Updated: Jul 18
While anxiety is a common problem among children, games and interventions specific to anxiety seem to be few. Games can be a powerful tool to help children learn, experience triggers, and manage anxiety through play. I have used some of the $50+ games in the past and was less than impressed with the content. I had higher expectations based on the price. Here are some affordable options that can make a lasting difference for kids.
Trouble may seem like an unusual choice for anxiety, but it seems to be a frequently selected game by kids who struggle with anxiety and seems to trigger their anxiety. I will purposefully creep up behind their pawns and they will draw their hands up to their mouths, make a comment about feeling anxious about it, or will pop the dice as quickly as possible to try to get away. It’s almost like you can watch the “flight” response at play in the game.
Some kids will have the startle response each time we pop the die. Others will verbalize their strategies aloud. Some will start talking louder and even making threatening comments during the game. It opens the door for many coping opportunities as well as discussions about how to manage anxiety.
This is a printable card game to help children identify triggers, implement coping skills, and discuss emotions. It comes with instructions to play. Card games are easy to transport if you are a traveling therapist and take up little space in the office. This game would be great for a therapist on the go or in a small space.
Katie’s Fortress is a book and game about a girl with social anxiety. At the beginning of the book, Katie prefers to stay in her fortress so she can feel safe and secure. When she leaves, she wears full body armor for protection against any dangers she may encounter. While she is out and about one day, she sees a group of kids playing. They seem carefree and at peace, fully enjoying their time together. She feels a weight of loneliness and desires to feel free and enjoy relationships with others. She realizes that she must face her fears if she wants to have friendships. In the end, she learns to feel safe in community rather than isolation.
The game helps children process their own situations, self-talk, and reasons they choose to avoid social interactions. They learn to confront irrational thoughts with cognitive behavioral therapy techniques and to use coping skills to feel in control while in stressful situations.
The Trail of Fears is a cognitive behavioral counseling game to help children confront irrational fears, identify the difference between fact and fiction, and to use positive self-talk to feel better. It is great for kids with fears, phobias, and general anxiety.
Related Post: 16 Interventions for Children with Anxiety
Nothing triggers anxiety quite like Jenga! It is an anxiety-provoking game. Playing games that trigger anxiety can help open the door for using coping skills at the moment, but also for the therapist to demonstrate how to use coping mechanisms. As kids gain mastery over anxiety in low-key situations such as playing a game, they can then apply the skills in more stressful situations.
This is a counseling game about the fight, flight, or freeze response. It helps children identify signals that the response is being activated, coping skills to turn off the response, and cognitive behavioral interventions to stop intrusive thoughts. It equips children to regain control of their bodies.
This game has prompts to help children identify triggers, process emotions, and find coping mechanisms. It can be played in individual or group counseling sessions.
This is my go-to feelings game with little ones. It helps in so many different ways.
Kids develop an emotional vocabulary by being able to discuss their emotions.
They learn assertive communication. The game requires them to use I statements to respond to the prompts.
It provides an opportunity for them to process emotions in a healthy manner.
It teaches kids how to engage in cooperative play.
It helps them become empathetic when listening and responding to others.
Therapists or parents can model healthy communication skills.
I’m sure there are more benefits as well. It is so simple, but so powerful.
Wilma Jean Worry Machine is a super cute book about anxiety for children. This game is based on the book to help children process their own triggers and experiences. It will help drive home the points from the book for kids to learn and grow and apply principles to their lives.
Operation is almost guaranteed to generate an anxious response. Kids with anxiety will have to learn how to calm and still their bodies before taking a turn. They will also need coping skills to calm down if they make the game buzz. This game will allow the therapist to offer empathetic responses, demonstrate appropriate coping, and to provide psychoeducation about anxiety and how it impacts the body.
Games can be powerful tools in helping children manage anxiety and develop coping mechanisms. They can grow in strength and resilience through play. What are some of your favorite games to help children cope with anxiety?
Be sure to check out the other posts in this series: Counseling Games You Can Play For FREE!