Games to Promote Emotional Expression


One complaint that parents often have is that their children don’t talk to them about what they’re feeling. True, there are often situational factors involved. But other times, children simply haven’t learned the vocabulary or been encouraged to practice expressing their own emotions.

For this reason, in the early stages of counselling, regardless of the presenting problem, I typically take a session to assess and then practice emotional expression. This session not only gives me an idea of clients’ emotional intelligence, but it also provides a fun and fairly non-threatening session, which allows for the strengthening of rapport.

With most children, I will use a basic feeling chart (there are all kinds of charts that you can find through a search engine, if you don’t already have one) and one of the following games to encourage emotional expression. Since most of the games are turn-taking games, you will need to be prepared to share your emotions as well. As you do, you will not only build rapport, but you will also model appropriate emotional expression for your client. You will just want to make sure to have thought up some appropriate, not-too-personal, examples ahead of time.

Games ideas:

1) “Basketball”
Use a feeling chart or have client draw at least four feelings faces (sad, mad, happy, scared). Place each of the feelings on the front of different basket (you can use actual mini-basketball nets, or I’ve used plain plastic bins). Take turns shooting a ball at the baskets. If child gets ball in “sad” basket, he tells about a time he felt sad. If he can’t think of an example, he may choose to tell about a time he saw someone else feeling that way instead. You can also use one net instead of four, in which case the client will need to pick a feeling from the chart to talk about each time he gets a basket.

2) Snakes and Ladders:
Each time client or counsellor lands on a snake or a ladder, she must choose a feeling from the feeling chart and tell a story about experiencing that feeling. Alternatively, you can pick different feelings for the snakes and ladders (i.e., an uncomfortable feeling for the snakes, and a good feeling for the ladders). Just steer clear of labeling any feelings “bad”. I’ve also used the ups and downs of this game to reflect clients’ emotions (You seem really happy to have landed on that long ladder), to help the client with recognizing her own emotions.

3) Candy Land
Label each of the colours as a different feeling and proceed as you normally would with Candy Land. Whatever space you or the client land on, tell about a time when you experienced that feeling.

4) Charades
Counsellor and client take turns acting out various emotion words. I normally just print out a feeling chart, cut out each of the emotions, and place them in a bin or hat. The counsellor and client then take turns picking emotions.

5) Jenga
Write different feeling words on each of the blocks and then whichever emotion the child pulls, he tells about a time when he felt that way. Then the counsellor does the same. If your Jenga set is coloured (or you want to paint it), you can pair each feeling with a specific colour instead.

6) Online Apps:
While there are many apps for children out there, I like “Moody Monsters” and “Emotions” for iPad. These two apps help client associate feeling words with various facial expressions. In “Emotions” the child is given a word and four pictures. She must match the feeling word to a picture. In “Moody Monsters” the child can play various emotion themed games in “Moody Manor”, or can go into the Monster Maker and build her own monster, including the appropriate facial expressions.

In each of these games, there is opportunity to carry the conversation past “tell me about a time when you felt angry”. For example, you can follow up clients’ stories with questions on how they handled that emotion, whether they thought their choice was a good one, how other people reacted to them, etc.

I’ve found that you can turn basically any game into an opportunity for feelings expression. What tools have you used in the past?

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Carey EmmersonGames to Promote Emotional Expression

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  1. Pingback: DIY Board Game | Counsellor Toolkit

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