Mandala Coloring

Children and Teens can exIMG_0399press themselves in various ways using this Mandala Coloring activity. Use it to teach boundaries, or tell a story, or simply as a way to manage anxiety and stress. 

1. Have child or teen (or adult, for that matter), color in a Mandala. I call them “Magic Circles” for younger kids. Let them know that you will give them plenty of time to color, and then you will ask them questions that they will need to use their imagination to answer afterwards.

2. Use your insight about the child and what they are working on to inform the questions that you ask. For some kids, it may be more appropriate not to ask questions. Here are some of the questions I like to ask:

  • What is your favorite part of the mandala?
  • What is your least favorite part?
  • If you could jump into the picture, what part would you jump into and what would it be like there?
  • Who would you invite to come with you?
  • Is there any part you wouldn’t want to visit? why? What would it be like there?
  • Can you tell me a story about you and your mandala?
  • What if the colors represented different feelings, what feelings would those be?
  • Who would you not want to invite into your mandala?
  • What was it like to color this mandala?
  • What was it like to tell me about your mandala?
  • Is this something you would like to do again? How did coloring help you with ___?
  • Did anything surprise you as you colored this, or answered questions?




Feelings Heart


Children can use this simple art activity to express what is in their hearts. It helps to put a visual to feelings and can be an assessment tool to use over time. 

This activity is a great one for multiple ages. Kids as young as 5 years old can benefit from coloring in their heart. Some kids may need an example of how to fill in the colors. For older kids, allow them to choose their own feeling to fill in and with younger kids select just a few feelings to have them color.


  1. Draw an outline of a heart, and a simple outline of a “key” to the side. For older children let them decide to draw the heart themselves if they like.
  2. Explain to the child, “This is an art activity to help us see what is going on inside of your heart. We are going to color the heart to show all of the different feelings inside. Each feeling will have it’s own color (or pattern for older kids). One by one, we are going to figure out how much of each color is in your heart today.”
  3. One of the rules I make, is that the child has to use all the different feelings in the heart, even if it is only “one drop.” This helps me know that they understood the activity, and helps bring up conversations about the feelings that may be harder for the child to talk about.
  4. After the child is done, it can be helpful to talk about it. I usually choose to take the child’s lead, and see what they want to discuss when it is done. At the beginning of therapy, if a child has made a heart with lots of sadness, anger or worry, I often will have them draw another heart to describe what they want their heart to look like. This can be a “goal setting” activity.

Credit: I did not create this activity entirely on my own as I have heard different variations of this activity at many trainings I have attended over the years. I have adapted the ideas for the kids I work with.  

Body Tracing

Kids Learn to Identify their feelings in their bodies with concrete drawings

Children and Teens can use this body tracing activity to learn how their thoughts and feelings are expressed in the body. 

This activity is a great one for multiple ages. Kids as young as 6 years old can begin to identify what happens inside their bodies. Make sure to modify this activity to the appropriate developmental age you are working with.

Young Children: I usually have young children trace their bodies on a large piece of paper. This large size helps make is seem more “real” and usually hold their interest longer. I have young children start by simply labeling the whole picture with the names of all the body parts, in order to help them connect the picture with their actual body. Then we go through a second time, and encourage the child to identify what happens in each body part when they are “worried” (or “mad” or whatever they are working on). Other modifiers for children include making the body into a “road map” and having cars drive back and forth and bring messages from one part of the body to the other.

Older Children: For older children and teens, they usually do fine with a small body outline on a piece of paper. You can go through similar step to help them identify what occurs in different parts of the body, but you may want to include information about what happens in the body and in the brain biologically. You also may want to encourage teens to make up metaphors for what occurs in different parts of the body. This can give you some words and pictures to hold on to as you continue to work with the teenager in future sessions. You can also talk about what types of calming or coping strategies may work to change those messages in the body to create a new and different outcome.

The ‘Fishy Feely’ Game

photo (5)The goal of this game is emotion education and validation of emotions. It is a great game to play to introduce feeling faces and feeling words to young children. 

Setting up the game:

1. Make or cut out various fish out of paper.

2. On the back side of each fish draw or glue on different feeling faces (with the words included). I usually just print them from online.

3. Then attach a paperclip to each fish.

4. To make the fishing pole you will need a stick, some string and a magnet. Fasten the magnet to the end of the string on the fishing pole.

To Play:

1. Take turns using the fishing pole to “catch” fish.

2. Ask child to Identify the feeling face/word. Have them make their own face to match the feeling. Then you can ask them , “what makes you feel [insert feeling here]”.

3. When adults take turns and play the game, they can model for the child, “Kids feel [sad] when [ they get bullied at school]” and make sure to use an example that the child will understand and maybe relate to.

This is a great activity to start off with in a family therapy session. Parents seem to understand this activity well and can help model for children the importance of talking about emotions. If it is hard for a child to think of a reason they may feel a certain way, make sure to reflect with empathy how difficult this activity can be sometimes. Remember that not all emotions feel ‘safe’ to share with others.

The Feelings Scribble

photo (4)Goal(s): This activity can be amazingly useful for kids (ages 11 and up). This activity can help children who are resistant to talking about their feelings to identify and express themselves in a structured and safe way. It can help build insight and can be a great conversation starter for older children and teens to reflect on their emotions.


This activity has been very useful for some older children who are able to be a bit more “reflective” and insightful about their feelings. It can also help when children do not want to talk, and prefer different mediums of expression.

First, have the child draw a “scribble” on the paper with a darker color. Second, let the child know that you will lead them one at a time to identify an emotion and choose a color to represent that emotion. I usually will say, “O.K. Now I want you to choose a color that represents your anxiety. Now color in the pieces of the scribble that you think should be that color. How many spaces should be anxious…” I continue to go through this process slowly with the child with multiple feelings (i.e. angry, sad, lonely, happy, loved, loving, hopeful, depressed, sad, kind, strong, creative etc.).

When the child is complete, you can ask them if you have missed any feelings they want to add. Have the child look closely at the completed piece of art. Then, ask them reflective questions and engage in conversation about the project. Questions may include: What do you notice about your picture? What surprised you? I noticed _____ when you finished the angry color. Which one was the hardest to color? Which one was your favorite to color? What do you think it means that ___ one is right next to the other one? etc.

Make sure that you do not interpret the drawing without the client/child leading you. This can be a scary activity for some children that have difficulty expressing emotions. I have used this activity to start conversations and continue to work on one emotion in future sessions.

The Worry Jar

mason_jars_sThis activity can help children express, organize and contain worries. It can be a useful tool for helping parents communicate with their children. 

I have used this activity on many occasions and it seems to be useful for working with kids and families in many different situations. There are many ways to adjust this activity. Feel free to use what materials you have on hand. You may use jars, containers, or boxes for the worry jar “vessel.” You can also use rocks, paper or other items  to write worries on. Some of these worries may be “friends” or “school.”  The first step of the project is to help the child write down different worries that they have and put them in the jar. These worries can be discussed while the child is creating the jar and stones or can be left to discuss later. The jar can then be brought out in future situations to help with the focus of treatment. The therapist may even allow the child to determine what “worry” he/she wants to work on for the day.

Another activity I have done with parents and children is to make an “adult” worry jar and a “child” worry jar. You can help the family together determine which worries go in which jar. This is helpful for children who worry about adult things to realize that their parent can take over the responsibility of some of those worries. 

This is an activity that can be adapted for home as well. Sometimes even the process of writing down worries and sealing them up in a jar can be therapeutic in itself. I would also mention, that this is an activity that can be used for very young kids, but could also be quite useful for adults.  Hope you find this idea useful!

The Castle Activity

mycastleGoal: To help children think and talk about their own relationships, boundaries and defenses 

I got this idea from one of my amazing co-workers.  It has proved to be a great art project to get children thinking about their own personal boundaries and defenses. To start, have the child draw a castle. The castle represents the child’s “core.” The “core” is the true part of us that holds all of the secrets and thoughts and feelings that we have.  It is explained to the child that we all have people that we allow to know things about us, and there are other people that we keep out. 

Then the child is asked what types of protections are in place to protect the castle to keep people out. Are there moats, brick walls, barbed wire, animals, guards, weapons, or locked doors? The child can draw and explain these protections. 

Next, the child is asked what types of entrances are there to let people into the castle. Are there doors, windows, keys, tunnels, or ladders? How can people get in if you need them or want them to get in? 

When the child is done creating their castle, and nothing else needs to be added, help the child explore the different concepts regarding the metaphor of the castle. Ask the child, who they let in past the various protections? Who do they keep out? What are the benefits of having people inside or outside of the castle? What do you need if you are in the castle alone? What are some of the ways you keep people from getting to know you in real life (ie. lying, yelling, shutting down etc.) ? 

This activity can make abstract concepts like relationships, boundaries and defenses more concrete which can be helpful when working with children and families. One of the most important parts of this activity is being creative and having fun! Enjoy!