CBT activities for Youth -A complete guide. 

In this blog, we will review activities in CBT that can help the youth to develop skills to combat unhelpful thoughts and behaviors.

What are the activities utilized in CBT for Youth?

  • Play Therapy,
  • Cognitive Restructuring’
  • Bubble Blowing technique
  • Second Story Technique
  • Stress balls etc are just some of many techniques utilized in CBT to help deal with emotional and behavioral problems

CBT activities

  • Play therapy.

Play therapy makes use of toys like dolls, puppets, and craft materials like drawings, clay, and puzzles. This therapy is designed to make the child comfortable and be willing to come out of their shells. This unique activity solves many behavioral problems with the help of role plays and toys.

  • Trauma-focused CBT. 

This method was specially designed to help children affected by traumatic events. The therapist focuses on handling the issues arising from maladaptive cognitions and behavior that were developed due to the traumatic experience.

  • Modeling.

Modeling is similar to role-playing where a scenario is acted out to show to the client how they could react in an adverse situation. For example, the therapist models a scenario where an aggressor confronts them and how they tackle the situation in the desired way. The therapist may then ask the child to enact the scenario in their own way to prepare them for such a situation occurring in real life. 

  • Cognitive Restructuring.

In the restructuring, the negative thought process is converted into a positive thought process through reasoning and evidence analysis. 


  • Systematic Exposure. 

In exposure therapy, the client is constantly and gradually exposed to their feared situations or objects. This enables them to conquer their fear due to constant stimulation and helps them be prepared if the situation occurs unexpectedly 

  • Stress balls

Creating or making stress balls is more than just a fun activity. It is a great exercise to release all the accumulated stress in a calm and healthy manner. The task of creating stress balls occupies the attention of the client and also demands their complete focus on the activity. This can distract them from any unhealthy thinking patterns or emotions in their mind and also help them be calm and relaxed. To do this activity one needs a funnel, some balloons, and something to stuff inside the balloon-like flour, sand, rice, etc. 

  • Emotions thermometer

CBT aims to modify behavior by changing negative thoughts and feelings. It proposed that the three components (thoughts, emotions, and behavior and interconnected) To make it easier to be understood by client’s of young age the activity of emotion thermometer was created. 

  •  Calm down jars

Calm-down jars are a way to release pent-up tension and stress. These easy-to-make jars are just bottled water with glue and glitter. These creative jars are great stress busters and can be soothing for young adults after a pent-up day.  The reason why these simple jars are so effective is that they work as distractors by attracting attention. People get drawn into it and feel a sense of calm and serenity while watching the contents inside the jar swirl around after being shaken. This moment of peace allows them to regroup their thoughts, focus their attention  The act of shaking and watching the contents of calm down jar settle forces the body to focus, which in turn allows children to organize their thoughts and ‘center’ their nervous system. The idea is that, as the items within the calm down jar fall, so will your child’s heart rate and rapid breathing, allowing him or her to gain control over his or her emotions.

  • Bubble blowing technique

Mindfulness is a great way to achieve inner peace and calm. To reduce stress and train our brain to function in a healthy manner it is necessary to practice mindfulness. The bubble blowing technique is a great method to help young people achieve this goal. When we are affected by our emotions that is when feeling anxious, worried or agitated out breathing changes. If we are scared we might start panting or hyperventilating. This leads to us feeling excessively overwhelmed due to the combined onslaught of our feelings and emotions. In such instances, it is better to learn mindful breathing exercises to help control our emotions. It is difficult to teach children mindful exercises as they find it boring or uninteresting. By masking it as a play we can help them learn a very valuable technique. 

In this technique, children are given soapy water and a wand to blow bubbles. When they are blowing bubbles they ould slowly understand how they have to blow air through the wand in a controlled manner to get a perfect bubble. If they are too slow or fast then the bubble either might nir take shape or pop before they are formed. They would learn how to control their breathing and how controlled breathing and a calm and composed demeanor helps them achieve the best results. Later the soap water is taken away and children are encouraged to use their imagination to blow bubbles. 

  • Reading activity

There are lots of fabulous age-appropriate books that can be used as a follow-up to the ideas and lessons taught during cognitive behavioral therapy. Here are some of my favorites!

Reading is a versatile activity that comes in handy while dealing with several issues. There are a lot of books appropriate for young minds that help them develop logical reasoning and helpful behaviors. 

  • The Slow-Motion Game

The slow -Motion Game technique is a great way to teach children about self-control. The therapist should start by explaining the concept of self-control to young children and also make them understand how it is easy to lose it if we are not paying attention or moving too fast.

This technique can be applied to help the child learn about self-control.

The child is then asked to depict what ‘moving fast’  means to them. In this way, the child will feel involved and might become more interested in the therapy.

The child is then asked to select a card that depicts an action, such as playing basketball or football or running, etc. The child is supposed to act out the activity depicted on the card one at a time but in slow motion. They have to do this activity for a whole minute and it can even be timed with the help of a stopwatch. This activity helps them understand that how taking your own time to complete tasks helps one understand and perform the task better as opposed to when they rush through it. This also gives them a chance to enjoy the activity they are doing and learn self-control.

Next, they introduce a pile of cards that have an action for the child to act out, like playing soccer, climbing a rock wall, or writing a letter.

  • Second Story Technique

It might be difficult for the child to describe the effects of the trauma, but focusing on themselves and their role in the story can give the child a sense of agency and independence that they may not have had before.

The therapist will ask the client to narrate the story in their own words by gently encouraging and supporting them. Once they have finished narrating the event they are then asked to describe the reaction of the child to that event. This would be their second story. In this story instead of focusing on the traumatic event, the attention and focus would be on the child’s reaction and feelings towards that event. This technique helps the child regain control that they might have lost after the incident and helps them come to terms with their thoughts and emotions regarding that event.

  • Positive Postings

This technique helps in improving the youth’s self-esteem through positive self-talk. To employ this technique we need paper, some pens or markers, and post-it notes. The client is asked to describe their interpretation of self-esteem and then made to outline their body on a piece of paper. Then the client is made to write down all the positive qualities and aspects they think about themselves on the post-it notes with the pens or markers.

These notes are then attached to the previously drawn outline. 

The purpose of this activity is to make the client feel a tangible connection between themselves and their positive qualities. It helps them believe in the good qualities they possess and thus helps in raising their confidence and self-esteem. This technique will help them when they are feeling down, frustrated or unhappy. They can recall the feeling they experienced during this activity and remind themselves of the good in them to help them maneuver the bad situations. 


We learned and reviewed several techniques in CBT for the youth and how they help to resolve behavioral issues.

Frequently asked questions

How do I teach my child to do CBT?

Cognitive Behavioral therapy brings about change in behavior by altering thought processes. The children could be made to identify their thoughts and emotions that create conflicting situations. To do that they can be asked to keep a journal. In this journal, they can note down a distressing situation, how the event occurred, as well as the emotions and thoughts that occurred during that event. By doing this activity they can identify their problematic thoughts and work towards modifying them to achieve behavior modification.

What are the areas of CBT?

The key components or areas of CBT are thoughts, emotions, feelings, and behavior. All these components are linked and influence each other.

How do children engage in therapy?

Children can be wary and hesitant of therapy so it is always necessary to put them at ease. They must be made aware that therapy is not a corrective action and they are not being punished. Their fears and doubts must be heard and validated. Create an open and safe environment that can encourage the child to be vocal about their problems and concerns. By giving children or young adults their space and privacy they will feel respected and are more likely to willingly engage in therapy.

How can I make therapy more fun?

By incorporating fun elements in the therapy such as games, tactile materials, or toys such as clay, slime, or even relaxing and creative outlets like dancing, singing, reading, and drawing. By including things that help break the monotony and also help the client become engaged creatively you can make therapy a fun experience for them.

What are the main goals of child therapy?

The main goals of child therapy are as follows

To provide emotional support

To help them resolve conflicts

To help them understand their emotions, feelings, and behaviors.

To modify maladaptive behaviors into adaptive behaviors.

To help them become capable to handle their issues or behavioral problems on their own in the future.


Child therapy: 19 counseling techniques & worksheets for kids [+PDF]. PositivePsychology.com. (2021, October 19). Retrieved November 28, 2021, from https://positivepsychology.com/child-therapy/. 

Helping kids cope: 14 cognitive behavioral therapy activities for Kids. Meraki Lane. (2019, June 16). Retrieved November 28, 2021, from https://www.merakilane.com/helping-kids-cope-14-cognitive-behavioral-therapy-activities-for-kids/. 

Pietrangelo, A. (2019, December 5). Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for kids: How it works. Healthline. Retrieved November 28, 2021, from https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/cbt-for-kids#effectiveness

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