strengthening family bonds: reviewing therapy games for parents with Shelley Behr

Effective family therapy isn’t something that happens only in the therapist’s office, or after trouble surfaces in a relationship. Parents can work at home to build bonds and repair relationships, with activities and games that fortify families.

In her Vancouver-area private practice, Canadian family therapist Shelley Behr reviews a wide range of family fun activities, suggesting the best to her clients.

Located in British Columbia, Shelley Behr is known as a therapist who provides non-judgmental support to parents and children facing divorce, separation and other life challenges. As a professional trained in art and play therapy, Behr has a unique perspective on the best family therapy activities that can be enjoyed at home.

Her favorites include:

Family Genogram

With this activity, kids draw what looks like a family tree, but in reality it’s an “emotion” tree — a diagram that charts the family’s emotional connections, behavioral patterns and sources of tension. To get started, check out this link: Optimist Minds

The Miracle Question

Here, kids and parents pretend they can magically wave a wand to create an ideal family life. “It’s what we’ve all imagined we could do, or wanted to do when we were children,” says family therapist Shelley Behr. It’s as if a genie is granting three wishes, and each wish promotes family harmony. Learn more here: Mango Clinic

Family Sculpting

In this game, a family member pretends to be a sculptor who, before creating an imaginary masterpiece, must “arrange” other participants in positions that illustrate how the sculptor views them. Family members begin to understand how they are perceived by the artist. More details here: IHBT OHIO

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Beach Ball Toss

For this activity, parents tape the names of various emotions on a beach ball that will be tossed around among the family group. When someone catches the ball, he or she reads out the closest emotion on the ball, then is encouraged to share a family memory that illustrates that emotion. Here are the rules of the game: Treat N Heal

Candy Go Around

This activity offers a sweet twist on the beach-ball toss. Here, emotions or other word prompts are taped to candy, which can be passed around or drawn from a jar. Each family member then shares the thoughts and feelings conjured by the milk-chocolate memory prompts. Mounds of laughs, snickers and pure (almond) joy are the emotional paydays! Unwrap the fun here: Liana Loweinstein

The Spoon Game

“This traditional favorite doesn’t require much preparation,” notes Shelley Behr. Head for your kitchen drawer for a spoon, which becomes something of an emotional royal mace that allows whoever holds it to have the floor and speak without interruption. Each family member holds the spoon in turn, sharing thoughts, feelings, stories and whatever else he or she wants to discuss. Here’s how to set the table for candid conversations and active listening: Kids Fun Family


Behr believes that imitation is not only the sincerest form of flattery — it can also lead to some fun family therapy. One by one, each family member mimics the facial expressions or movements of another. No mocking allowed, but gentle ribbing is mandatory. More here: Ascend HC

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Family Crest

Together, create your own unique family logo — a symbol that defines who you are, or want to be. The unique traits of each parent and child become part of what you draw. The final family crest creation tells a story about your family, just as family crests have done for generations. Instructions here: Local Anchor

The Gift

The family comes together to decide on a gift that everyone can enjoy. The game reinforces the values of compromise and teamwork, as each participant must think beyond what he or she may want to instead focus on something that everyone will like. The celebration starts here: Your Tango

Magic Key

This is one of the most imaginative games. Each player carries a magical key that can unlock a room in a large house or castle. Inside the locked room is something that money cannot buy. Once the door swings open to a particular room, the parent or child describes what is in the room. Here’s the blueprint: Forces Children Trust