In case many of my previous posts haven’t hinted enough at my passion for using games in therapy, I thought I should share yet another one of my favorite games I use in counseling children (and even use when I play games with my own kids). I’ve already shared a number of “non-therapeutic” games I’ve adapted in various ways to make them therapeutic: Jenga, Perfection, Sorry!, Checkers, and Find It.
In case you’re new to my site, let me first explain what I mean when I say I adapt otherwise considered “non-therapeutic” games. These are simply classic games that you would likely find in the toy section of most department stores. These games were not initially created for the purpose of using them specifically for counseling, unlike the therapy games you can find on specialty therapy game websites and stores. Classic games are frequently more affordable then specific therapy games, and with some imagination and a little creativity, they can easily be adapted to transform them into therapy games.
Today’s game is another popular one among kids ages 6 and up: Connect 4. I call it Connect 4, Emotions Edition. I use Connect 4 to help explain and reinforce how our emotions are “connected” to our bodies. Teaching about the mind-body connection is crucial to helping children (and us older folks) recognize that there are physical signs (or sensations) that occur in our bodies when we experience emotions. This awareness helps us better regulate our emotions more effectively before they might become too overwhelming or get out of control.
Prep for the Game
If you don’t already own a Connect 4 game, you can find one at most any department store, such as Walmart or Target. To prepare for this game, write feelings words on round post-its or stickers, then stick them to one side of each game chip. I’ve included a list of a number of emotions in this post if you need some help choosing feelings words.
Choose emotions that are most appropriate for the age group you are planning to play the game with. There should be a combination of common, more well-known feelings words, as well as some emotions that might be new (but not overly complicated) to the child as to also provide you an opportunity to help the child improve her emotion vocabulary.
List of Emotions
How to Play
It’s important to first talk to the child about how our emotions and body sensations are connected. For instance, if I’m feeling tired, my arms and legs might start to feel heavy and like my body is slowing down. If I’m feeling angry, my face might turn red, my heart might start beating faster, and my fists might clench. It’s also important to explain why it’s important to be able to recognize our body signals, as they are frequently our biggest indicator (clue) to the way we feel. A good way to help kids understand this is to ask them to close their eyes and offer or have them imagine a situation that has made them feel ____ (or might make them feel this way). Ask where they now feel different in their body and have them describe it.
In general, you play the therapeutic version of Connect 4 like you would normally play the game. Here are the adaptations:
- When playing their first chip at the beginning of the game, each player must describe at least 1-2 places in their body that they might feel (in their body) the emotion labeled on their individual chip piece.
- Any time a player is blocked from placing her fourth chip, which would create four in a row (“connect 4”), the blocked player must look at the emotion word on their opponent’s blocking chip and describe at least 1-2 places they might feel the emotion in their body.
- The winner of the game chooses two of her winning chips and describes at least 1-2 places they might feel the emotion in their body.
- The loser must choose four of her remaining chips, or four chips she otherwise already used in game play, and describe 1-2 places they might feel the emotion in their body.
Especially when first introducing Connect 4, Emotions Edition, it’s important to realize that you may likely have to help the child identify where they might feel certain emotions in their body. Many children are not taught to recognize these connections prior to being in therapy, so it can be somewhat difficult especially when first learning this skill.
As always, have fun playing!