signs such as anger (hands clenched, sad, tight chest) or fear (heart thumping).

Masks

Together use paper plates (alternatively, you can use plain paper) to make double-sided masks, showing how people can show one face but feel another. You can use craft materials, pens and colouring pencils to show what ‘feelings face’ people might use when around other people and what ‘feelings face’ they might hide and only show when on their own or with someone they trust.

Discussion point: sometimes we need to put a mask on to get through the day but is it important that we have a safe place where we can express and recognise what is really going on for us.

Strengths of family shield 

Identifying strengths of your family has never been more important, especially when you are cooped up together and getting on each other’s nerves.

Draw the shape of a shield and each member of the family can take a section of this shield as their own – share it equally. You can either put strengths on the shield about a different member of the family – each choosing a different person to focus on – or you can each put strengths on about yourself. Most find it easier to focus on each other.

Use this as an opportunity to be creative – use pictures from magazines, colours, symbols, stickers, add words and drawings – for example, if someone likes baking draw a picture of a cake.

This activity is open to interpretation so it’s okay to do it with your own unique style. The one rule is that it must be positive, it’s a chance to reflect on what you have come to appreciate about each other.

Box of hearts

Decorate a small box (it can be a shoe box, empty chocolate box or similar) with stickers, colours and pictures. Cut out hearts from different materials (whatever you have around the house e.g. paper, wallpaper, magazines, craft paper) and on each heart write a way of nurturing yourself.

Here are some examples of what you could write:

  • Breathing exercises
  • Visualisation
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Play a board game for 20-30 mins
  • Listen or find a podcast for 20 mins
  • Watch funny clips for 20 mins
  • XBOX/PlayStation for 20 mins
  • Look through photographs for 15 mins
  • Cuddle pet (for as long as they will allow)
  • Put on a face mask
  • Paint your nails
  • Bake a cake
  • Have a bath
  • Have a hot chocolate
  • Exercise for 10 minutes
  • Read a book for 20 mins
  • Watch a film together
  • Listen and dance around to music 10 mins
  • Sit outside and focus on what you can hear, see, feel and smell for 10 mins

Come up with ideas together and think about what each other would like. Each idea must have a realistic time limit as this makes it more achievable – it’s not supposed to add to your stress.  

Once you’ve written them all down, place the hearts in the decorated box. Keep the box somewhere communal and when you recognise that someone is having a hard day, take out a heart, give it to them and ask to follow the instructions. If they can’t do it there and then, it can be done at some point during that day. You could give yourself a heart if you feel you need it.

Visualisation

This is a way of helping children relax and be in the moment, for some it will help to feel they have a safe space. As with all the activities some children will respond well to this and some won’t like it, everyone is different and that’s okay.

  1. See before you a path in nature and walk along it, it can be any way you want it to be, take some time to imagine what your path looks like (pause).
  2. As you walk along your path you will pass your trouble tree, stop at this tree and hang your troubles on the tree, take some time to imagine what your tree would look like (pause).
  3. Continue along your path and you will come to a gate, it could be large, small, wooden or metal and it could be surrounded by flowers, what do they smell like (pause)?
  4. Walk through your gate and continue into your garden, as you walk through the grass notice the softness of it and feel the gentle breeze on your face, you can also feel the warmth of the sun on your skin and how it makes you feel warm, cosy and safe (pause).
  5. The grass is so warm and dry you decide to lie down and look up at the clouds drifting by, what shapes and pictures are the clouds making (pause)?
  6. Now it’s time to leave your garden, make your way back towards your gate. Look back and thank your garden for your time here and know it is there any time you feel you would like to visit. Go through you gate and start to walk along your path. You will pass the trouble tree and you’ll thank the tree for taking your troubles today (pause).
  7. Continue along your path and when you reach the end bring your focus back to your breathing. Now bring your attention back into the room and, when you are ready, open your eyes.

Paper chain project

The rules are:

  1. For every day you’re able to use your healthy coping skills, add a colorful link to the paper chain.
    2. If you relapse one day, add a white link to the chain and carry on the chain without any disruption.
    3. Over time the paper chain will grow in length and you’ll be able to watch your progress, seeing that even if you relapse there are still days to celebrate your healthy coping skills.
    4. Over time watch the amount of coloured links begin to increase and the amount of white links begin to decrease.
    5. If you are having a bad day look at the paper chain and celebrate how hard you have worked, remember that if you’ve used your skills before you can do it again. Remember that everyone has an off day – this is not about ‘being perfect’ as there is no such thing.