Therapeutic Activities for Techsavvy Kids

As much as I was never a huge fan of screens in the playroom, I always seemed to find myself with one or more clients whose main interests were all things computer, ipod, xbox and to whom everything else in the playroom is “boring”. This seems to be increasingly the case as kids are plugged in from an earlier age.I found that using technology sparingly, especially in the early stages of counselling, helped build rapport needed to engage in other therapy activities. It was easy to adapt some of the standard counselling techniques to a computer. I also found that allotting a few minutes of time at the end of session for online game or computerized activities (even if it did not always seem overly “therapeutic”) also helped keep the focus during session on the task at hand.Here are 5 computer-based activities that you can incorporate into your sessions:

1) Emotions app:

This iPad app is extremely easy to use. The program generates four pictures of faces with a word in the middle of the screen. The child simply clicks on whichever picture the word describes. I’ve used this game a lot with young clients to help them be able to identify their own and others’ feelings.



2) Moody Monsters App:

This colourful app is another great one for teaching kids to identify their emotions. There are a number of aspects to the app. Kids will have a lot of fun making their own monsters in the Monster Maker. They build bodies and facial expression, which is a great time to discuss facial expressions and how people show their emotions.



You can also go to Moody Manor, where there are a number of short games kids can play around specific emotions



If you click on “Meet the Monsters” you will go to a screen showing a whole cast of fun looking monsters. Each one is named after an emotion. When you tap on that emotion, it will describe the different bodily symptoms that accompany that emotion – great for helping kids link feeling words with what they feel in their bodies.



3) FOCUS On the Go!

This app by the Nathanson Family Resilience Centre features a cute bear named Buddy. There is a lot of good stuff packed into this resource. Kids will enjoy the different activities aimed to teach them about coping skills, communication, and emotional awareness and management. The app has four different games in which, players collect relaxing items for Buddy’s cave, try to keep his temperature in the “green zone”, and search for feeling words. Kids can even make their own Buddy Bear comic strips to express their feelings.

There is also a family skills section that has various resources, including Feeling Foxes, which helps kids identify feelings, a Feelings Thermometer, a page of coping skills ideas, deep breathing, and muscle relaxation exercises, and more. Finally, there are a number of videos and some assessments built in for families.


A lot of information in this app does apply to military families, and addresses issues around deployment, but the general emotion/coping content will apply more broadly.


The last two ideas are for those of you that are not using ipod/ipad apps, and who are just looking for something simple to do on a regular desktop computer. You can do these activities with just a basic program like paint or publisher.

4) Colour your heart
The colour your heart activity is a pretty standard activity used by therapists to encourage emotional understanding and expression. Clients make a heart, a legend of colours, and then draw in how much of their heart is sad, mad, happy, etc. This activity is great to gauge how clients are doing from session to session and to explain the notion that we can have more than one feeling at a time.

This activity can be easily be adapted for use on a computer. Using Publisher (or a similar software), the client can make a heart shape. Then they can either colour the heart (paint) as they would on paper, or they can go online and search for pictures that represent their different feelings. They can copy and paste those pictures into the heart shape. If they child wants a copy, you can either email or print out the picture for him.

5) Make a coping skills poster:
This is an ending activity that I often used with clients as a way to review the work done in counselling and to leave them feeling empowered as they say goodbye. Very simply, the child gives the poster a name like “My Coping Skills” or “My Temper Tamers” or whatever they like, then they fill the page with pictures of the various skills and strategies they have for dealing with that presenting problem. They can use the draw feature in a program like paint and do this activity as they would on paper. Or you can go onto google and copy and paste images onto the poster collage style. I like the copy and paste function, as kids seem to enjoy the process of searching for just the right picture.

So there you have 5 easy computer-related activities to use in session. I will also refer you to a powerpoint by the University of Houston called “Play Therapy Goes Digital,” which I have just discovered. The slideshow lists a bunch of other tools that I will be checking out myself.

Lastly, I want to say that I think part of our role in working with children and young people is to encourage wise use of technology. Just because a child wants to do nothing other than play on the computer in session does not mean we need to accommodate them; having boundaries are important and it is possible to engage these children in other activities with a bit of effort. However, I also think occasionally incorporating computers, apps, and video games into the counselling room can leave us with a better therapeutic relationship with clients and increases their willingness to engage in the counselling process.


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Carey EmmersonTherapeutic Activities for Techsavvy Kids

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