The brokenness of life affects everyone, including children. But since children’s brains aren’t fully developed, sometimes we struggle to help them cope with difficulty or trauma. If you have a toolbox of techniques and activities for children, you can consider which one(s) might help an individual child in their situation.
Since you care about your child, you form a big piece of the puzzle to help them through their struggle. Let’s discuss some therapeutic activities for children that you can use at home with your child.
Therapeutic Activities for Children
These activities can help both children and adults, but let’s talk about them in the context of helping a child who needs therapy. You can use them at home as a parent, and they can also be used in a school or child care setting.
Children don’t have the cognitive or verbal capacity to fully express what’s going on inside. Even as adults, we sometimes struggle to explain what we’re thinking or feeling.
As the adult, when you want to help a child who’s struggling, it can be really demoralizing when you realize you can’t pick their brain. How are you supposed to help them if you don’t know what’s really going on?
And expressing internal thoughts isn’t just important so we can get help, it’s important because outwardly processing our experiences and feelings helps us heal. For children, art can unlock their self-expression and provide healing.
Supplies you’ll need:
- Drawing utensils (crayons, colored pencils, chalk, etc.)
- Drawing surface (paper, chalkboard, etc.)
You can proactively implement art in your daily routine, even if your child doesn’t need therapy at this time. The routine of drawing, coloring, or painting will become a familiar ritual. If and when your child does need a therapeutic activity, she’ll already possess the tools and habits to express herself.
Journaling and therapy often go hand in hand. Some experts believe that journaling can benefit your mental health just as much as traditional therapy. If your child is old enough to write easily, he might enjoy journaling as a way to get thoughts of his brain and onto paper. Later, he can look back and see how he’s changed.
Healing often happens when we self-reflect, and it’s no different for children. A journal doesn’t have to be a traditional diary with a lock and key, full of pages of longhand introspection. It’s not meant to be another homework assignment; the child can decide when, where, and how he would like to journal.
If he would enjoy it, he can incorporate art – drawing, painting, adding found paper or ephemera, creating word clouds, etc.
You can also provide prompts to help your child briefly focus on a specific topic, such as:
- What is one thing you would like to teach someone else?
- What do you hope will happen this week?
- Did you get to relax today? What did you do?
- What was the weather like today?
- Who did you enjoy talking to today?
- What did you enjoy doing today?
- What emotion are you most aware of right now?
- What do you do when you’re afraid?
- What did you think your day would be like when you woke up this morning?
- What is your favorite scent? What does it make you think of?
- If you could spend time every day with a particular friend, who would it be?
- What is something you disliked about today?
If you think your child would enjoy journaling but is too young to write anything longform, you can serve as the scribe while he plays the narrator. You can even “interview” them using journaling prompts and write down their answers.
The older the child is, the more he’ll need to be confident in his journal’s privacy. If you are concerned about unsafe behaviors, you might need to have a conversation with your child about sharing thoughts they’re having with an adult they trust (preferably you). Make sure to set privacy boundaries with your child based on their age and level of maturity.
An older child or teen may want to use a digital platform or app for journaling. No matter how he chooses to do it, writing out his thoughts can help your child therapeutically. You can set an example by keeping a journal yourself.
You can use imaginary scenarios between you and your child to help them develop social skills and learn how to interact with others. Practice makes perfect in so many areas of life, and role-playing various scenarios can increase a child’s confidence so she’s able to use those skills in real-life situations.
Here are some areas where you could use role-playing to help a child overcome specific struggles:
- Grow confidence to overcome shyness.
- Learn to resolve conflict and ask for help when experiencing bullying.
- Manage anxiety on a day-to-day basis.
- Say no to peer pressure.
If you’re going to use role-playing, it’s important to find out as much as you can about what the child is going through. The more realistic you can act, the easier it will be for her to do the same. Change up your expressions and tone of voice so she can develop confidence as she responds naturally.
Prayer or Meditation
Everyone can benefit from speaking quietly to the Lord or learning to calm their thoughts and direct them to pleasant topics. Prayer and meditation have healing potential for children as well as adults.
In the beginning, a child might listen to you pray, but eventually, he might be willing to pray on his own, whether alone or with you there.
Meditation can sometimes include secular or religious concepts that don’t fit into a Biblical worldview, but when used properly, it can provide a sense of calm and allow the mind to focus on that which is good, true, and beautiful, including (but not limited to) the words of Scripture.
Scripture is replete with examples of prayer and meditation that you can use as you teach your child how to practice these disciplines:
Now hear my prayer, listen to my cry. – Psalm 88:2
Listen to my prayer; rescue me as you promised. – Psalm 119:170
Bend down, O Lord, and hear my prayer; answer me, for I need your help. – Psalm 86:1
So today when I came to the spring, I prayed this prayer: ‘O Lord, God of my master, Abraham, please give me success on this mission. – Genesis 24:42
O Lord, hear my plea for justice. Listen to my cry for help. Pay attention to my prayer, for it comes from honest lips. – Psalm 17:1
Listen to my prayer for mercy as I cry out to you for help, as I lift my hands toward your holy sanctuary. – Psalm 28:2
Now, a child may not be able to completely understand all of these verses, so if you can, have a conversation with him. You can tell him that:
- Peace and healing come from God.
- God always hears our prayers through His Son Jesus.
- These prayers can apply to our specific needs today.
As mentioned, meditation offers another approach to achieving a calm, peaceful state of mind. This particular idea allows the child to stay engaged during the meditation exercise:
Simple Meditation Idea
- Find a quiet place free from noise and distractions.
- Explain that the purpose of meditation is quieting our thoughts so we can focus on God, His Word, and the beautiful world He has created. Emphasize that the child can choose whether and how to participate.
- Suggest that your child can close her eyes if she wants to. Ask her to join you in breathing slowly and deeply.
- If your child is younger, use the word “fun” and ask her where she likes to go to have fun. If she is older, you can use the word “relax.”
- Ask her to picture that place and go there in her imagination. What does she see? What smells can she identify? What sounds does she hear?
- Suggest that the child think about her emotions when she pictures that place. Don’t push her to share her emotions; just offer the thought as a suggestion for her to reflect.
- Ask her to take another deep breath, and let her know she can open her eyes if she wants to.
- Ask her about her experience during the meditation.
Do you ever feel completely overwhelmed and exhausted, like you just want to check out of life?
Kids feel that way, too! But they might not be able to express it in a helpful or pro-social way. Instead, they might have a meltdown or get really whiny or demanding, or beg for treats, or any number of other behaviors that can grate on parents’ or caregivers’ nerves.
Part of helping kids learn to self-regulate is teaching them self-care skills. When a child learns to identify what they’re feeling and what would make them feel better, they can manage those negative emotions a little bit better.
When does your child need a break? When are they headed toward a crisis? Even at a young age, kids can learn to be intentional with their time and to figure out which activities bring them joy.
Here a few ideas to start with when teaching your child how to engage in self-care:
Daily Self-Care for Children
- Use the ideas listed above: prayer, meditation, journaling, or artwork.
- Play a board or card game.
- Take a relaxing bubble bath.
- Take a nap.
- Put together a puzzle.
- Read a book.
- Paint your nails.
- Go for a walk in the neighborhood (obviously, with another person if the child is too young to go alone).
- Go outside just to enjoy nature.
- Cook or bake something (with help if needed).
- Go swimming or do something else that’s active.
- Turn on music and dance or sing along.
- Play an instrument.
Consider helping your child develop non-digital ways to relax. Screens actually stimulate children’s minds more than we might realize, making it harder for them to be calm and rejuvenate. You can help them by setting an example of putting the devices down and spending time together as a family on interesting activities or hobbies.
The younger children are when they develop self-care habits, the more naturally they’ll be able to self-regulate and destress as they get older.
And as an adult, please don’t forget to practice self-care for yourself! Sometimes we struggle to support the kids in our lives emotionally because we feel like we’re barely surviving ourselves.
You don’t have to view the self-care ideas as a list of ways to entertain your child; many of them can be done independently. You can also help your child come up with their own list of ideas they might enjoy. Self-care for children and adults can have long-lasting positive effects.
Should Your Child See a Therapist?
These therapeutic activities can be a great beginning towards helping your child manage stress in their life. But sometimes at-home care isn’t quite enough. In that case, having your child come in for a few sessions with a Christian counselor may be just what they need to find healing and emotional health during a difficult season in their life.
Your child’s therapist can work with you to help you continue what you’re doing at home and find new ways of achieving wellness together.
“Young and Sweet”, Courtesy of Jordan Ropwland, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Child of Light,” courtesy of Matheus Bertelli, pexels.com, CC0 License; “Dear Jesus,” courtesy of David Beale, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Smug,” courtesy of vborodinova, unsplash.com, CC0 License