Create Your Own Sensory Balls (aka “Stress Balls”)

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  • Water bottle (the small 8 oz ones are the perfect size)
  • Funnel (optional)
  • 2 Balloons
  • ~1/2 cup filler material (see below)
  • Scissors


Step 1: Fill the Bottle

  • Provide lots of options for sensory substances to select from (corn starch, flour, salt, rice, quinoa, gel, etc.)  My favorite are the soft fillers.
  • Then fill the small bottle half way (a funnel is sometimes helpful).

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Step 2: Blow Up Balloon

  • Blow up the balloon while practicing slow, deep breaths.
  • For children that are working on controlling anger, this is also a good time to teach the “anger-balloon analogy.”
  • One person pinches along the base of the neck (as to not let out the air too soon), while the other secures the balloon to the top of the water bottle.


Step 3: Fill The Balloon

  • Pick up the bottle and flip it upside-down to fill the balloon.
  • Then pinch the balloon’s neck and  remove it from the rim of the bottle.
  • Alternatively, instead of blowing up the balloon and using a water bottle, you could put the funnel directly into the balloon (this is a little difficult if you want a larger ball)

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Step 4: Let the Air Out

  • Pinch the neck and let the air out very slowly.  If you do it too fast then the filling may fly out (especially if you are using a soft material like cornstarch or flour).
  • Squeeze out all of the remaining air.  If there is still air inside when the balloon is tied, the second balloon will not go on correctly.
  • If the ball is not your desired size, you can blow a little more air into the balloon and put it back on the bottle to dump more filler in or out.


Step 5: Secure The Balloon

  • Run your fingers down the neck of the balloon to push down any filling.
  • Then tie off the end of the balloon.  At this point you can be finished if you don’t mind your stress ball looking clearly like a balloon, or use a second balloon to create a rounder/sleeker look and make a rupture less likely.
  • Cut off the balloon’s tail, just above the knot.
  • Cut the neck off balloon 2 (red in the photo below) and stretch out the opening.  Put balloon 1 inside (knot-side first), and wrap balloon 2 around balloon 1.
  • Another method is to cut both ends off of a balloon, which you use to cover the tied-off end of the balloon and create a stripe down the middle. This will hide the knot and give the ball a round shape. Depending on the size of the ball, the stripe may have a tendency to slip off.  I like to double bag the ball no matter what and then add a stripe on top of that if desired.

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Finished Product

  • Round out the ball with your hands and you are finished.
  • Stress balls are great because they can be used in a number of ways to meet the specific needs of a client (developing body awareness, as a sensory activity, mindfulness task, anger management, teaching progressive muscle relaxation, etc.).

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Ursula Unwinds Her Anger: A Mindfulness Book for Children

Kristina Marcelli Sargent is a mental health therapist who works with children in both outpatient and community based settings.  After competing an art degree, Kristina went onto get her MSW and now combines her creative talents with her passion for mental health through her beautifully illustrated books aimed at enhancing socio-emotional development.

Teaching Mindfulness to Children

One of Kristina’s recent passions has been to teach young children mindfulness as a way for children to have some inner peace and inner safety despite their outer life circumstances. Mindfulness, put simply, is awareness in the present moment while noticing thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, feelings, and the surrounding environment in the moment instead of getting caught up in the thoughts and worries of past and future.

Although many people are familiar with this being very helpful for adults, this is also an excellent skill for children to learn too. Awareness is the foundation to all life experiences and skills. When children increase their awareness in the present moment, they can increase attentive skills, better regulate their feelings, make safe choices, and notice and attend others’ feelings. When children notice others’ feelings, beautiful things like empathy, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and appropriate assertiveness skills can begin to grow.

Ursula Unwinds Her Anger

“Ursula Unwinds Her Anger” is a story about a dragon who doesn’t feel like she quite fits in with the dolphins she lives with but discovers she has a special talent.  She changes colors with her feelings and uses this skill to teach others about feelings.  The book teaches children mindfulness and relaxation skills such as deep breathing and noticing feelings while also letting them go. It is intended to help children discover inner peace and self acceptance and thus act in peaceful ways.

One of the most important things about dealing with anger is realizing it’s okay to be angry and there are safe ways to express it. In this story, the idea of using visualization and relaxation to “breathe” anger out is introduced as a relaxation technique for angry feelings. This book is accessible for children ages 3-10 and the adults in their lives who care about them.  It introduces a fun way to think about feelings using color and lends itself to endless play and art activities to accompany the story.  

Ursula Unwinds Her Anger available on Amazon

Accompanying Activities: Kristina created a number of engaging activities to accompany the book that add more depth to the reading experience and reinforce the book’s message.  Follow the links below to view instructions and download printables for activities designed to compliment the story.

  • Unwind Your Anger Printable Activity:  This printable Ursula the dragon includes fire for children to write or draw what makes them angry that they would like to breathe out and let go of in their own lives.  Children identify their own feelings along with anger triggers and end the activity with a deep breathing exercise.
  • Feelings Colors Worksheet: After reading the book, see if the child remembers the colors Ursula would turn with her different feelings in the story. Then have the child draw herself in the spaces above Ursula and identify which color she would turn if she turned colors with her feelings too!
  • Printable Feelings Cube: Color, cut, and tape to make your own feelings cube! Then take turns rolling the cube and either acting out the feeling (having the other person guess) or telling a time you felt that way! Another way to play is to tell okay things to do with the feeling that was rolled. For example, “it’s okay to be angry. When I’m angry, I like to take a quiet break.”

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Other Works

Kristina’s first book, Buttons the Brave Blue Kitten, is a story designed to help children (aged ~3-8) develop empathy, the ability to see how someone else is feeling from the other’s perspective.

Buttons the Brave Blue Kitten available on Amazon


Boy Held Captive Teaches Us About Good Child Protection Practice

Canadian media have been covering the story of a 10 year old boy who was rescued by child protection workers in London, Ontario. They boy, who cannot be named in accordance with typical Canadian child protection legislation, had been locked in a bedroom of his aunt and uncle’s house for between 18-24 months. The room, like the rest of the house, police and social workers described as squalid. As the Globe and Mail newspaper reports, he was found in the master bedroom. His bed and his pajamas were soiled with urine and the room had left overs of his fast food diet. Feces were also found in the room.

For this boy, his confinement must have been even more confusing as he had a 9 year old cousin, the daughter of the aunt and uncle, who was not confined. But somehow, she must have been ingratiated into the need for secrecy as she went about her life outside the home.

The boy is not originally from Canada and has limited English. He has not been registered in school and thus was not known to educational officials. Therefore, his absence from school did not ring any bells – he just wasn’t known.

Media have also interviewed neighbors who also did not know of the boy, adding to his invisibility. Yet, somehow, child protection received a tip that he existed and went out to investigate. Knocks on the door went unanswered but the social worker noted a shadow moving. Police were summoned and the boy was found.

The good child protection practice here is being inquisitive and paying attention to what you see. The boy has been severely neglected bot physically and emotionally. He reportedly now wants normal food and the chance to go to school. This suggests that he had a connection to the average life experience of a child prior to being imprisoned by the aunt and uncle who now face criminal charges.

His case also reminds us of how powerful families can be in keeping abuse hidden. One has to imagine how isolated the boy was but knowing that just on the other side of the window were children and families going about their day. The home was in a typical residential neighborhood that might be seen anywhere in Canada or the USA. Children lived in the homes around this boy and he would have heard him them out playing. What power existed with the aunt and uncle that he would have remained so invisible? This is a lesson for child protection.

But so too is the apparent strength of his early life. Trauma informed therapy can build upon that helping him to realize the dream of going to school. Inside that dream will be many chapters that might range from connecting to other kids on up to building a future for himself.

No doubt in the weeks to come we will learn more about this story but it reminds us of the need to act, be alert to the data as it comes to you and to think critically about what the data means.

Create Your Own Child Therapy Starter Kit

tumblr_mstk51YNXW1s3e1yro2_r1_500 Starting out as a new child therapist is difficult and putting together an office from scratch can be expensive.  Professional “starter kits” are overpriced, limited, and not much better than what you can put together own your own for a fraction of the price.  It is also common for new professions to share offices or travel to multiple locations so I have also included some tips for creating a “portable office.”

Cost-Saving Ideas

  • Once you get “the basics” you can start slowly adding to your toy collection.
  • Play dough is a must have item in your toy kit.  Kids love it and it can fill in the gaps of what you are missing.  If you are lacking something the child can simply mold it out of dough.
  • The best places for toys are dollar stores, yard sales, and thrift shops.  You can also ask friends and family to donate old toys their children have grown out of.
  • Many craft stores (ex. Michael’s Crafts, Hobby Lobby, Joanne’s Fabrics, etc.) have 40-50% off one item coupons weekly.  I pop in every time I am passing by to slowly build my arts and crafts supplies.
  • is your best friend if you are looking for DIY toys and activities to do in sessions.

Portable Ideas

  • Rolling duffel bags make the perfect portable office.  It is easy to pack and transport and has lots of pockets to help keep you organized.
  • I keep my toys in mesh bags so that I can make the most of the space that I have.
  • Keep your art supplies in a soft insulated lunch box.  This will help prevent your crayons from melting if you leave your bag in a hot car.
  • I also have a “go bag” that I bring when I don’t need to set up a full office.  This is great for in-home sessions or the days when I work with teens and don’t need as much.

Sand Tray

  • Kinetic Sand: If you are creating a portable sand tray I encourage you to invest in kinetic sand.  It is pricey so I suggest printing a 50% off coupon from Michael’s or Aaron Brothers.  It is easy to clean up, won’t spill out the sides and is fun to play with.  It molds like wet sand but still keeps some of characteristics of dry sand.
  • The scrapbooking boxes at Michael’s crafts make good portable sand trays.  I have one that is ***inches, and another one that is only *** inches.  The small size isn’t a big issue as long as you get small miniatures to go along with it.
  • Decorate your office with small throw rugs.  Clients can dump bins of miniatures onto them and clean-up only takes a few seconds.

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Family Therapy Balloon Activities

tumblr_mumdhrpnIb1s3e1yro1_500 Introducing activities into your family therapy sessions can help make the process more engaging while creating a warm/fun environment, and breaking down concepts to be more developmentally appropriate for children.  These simple activities can bring out sides of family members they may not always be shown at home, encourage playful and healthy interaction, build rapport, and allow the therapist to role model, redirect and provide positive reinforcement.

Balloons are a cheap/accessible item that can easily spice up a family session, and be then be used to continue work at home.  The following activities promote team-work, group cohesion, attunement, communication, problem-solving, conflict-management, etc.  They can be used to both assess family functioning and teach new skills.  Notice patterns that come up, how they negotiate or resolve conflicts, who leads, etc.  After each activity process with the family how it went, what they noticed, what they liked/disliked, what they need to work on, etc.  Families can also do these fun games at home.

  • Juggling Issues: In a family session it is common for the topic of discussion to snowball as family members bring up multiple subjects at once.  Have each family members blow up balloons and write an issue on each one.  The family then stands in a circle and bats a balloon around without letting it touch the ground.  Add the rest of the balloon, one at a time, to demonstrate how ineffective it is to juggle so many issues at once.  Afterwards the family decides together which issue to tackle during that session.
  • Balloon Pass: Have the family/group stand in a circle and make up (or have them make up) ways to pass a balloon around (ex. using only elbows, feet, etc.).  Have them hold hands in a circle and try to keep the balloon from touching the ground as they bat it around without letting go.
  • Busy Balloons: Have family/group members partner up and call out different body parts that they must hold the balloon up with (ex. noses, elbows, etc.)  If there is an odd number of people than family members can take turns being the person calling out body parts.
  • Balloon Waddle: Each person holds a blown-up balloon between their legs.  The family/group must come up with a way together to get across the room without anyone dropping the balloon (ex. jumping, waddling, rolling, etc.).  Once one slips then everyone must get together to re-strategize and start over.  You could also modify this to complete with partners or as a relay.

If you have any balloon activities you use in therapy, please share your thoughts in the comments.

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