For most of the young people that come into our office, at the core of what we do is emotional regulation work – regulating tantrums, tearful episodes, painful feelings associated with low self esteem, anger and irritability, panic attacks, fear of separating, frequent worries - you know the drill. As a Cognitive Behavioral Play Therapist I am always curious about what thought patterns are leading to feelings and how that combination relates to every day choices – in short the cognitive triangle.
I am always excited to find new ways to teach and explore the cognitive triangle. Let’s be honest – playing feelings UNO (although it is one of my favorites) can get pretty stale for you and the child on the 100th round. AND if you are bored in the play room the child will feel it, and it will impact their play. Staying present is SO important. This is why I am so excited about this feeling face check in. Check out these FREE printable play dough faces and bodies here!
Kate, a former preschool teacher, created faces and body outlines – all with four different skin tones. Pro tip – if you use two different printers you actually can get a slightly different shade of skin tones for each printable increasing the different skin tone shades available to young people. After you print out these amazing profiles you can laminate them.
Don’t have a laminator? Most office supply stores sell self laminating packets – these ones at Target are $6.99 for 10. This is the laminator I have here for $21.99 at Target and after 5 years it is still going strong! The pouches are also $21.99 but come in 100 packs. Do you have an IDEA how much lamination can go on with that budget? So. Much. Laminating.
I seriously LOVE my laminator – I laminate getting to know you cards, feelings match, feeling identification cards, and self-regulation cards for kids. I also laminate “cheat sheets” for things like maladaptive cognitions list or my emotion coaster. I have laminated negative cognition and positive cognition cards for work with EMDR as well as SUDS scales. The AWESOME thing about lamination sheets is that you can write on them with dry erase markers, erase, and then use the whole sheet again. #notanad BUT it has been such a valuable and unexpected tool in my play room. Can you tell I'm slightly obsessed? If you are not on a lamination kick yet - this will definitely not be the last freebie I share that can be laminated. I might just convert you!
So back to these adorable little faces – why laminate? WELL you can make an amazing face on it with play dough or draw faces with dry erase markers and re-use them. I will do a check in with young people of the high and low of the week using the feeling faces. You can even add thought and speech bubbles. It creates hemisphere integration accessing both the right brain (which holds our pictures) and left brain (which holds our verbal processing). It taps into visual, auditory, and tactile and kinesthetic learning. Also, it is just so much more FUN than just asking "how was your week"?
For the whole body outlines you can do body mapping with what feelings they were feeling in different areas of their bodies with color coding. If your client is processing a conflict, the feeling faces can be used to explore thoughts and feelings AND you can use them with bibliotherapy (I talk about bibliotherapy more here) to track the feelings of the characters. They are amazing to use to help young people who may be on the Autism Spectrum to identify social cues such as what they eyebrows and mouth are doing and how that relates to what someone might be thinking or feeling. Thought and speech bubbles can be used to process mental filter and what thoughts should stay in our heads vs. come out of our mouths. These little sheets have been SO wonderful for a wide variety of clinical difficulties as well as culturally inclusive - which is a must! Oh and the fact that they are absolutely FREE definitely helps when your playroom is on a budget.
What are your favorite emotional regulation strategies with young people? How do you incorporate art and creativity?
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I'm Ann Meehan, an LPCC, RPT-S, and EMDR CIT. I help other therapists grow in their passions as play therapists, trauma therapists,and child and adolescent therapists.