Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Games for Kids

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is designed to help kids through a traumatic experience 3. They begin by identifying general emotions and feelings, then gradually move on to the event causing the anxiety. It is often difficult for children to work through the process, as they are dealing with painful emotions and experiences. Playing games helps support and enhance the therapy and may help your child be more willing to work through the program.

Breathing Games

Belly Breathing and Circle Breathing are the main breathing exercises used in CBT. Belly Breathing balloons provide a visual to the breathing process. When your child inhales, fill the balloon with air; release the air on exhale. Take turns and allow your child to fill and release the balloon while you breathe. Fill a second balloon with air, tie it and let your child decorate it. While lying on the floor, place the balloon on the child’s belly and watch it rise and fall. Make two and practice together, seeing who can keep the balloon from falling first. During Circle Breathing exercises, draw one circle on a piece of paper for each breath, allowing the circles to overlap randomly. Color in the shapes and patterns that emerge.

Role-Playing Games

Role-playing games help children practice responses to difficult situations they face at home, at school and in the community. Take turns acting out different situations, then switch roles. For example, have your child play the role of a bully at school. You play the part of your child, showing an appropriate response to the bullying. Now, switch places and let your child show an appropriate response. Puppets are a non-threatening way of acting out situations, feelings and emotions since the puppets are responding, rather than the child. Let your child create his own with paper bags, paper plates or old socks. Play a game of charades using emotions and feelings. Act out being sad, happy or scared and take turns guessing the emotion.

Board Games

Specialized board games, such as:

  • “Anger Monster Machine,” “Boundaries Baseball,” “Bridge Over Worried Waters”
  • “The Choices Game: Staying Safe in Social Situations,” teach children how to deal with different situations as they come up in the interactive games

The idea is that children will be able to transfer what they learn into similar real life situations. Common children’s board games, such as “Clue,” “Life” and “Chutes and Ladders” can be adapted to include similar lessons. For example, replace the weapon cards in “Clue” with feelings cards. Add positive emotions or reactions for going up the ladders and negative ones for going down the chutes in “Chutes and Ladders.”

Create Your Own

Create a Pictionary-style game by having one person draw a difficult situation and the other draw an appropriate response. Make a set of trivia cards with different scenarios and take turns giving the correct response. Draw faces on index cards, a different emotion on each card. For young children, make two of the same card and play memory match. For older kids, make a second set of cards with familiar objects. Match an emotion card to an object card showing how the item makes him feel. Older kids can make a set of situation/solution cards either by cutting images from magazines. Present the situation and have the child find an appropriate solution card.