First Session of Individual Counseling With Kids

Even the best counselor prep programs don’t always include training for how to actually counsel children – it’s often times something that we figure out once we’re already working. Talking to mentor counselors, reading books, googling…and just plain old trial and error. I was lucky that my first position was actually as a school-based therapist and so I had a little bit more experience with actual one on one counseling before starting as a school counselor (though I still have a bit of trial and error!). One of the things I’ve gotten fairly established at this point is my first session of individual counseling with students that are going to be semi-ongoing.

first sessions individual counseling

Here are some activities that are my “go-tos” in my first sessions of individual counseling with kiddos, especially ones I haven’t already established rapport with:

Social Mapping

You usually already know which social grouping is most pertinent to your work with the student; family or class. Whichever it is, ask your student “Who are all the important people in your life at school? Pick out a figurine for each one.” If they pick non-people figurines, I sometimes prompt “I noticed you picked a t-rex for your friend Ben, I wonder why.” I use a rice tray and have students put the figurines in that, but you can also just ask them to put the figures on paper. This alone gives you info about the important players in their life (and sometimes their thoughts on then). You can also add additional prompts like “Which of these figures get along the best?”, “Which of these figures argue a lot?”, etc.

counseling rice tray

Get to Know You Game

Kids love games and games are an easy peasy way to get to know them better. For my older students (3rd+), I love to use JENGA with these questions written on all of them. For my younger students, I give them an option between 2-3 of my color/number coded games (Don’t Break the Ice, Let’s Go Fishing, CandyLand, etc.) and use the “Get to Know You” prompts this question set. When I start the game, I don’t assume that they want me to answer the questions, too. I usually just pause at my turn to see if they say something. I’ve found that about half of the time, the student has no interest at all in my answers, and that’s ok. Sometimes simply playing a game and chatting (even without prompts) can provide you with a wealth of information! Word to the wise: unless you plan on playing a game in every session with the student, I think it’s helpful to provide a quick disclaimer like “Sometimes when we’re together, we’ll play games. Sometimes we will do other activities and won’t play games.”

get to know you kids game


Feelings Book (and Game or Coloring Sheet)

It’s crucial to me that my students can identify and express their emotions – and as it turns out, a lot of them can’t (yet). I often spend one of my first sessions with a student reading a feelings book and then processing it together. We might play a game where we share our feelings depending on the color/number we land on, or do a “color your world” type coloring sheet. These are some of my fav feelings books – I pick which one to use based off of the student’s developmental level (intellectually and emotionally).

teaching kids emotional identification


Counseling Lapbook

I think routines/rituals can be really powerful in counseling. They provide a sense of stability and safety. With lots of my students, I use this lapbook to start and end sessions and introduce it during our first session together. They start by identifying how they’re feeling today, how they’ve felt lately, how they’re feeling about school/home/friends, and what they want to talk about. We end sessions with them sharing if they’re feeling better/worse/same, selecting a self-affirmation, and how they want to say good-bye.

individual counseling tool

What are some of your favorite activities for the first session of individual counseling with elementary kiddos?

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Individual counseling checking in and out
Getting to Know You Question Cards

10 Responses

  1. Hello,
    I stumbled across your site via TTP and very much enjoy the activities you are doing with students! I lean towards the use of picture books and games as a part of my time with children and appreciate your ready-made resources on TTP and on this site. Have a great year! Cheers from BC, Canada

  2. I am a brand new counselor and SO appreciated these ideas! Thank you so much for sharing! Sending blessings from Dallas, TX!

  3. I like that you mentioned that playing games can be a good ice breaker for a kid undergoing individual counseling treatment. I think my neighbor’s kid would need that in the future because I heard that my new neighbor recently go into a divorce. Adjusting the the new family life would surely be rough.

  4. I’m a clinical counseling intern, and I came across your website while researching how to begin my first session with a 6-year-old. This is so helpful! Thanks!

  5. Thanks for also talking about how it’s important to determine which medium in which a child is comfortable expressing their feelings. I want to find a good child therapy service soon because my son has been quite distraught by the passing of his dog. The dog was run over by a car so it must be quite traumatic to him.

  6. Hi, I love everything you create. I am always purchasing things from your TPT store and I am so happy I found your website! I have a student who’s around 8 or 9’years old and they have a tough time “minding their business.” They tattle and are constantly worried about what other people are doing or not doing. They’re big on rule following so when someone doesn’t follow the rules, they get really angry/ipset. Do you have any individual lessons on this topic?

    1. Hi! Nothing specific for individuals, but I think I would look at The Good Egg (and my companion activities for it). Also, circle of control activities (I have one for a class lesson you can use individually, but also an activity inside the Resiliency curriculum).


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Hello, I’m Sara!

With 10 years of experience in
elementary school counseling,
I get to serve in a different way now
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