Help The Upset Person: A cognitive-behavioral group game

This is an engaging and entertaining cognitive-behavioral teaching strategy  on the topic of emotional regulation.
Here is how to do it:

Follow THIS LINK HERE to the download page for this resource, which provides you with downloads of the pictures that are shown here.  You use these pictures to profile various children with upsetting problems, and your group / class works together to help solve their problems.

[Follow THIS LINK HERE to The Fix The Problem Game, something very nice I created years after this original post]

Here is how to present the activity to your client/student, small group, or class:

“When people are worried, or sad, or disappointed, or mad, they can help themselves to feel better.  They do this by thinking certain things, doing certain things, and saying certain things.  Here is a game where you get to be the one to help an upset person to calm down.

I am going to pretend to be different upset kids.  Your job is to tell me what to THINK, what to DO, and what to SAY to help solve my problem.

If you give me good, helpful advice on what to think, do and say, then I will hold the picture of the upset person lower and lower.  If you give me advice that makes my problem worse, or doesn’t help at all, I will raise the picture higher and higher.

If the picture ends up this high [way above your head], then you have lost the game.

If the picture gets all the way down by my knees, then you have done a great job and you have won the game.”
Here are situations you can use for your enactments of the upset person role plays:

  • Young person who is upset because children on the playground suddenly decide to change the kickball rules to  allow five bases instead of three
  • Young person who is upset because a substitute teacher is not following the normal routine and is not listening to the young person’s advice
  • Young person is upset because the bakery delivered a defective cake to his birthday party—a Pikachu cake that is blue instead of yellow.  (Or, pick a local sports team’s colors and the bakery messes up the colors )
  • Young person is sad and hopeless because, although he is doing his best to fit in and socialize with peers, he has been unsuccessful
  • Young person who is on the bus on the way to the first day of a summer day camp, feeling apprehensive about new activities and the prospect of social failure


Joel Shaul, LCSW

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