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Make DIY stress balls

While you can buy stress balls pretty inexpensively on Amazon, making your own is one of my favorite cognitive behavioral therapy activities for kids as it’s fun to do and serves as a great ice breaker at the onset of therapy. Giving kids something to focus on will help them feel more comfortable, and they will walk away with a great tool they can use to help calm their mind and body when feelings of stress or anxiety threaten to take hold. To make your own stress ball, all you need are balloons, a funnel, and your choice of filling – flour and rice both work well. I suggest using multiple balloons to avoid a mess if your stress ball tears!

Create a feelings thermometer

Since cognitive-behavioral therapy is aimed at teaching kids (and adults) how their thoughts and feelings influence their behaviors, creating a feelings thermometer is high on the list of ideas to consider if you’re looking for cognitive behavioral therapy activities for kids. This activity allows you to work with a child to ensure he or she understands basic feelings, and then help him or her realize that we can experience each emotion in different intensities. A feelings thermometer is a great visual you can create with a child to help them become more aware of their emotions, understand how their thoughts, feelings, and actions are connected, and help them learn how to self-regulate. Social Emotional Workshop offers a great resource to help you create and use a feelings thermometer, which you can read online.

Make calm down jars

Calm down jars are another one of my favorite cognitive behavioral therapy activities for kids. They are easy to make and can be extremely soothing as they help decrease anxiety and fear while also helping with anger management. The act of shaking and watching the contents of a calm down jar settle forces the body to focus, which in turn allows children to organize their thoughts and ‘center’ their nervous system. The idea is that, as the items within the calm down jar fall, so will your child’s heart rate and rapid breathing, allowing him or her to gain control over his or her emotions.

To make your own calm down jar, mix glitter glue with hot water, add a few drops of food coloring and whisk vigorously until the glue ‘melts’ and mixes properly with the water. I don’t follow a specific glue/water ratio when I make mine – I just sort of throw it all together and hope for the best, LOL, but you can adjust to your preference. Next, add additional glitter, whisk vigorously one more time, transfer the mixture into a clear jar (I use an old Gatorade container with the label removed), and top the bottle up with water so it’s completely full. Allow the water to cool to room temperature before securing the lid with glue. I use a glue gun to ensure it is properly sealed and won’t leak.

Mad Dragon

While you can buy stress balls pretty inexpensively on Amazon, making your own is one of my favorite cognitive behavioral therapy activities for kids as it’s fun to do and serves as a great ice breaker at the onset of therapy. Giving kids something to focus on will help them feel more comfortable, and they will walk away with a great tool they can use to help calm their mind and body when feelings of stress or anxiety threaten to take hold. To make your own stress ball, all you need are balloons, a funnel, and your choice of filling – flour and rice both work well. I suggest using multiple balloons to avoid a mess if your stress ball tears!

Read together

There are lots of fabulous age-appropriate books that can be used as a follow-up to the ideas and lessons taught during cognitive behavioral therapy. Here are some of my favorites!
Wilma Jean the Worry Machine.This is a fun book that tackles the concept of anxiety in a child-friendly way and offers creative strategies kids can use to feel better when big emotions strike. I love the Worry Hat idea, and the Wilma Jean the Worry Machine Activity and Idea Book offers fun ways for parents and teachers to engage with kids who are plagued with worries.
I Like Myself! I think every child should own this book as it reminds them to love all of the things that are unique about themselves, and it can be especially helpful to kids who struggle with anxiety and depression.
  • What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety. Perfect for kids aged 6-12, this is more of a self-help book for kids and parents, and it walks through the cognitive-behavioral techniques used to treat anxiety in an engaging, child-friendly way.
  • Zola! This is another fun book about a girl who worries about EVERYTHING, how she sought help, and what she does to cope.
  • How To Get Unstuck From The Negative Muck: A Kid’s Guide To Getting Rid Of Negative Thinking. This is a great book to teach kids that everyone has negative thoughts and while we can’t make them go away completely, we can learn not to allow them to control our mood and behaviors.
  • Challenge negative thinking

    Teachers Pay Teachers offers a great bundle of activities to help kids who struggle to understand, recognize, and challenge negative thinking and negative self-talk. With 13 exercises designed to challenge negative thinking, this resource helps children understand their own cognitive distortions, challenge them, and replace them with positive self-talk.