Emotional Towers: Play Therapy Game

by Chris Wilson
(Play Therapy Student)

Emotional Towers: Play Therapy Game

Emotional Towers: Play Therapy Game

Conventional social skills are developed relatively easily for most children. However, some have significant difficulty expressing the most simple emotions.
For most of us, when some one says "hello" to us, we can easily understand their intended meaning. But the expression is so much more than the word itself. What is our new friend's body posture? Does he distance himself from us or does he crowd our personal space? Does he reach out his hand to shake ours or does he just stand there? Why would someone want to shake our hand anyway? Isn't that how diseases are spread? Is he trying to give us something? If it's a cold, I don't want it!
What does his face look like? Is he smiling, frowning, or scolding us? What is his voice saying? If he is quiet is he trying to be sneaky? Is he loud because I did something wrong?
We can't forget the eyes. Those dirty little windows to the soul. Why does he not look at us? Why does he look at us? Is there something wrong with me? Do we have something on our face? Why should we look at him?
Of course this little scenario does not begin to address all the subtleties of human communication. It does however underly the fact that interpersonal communication is hard. It is difficult for all children, but especially those with special developmental or emotional needs.
The development of an emotional vocabulary is a crucial component of a child's social and emotional development. It is difficult to express any emotion or feeling if we do not have it in our working lexicon.
For myself, nothing is more frustrating than the expression "I'm bored." I do not allow my clients to use it without explaining why they are bored. I have found that "bored" is just a generic way to express another more complex emotion.
To that end, I have created the "tower of emotions" play therapy game. It is a simple game that is fun to play and works to build the child's (or adult's) emotional vocabulary. I simply used an old Jenga game that was short a few pieces. I printed a list of emotions for children, then wrote a variety of of these emotions on the individual blocks.
It is played just like Jenga, with a twist. Every time the player pulls out a block, they must act out the emotion written on the block. The counselor will encourage conversation about the emotion. Another variation is to ask the player to talk about what makes triggers the expressed emotion for them.
This play therapy game can be especially effective in families where there is a need for emotional interaction between siblings or parents.



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