top of page

Creative Ways to Use Inside Out Characters in Play Therapy

Updated: Jan 3

Creative ways to use inside out characters in play therapy

Inside Out is helpful in so many ways and lends itself to creative interventions in play therapy! I love how it gives children a visual representation of what happens inside their bodies. The emotions characters are warm, endearing, and comical. Kids love them. The special memory balls that form beliefs open dialogue about cognitive behavioral therapy and how thoughts and beliefs impact emotions and behaviors. The movie does a great job of showing the inward workings of the mind and then the outward expression in Riley.

I have come across some really fun, creative ideas and materials to use in play therapy inspired by the Inside Out movie. There is something powerful about using characters that children are familiar with to engage them and help them work. The following activities are some of the best that I was able to locate.

Inside out masks for role play and storytelling

by Wayne Murphy

You could use masks in many ways in therapy. First, you could discuss making emotions or anger as a secondary emotion. Secondly, you could have children create their own character masks to show what that emotion looks like on them. It could be an artistic outlet for children to communicate their individual experiences with emotions. A third way to use masks would be holding up a mask and acting out the emotion. Kids will often jump right in and put on a show of creating a narrative between characters, switching masks as they go.

by Mrs. Kathy King

This is a beautifully made free PDF download. There are several ways you can use it for therapy. I colored the spaces different colors to match the "islands of personality." When the player lands on a space they will tell about aspects of their own personality and core values. You could also use it to talk about different emotions as they land on each space. The sky is the limit! Inside Out offers so many opportunities for therapy.

Memory spheres as a play therapy intervention

by Mama Plus One

This one could be really powerful! Use clear Christmas ornaments to create memory spheres that are meaningful to the child. The child (or you for younger kids) can write out a memory related to different emotions and then put it inside the ornament. You might be able to take this concept and use it in different ways. You could make a memory sphere of a loved one for a child who is grieving. The child could draw a picture and glue it onto the outside of the ornament.

Another option that comes to mind would be making water balloons in the colors of the Inside Out characters. They could tell a story about feeling upset (with a given emotion) and then throw down the balloon to pop it. It would be a way to outwardly let go of emotions.

Inside Out emotions activities and scaling emotions

by Surviving a Teacher's Salary

This is a cute activity to uses pictures of the characters and colored paint chips to show different levels of emotions. The author used this with children with Asperger's and autism, but it could be used more broadly with children who are learning about emotions.

Inside Out family game

by Or So She Says

This is a creative and engaging game for families. Kids will love it because it they get to eat Skittles as part of the game. It is similar to "Truth or Dare" but family friendly and focuses on emotions. Some of the cards instruct acting out a huge reaction to an emotion, such as throwing the cards and making others pick them up. This could be insightful for kids who act that way when they get upset. Seeing other people act that way or over-emphasizing it can help them see that is an inappropriate response.


Free printable game of emotions

by Printable Crush

I'm unusually fond of this one, maybe because it is so similar to Feelings Candy Land. It is like an Inside Out version of it. The colors on the board represent the different characters, allowing children to tell when they experienced the corresponding emotion when they land on the space.

dress up dramatic play

by Costume Works

If you can dress kids up as the characters, they can engage in dramatic play. You could use a non-directive approach and let them take the play where they need to, or you could use a directive approach and create an interview with the characters. This may help them understand the purpose behind emotions and how to process them on a deeper level. Here are some interview questions to consider:

  • Where did you come from?

  • When did you first appear?

  • Why are you here?

  • What are you trying to tell us when you are here?

  • Who are your relatives?

  • How can you help us?

  • What are your goals?

  • What do you need?

  • Where do you go when you leave?

Who's at your control panel? An emotions graph for inside out.

I love the idea of using the Inside Out characters when making feelings graphs. Feelings graphs are good for tracking emotions over time and can be used as assessment tools. You can have kids fill one out on the first session and again at whatever interval makes sense for your practice. They can track progress or regression as well as emotional reactions to significant events. Kim also has some other quality resources, such as her Toss Your Cookies game.


by Play Teach Repeat

I have the Inside Out plush dolls in my office and they are well-loved. I learned of the basket of emotions intervention from REALLY good training by Liana Lowenstein called "It's a Beautiful Day in the Playborhood World Edition." Check it out, it is a free 3-hour CE. She had play therapists from around the world share their favorite play therapy techniques. One shared this technique of putting the characters in a basket and allowing children to use them as tools to share how they are feeling. It is always insightful to see which character is selected and how they are used to role-play situations. Sometimes children will assign different characters to people in their families. This could be used in directive or non-directive play, giving many options.

Emotions and the body

by Jen Taylor

This intervention uses a small Inside Out book set to introduce the feelings then have children use a body outline to draw in where they feel the emotions in their body. Each marker is chosen to correspond in color to the emotion they are indicating. It is a creative way to process somatic responses to emotions.

lego emotion station

by Lalymom

Kids can make Lego creations to symbolize various emotions. It could be feelings faces or it could be a sculpture of sorts showing a particular emotion. Instead of using a feelings chart kids could use these creations to communicate. You could also demonstrate scaling emotions by making the structure big for strong feelings or small for little feelings.

printable emotions wheel

by Meghan Cooper

This would be a fun activity to do in a session that kids could take home with them. It would be a great addition to their coping skill toolboxes. They are super cute and could be an alternative to using a feelings chart.

Inside Out coloring and activity pages

by Long Wait for Isabella

Enjoy some free printable coloring pages, activity sheets, and memory cards on this site. It even has some recipes and scrapbooking materials. These are helpful things to do in session or they could be things that kids can take home after the session. I always have kids asking if there is something they can take home with them. It seems to be a reminder to them of a special time they experienced.

Inside out bingo

by Artsy Fartsy Mama

Bingo is usually a hit for counseling groups. This is a cute, free printable bingo game focused on our favorite characters. Bingo is a way to develop patience and cooperation as well as regulate excitement and disappointment.

Zones of Regulation Inside Out

by Kelly Lynn

The Inside Out characters can make learning about the zones of regulation more fun. You could probably come up with several ways to use these little printables. They are free!

DIY stress balls

by The Mad House

These are pretty cute. I always like throwing a stress ball in the coping skill toolboxes I make with kids early in counseling. These are made from balloons and flour. Beware! I've had kids bust them and they can be quite messy, but they can also work really well.

toilet paper roll inside out characters craft

by Meaningful Mama

If you are into crafts, you might enjoy this activity. This site shows how to make the Inside Out characters from toilet paper rolls. Some kids really come alive when they can engage in creating crafts. They could use these as puppets, for storytelling, or for processing emotions.

I hope you enjoy these creative ideas for using Inside Out characters in play therapy! As a side note, while I absolutely love the original Inside Out movie, I do have concerns about the sequel coming out. The trailer shows some really concerning scenes, such as Riley undressed and another scene where she is making out with a boy. I find this completely inappropriate for children. Inside Out definitely appeals to young children who do not need to see the sexualization of Riley. Just my opinion. Just wanted to give you all a heads-up on it. View at your own risk.


Helpful Resources:


bottom of page