Feelings come and feelings go.
This concept can actually be quite hard for kids who haven’t gotten used to the rollercoaster their emotions can take. AND paired with brain development sometimes it feels like the sad, mad, and anxious feelings will last foreeevvver!
The good news - they don’t!
Partly inspired by all the wonderful metaphors we use to talk about feelings (one of my favorite is the wave of emotion), and partly from the book Catching Thoughts (which is an excellent book if you are a Cognitive Behavioral Play Therapist and want to think about shifting thoughts), I wanted to share a metaphor I developed with you about emotional regulation!
This metaphor and intervention can be good for younger kids, but also older kids and teens too! It also serves as a springboard to help notice the big feelings, and then create a pause before action. And in that pause comes room for choice and decision for what to happen next.
It’s also super playful, which is an important ingredient for emotion regulation!
Here is the script I use with kids and parents:
Feelings come and feelings go. Some feelings are big and some are teeny-tiny. Some feelings that come to visit stay a loooong time, and some stay for just a little bit.
Today we are going to be talking about how feelings are like balloons. Some of these feeling balloons are big, and some are small. Sometimes we are holding a bouquet of mixed up feelings. Each feeling we experience may have a different color, shape and size.
I want you to close your eyes (or have a soft gaze) and imagine what balloons you are holding onto right now. (You can have kids actually reach up and pretend to grab onto the strings).
Let’s get to know them a little bit more. What are their colors, shapes and sizes? Where do you feel these feelings in your body? What are the sensations that come along with these feelings?
*Some deeper processing for older kids* What do these feelings want you to know about who you are and the world around you? What are they trying to tell you?
Now that we know a little more about the balloons - you get to decide. Are there some you want to hold onto and keep? Are there some that feel uncomfortable and you want to let them go?
For the feelings you want to hold onto I want you to picture holding the strings tight. I want you to notice how those good feelings get deeper and stronger.
For the feelings you want to let go of I want you to imagine letting go of the strings. I want you to imagine these feelings floating off into the distance. I want you to notice how your body is feeling now that you are no longer holding on to these feelings as you see them floating farther and farther into the distance.
I want you to imagine what feelings you would like to hold on to. You can either hold tightly onto these good feelings you already have OR reach up and grab these new feelings. Notice where these feelings are showing up and the thoughts and sensations that come with these new feelings.
You can use this script when kids have come in and are experiencing something upsetting OR when they are in a positive mood for practice. The big thing you want children to walk away from this activity with is the knowledge that feelings come and go.
AND that after we understand feelings and why they are here we can choose a different set of thoughts or actions to let our feelings go and catch new feelings.
After this you might get curious and brainstorm what thoughts or actions go with this new set of balloons and how kids can continue to hold onto these new feelings throughout the week!
Want more ideas like this for emotional regulation with kids? Check out my course Keep Calm and Regulate On: Play Therapy and the Neuroscience of Emotional Regulation!
*This post contains affiliate links, so I may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through the links on this site. The best news? It doesn’t cost you a penny! Thanks for supporting The Playful Therapist Blog by shopping for my favorite playroom gear and accessories!
I'm Ann Meehan, an LPCC,