Kids are constantly experiencing new emotions. Learning how to appropriately cope with and express them is easy to overlook, but very important. Internalizing negative feelings can be unhealthy and can contribute to harmful behavior, even if a child is not acting out. A psychoeducation tool called ‘body mapping can useful for encouraging kids to reflect on their emotions, and we’ll will take you through some of the how-to’s below!
The goal of the body map is to visualize emotional responses in order to become acquainted with them and reduce confusion about them. Note that it may be helpful for an adult mentor to complete the exercise alongside the child as an example.
Start with having children draw an outline of their bodies on unlined paper. This can be life-size if you have larger sheet paper available, or just a standard piece.
Pick an emotion or an event that will be the focus of the exercise (i.e. “think of a time when you felt angry”). If you are working with older kids who can better understand abstract activities, you can also allow them to choose the focus (“when ___ happened, think about how you felt”).
Have children to draw on their face the emotion selected (or the emotion(s) associated with the event). It is useful to have different drawing tools/colors available!
Have children jot down the other words they associate with the emotion.
Have children reflect on how this emotion felt in their body (i.e. “did you feel this emotion in your stomach? In your heart? Did your neck tense up? Did your breathing change?”), and then have them express that bodily reaction on their outline. Encourage kids to get creative—perhaps they may draw a tornado in their stomachs, firecrackers near their heads, etc. Having diverse material like stickers, watercolors, or patterned paper and scissors may help them get ideas flowing.
Ask children what kind of thoughts they have or had when they feel/were feeling this way. Have them write these down as thought bubbles around their depiction.
When kids are finished with their maps, allow some time for them to share the different aspects of their maps. What did they include and why did they choose to represent it that way? Be mindful that not everyone may be comfortable sharing their map as their art may be personal, and that is okay. You may also encourage kids, when sharing, to discuss how they address their responses (i.e. “how do you cope with your heart beating fast when you’re angry? How do you calm your heart?”)
Many variations of this exercise are possible. For example, body mapping additionally has been used as tool to aid kids specifically in overcoming trauma (physical or emotional). Ultimately, body mapping can be an informative and cathartic method to take abstract emotions and get them down on paper in a way that facilitates meaningful and expressive conversation—something that can be particularly challenging for young ones.