little latino girl holding a finger puppet frogWhy Use Play-Based Resources with Kids?

Having a range of play-based and creative resources on hand in the therapy room is key when helping kids with self-regulation. Children perceive and understand the world differently than adults. Their language is often rooted in play, imagination, and the visual realm. As therapists and counsellors, we look to bridge the gap between our understanding and the child’s.  Using visual and play-based resources, such as emotion cards, books about feelings, art and puppets become indispensable tools in therapy. This blog post will look at some play-based and visual activities that therapists can use to develop children’s self-regulation skills.

Benefits for Children’s Emotional Development

1. Safe Expression of Feelings: Children may struggle to articulate or even recognize their emotions. Emotion cards and books provide a non-threatening way for children to point out and discuss feelings they might find difficult to express verbally.

2. Enhanced Vocabulary: By consistently using visuals such as picture books, emotions charts and flashcards, children can expand their emotional vocabulary. This can help them better communicate their feelings in the future, leading to healthier emotional regulation.

3. Normalizing Emotions: Books about feelings often contain stories of characters experiencing various emotions. Children can relate to these characters, realising that it’s okay and normal to have a vast array of feelings.

4. Increased Engagement: Play is a child’s natural way of learning and engaging with the world. Using play-based resources ensures therapy feels less like a formal session and more like an interactive learning experience.

5. Building Trust: Engaging with a child in their own ‘language’ of visuals and play can foster a stronger bond between the therapist and child, making the therapeutic process more effective.

Therapy Activities for Kids: Self-Regulation with Creative & Play Activities:

Here are some practical examples of ways you can incorporate creative and play-based resources into your therapy activities with children.

1. Story Time: Begin a session by reading a short story from a picture book about a character experiencing a particular emotion. Afterwards, discuss with the child how the character might be feeling, prompting the child to relate to any personal experiences they’ve had.

2. Emotion Matching Game: Spread out a number of emotion cards across the table and ask the child to pick cards that resonate with how they feel that day. This can be a fun game and a conversation starter.

Emotions-and Feelings-for-kids-workbook-layout on a yellow background

Emotions and Feelings for Kids Workbook

3. Feelings Journals and Emotions Workbooks: Encourage the child to maintain a feelings journal using stickers or drawings. For younger children, they can stick an emotion card or draw a face that best represents their emotion for the day. Try using feelings workbooks to help kids understand emotions with activities by encouraging drawing, writing and answering questions.

4. Role-playing: Use dolls, puppets or action figures to enact scenarios. This helps children express and work through situations they find challenging in real life. For instance, if a child disagreed with a friend at school, they can use dolls or puppets to re-enact and navigate the situation.

5. Interactive Books:  For younger children, there are numerous interactive books that not only tell a story about feelings but also involve tactile engagement, like flaps or textured areas. This multisensory approach can deeply resonate with children, making the learning experience more memorable.

6. Feelings Through Art: Drawing or painting can have a calming, meditative effect on children. This act of creation can be a self-regulating tool, providing children with an immediate method to manage overwhelming emotions. As children work through their feelings via art, they learn to process, understand, and cope with challenging emotions, building emotional resilience over time.

Ask the child to create an artwork using playdough or clay based on an emotion card they have picked.  Or encourage them to create a self-portrait showcasing a particular emotion. This can give insights into how they perceive and express that emotion. Try using magazines, coloured papers, and various art supplies, to create collages that represent their family.

7. Puppets: Puppets are a valuable tool when helping children explore their emotions. They can give children an avenue to express feelings they might find too intimidating or overwhelming to convey directly.  Puppets also offer a degree of separation. In therapy children can project their feelings onto a puppet, allowing for a safer exploration of those emotions.

Try using puppets to role-play scenarios to help children understand and process various situations or spread out various emotion cards and ask the child to point to the emotion using a puppet of their choice.

8. Storyboarding can be a powerful therapeutic tool, particularly for children that have had significant changes or disruptions in their life. Using a large sheet of butcher’s paper encourage the child to draw or use stickers and stamps to represent events, feelings, or changes in their lives, such as moving house, loss of family members, birth of siblings etc.  By depicting their experiences visually on a storyboard in a sequential way, children gain an understanding of the connection between the events in their life and their emotions.


Incorporating visual and play-based resources in therapy or counselling sessions doesn’t just make the therapy more engaging, it taps into the innate ways children comprehend and navigate their world. By speaking their language, therapists can foster genuine connections, making the road to emotional maturity an enriching and creative journey for children.