Here's the third of four posts from the presenters for a previous Iowa Regional Network workshop on EMDR with children and adolescents. Each of four Des Moines area EMDR therapists with expertise in child and adolescent treatment responded to the question: “What would you have liked to know when first trained in EMDR about working with children?” This series of posts are written by those presenters to provide basic guidelines for implementing EMDR with children 0-18. The authors each present tips, techniques and resources to use EMDR therapy in working with children and adolescents.

Kenya Randall Rocha, MS, LMHC, is Director of Mosaic Family Counseling Inc., providing a variety of bilingual treatment services including EMDR psychotherapy with all ages. She is also an Approved Consultant and EMDR Basic Training coach.  Here is a summary of what she shared with the group and the many resources she used in working effectively with children, and a powerful case example:Unknown Object

“What I wish I had known when I began working with children using EMDR:

Children process much faster than adults or an older teen. It is harder to gauge affect tolerance, because they don’t always show emotions the way an adult does. Children also don’t always show congruent affect.
Children dissociate as well as adults, though it may look like boredom or sleepiness. It is important to keep them in their body and in the room.

Movement will help them to stay engaged enough to process, such as using a ball to bounce back and forth using one hand at a time. This will provide BLS and guide the story telling from the child, assisting the child to move through unprocessed memories. I have a balloon in my office that has stickers and words on it, they get to choose the stickers to put on it and this can help with positive installations. Movement when they are bored is also important. Being bored can be a way for them to communicate to you their disengagement from the process..
The children choose clip art (preselected) to identify their negative emotional states and coping skills (behaviors reframed) as well as their NC's. You can put that on one sheet, and on the next sheet, we put clip art examples that shows how they want to be for their PC. Use BLS, then have them identify from the positive states sheet how they feel. The children are engaged in the use of the computer to do this and they feel good about the ‘project’ we are doing.
The place I start with for preparation is to teach children how to label their emotions. I use this for kids up to 10 years old depending on their developmental level. This makes it important for kids to be able to label their emotions and have a better understanding of them. You can use Sesame Street Emotions from YouTube. Below are more links to get you started: This is fun and helps the child to label their own emotions. Those without human faces can be easier to tolerate, particularly for children on the spectrum.
Kermit and Cookie Monster (happy, mad, sad)

Elmo Emotion Ocean (love, mad, hungry, joy)

Richard Pryor Demonstrating Emotions (happy, sad, scared)

Big Bird and Emotions with Margaret Cho

These all can help kids recognize the reasons people experience these emotions.

More options for older children:

Emotion Commotion game for older kids

Emotions song (3 minutes) normalizes emotions – lets kids know that emotions change all the time.

There are many more to use, these are just a few to get you started.

You can use a ball with feelings and open ended questions written on them and bounce the ball back and forth having them answer the question their left thumb lands on or is close to. This helps to process content and put things in your mind for target sequencing , tying it all up together to create a better picture for yourself during the assessment and preparation phases of EMDR therapy.

You can play banana grams with feelings words, having them tell a story about the word they use. You do it with them and give examples.

Drawing: You draw a line and ask them to draw more lines and make a scene, then tell the story of what they drew. I keep a big sticky note pad on my wall and we often sit next to it and draw our scenes that have a direct connection to traumatic incidents. You can use this activity to draw out things in their timeline in order to create their targeting sequence plan. You can draw a body and ask them to draw, mark or color in the area of their body they feel the emotions we have learned. Ask the child to tell you a story about someone who feels this emotion in that place in their body.

More things I wish I had known

I wish I had understood dissociation better for children, particularly how to keep them present in the room. I use one of Ana Gomez’s ideas. Ask the child to gauge for me how ‘in’ or ‘out’ they are by using a dial, which is a clock adapted for all the way in, half way in or out. Body movement, any dual awareness activities such as listening to music or moving with the music also helps children stay present.

In order to help kids to practice 'all the way in' and understand this concept, I use the Mouse Cookie books. It is called Mouse Cookies and More book (If You Give a Mouse a Cookie…a Moose a Muffin… a Pig a Pancake;  If You Take a Mouse to School (see Resources).

Pacing with children is different than adults,. You have to have attunement with the child to read their emotions and be able to pace them, including interpretation of their play,. When they are over-accessing emotions it is often a behavioral expression. When overstimulated, children can show anxiety so help them to resource and self calm. To teach calming resourcing, use stories to help them identify who or what in their lives represent nurturing, protection, wisdom, calm place. You can use books that address these issues to help them form a concept of these places. Dream Weaver books are using paranormal figures is one example.

I would have liked ready resourcing for children to engage in. For children who don’t have ready resources, we create things like magic blanket or magic bubble, using parents as anchoring and containment . Parents hold the children to remind them of feeling safe (if appropriate), helping child to utilize positive memory networks, remember times they were happy and pairing them with positive self-statements for the child: “Remember when we went to the park and you helped push your sister on the swing. You were such a good big brother. You are really important to your sister” or “Remember how hard you tried at .. You are so important to us.” It is critical be specific in finding times that link with positive feelings and beliefs .                              Often, the parent can’t be safely used as an anchor. You then have to install resources for the parent and use previously identified resources with the children. I have had kids want to use their teddy bears, sense of comfort, or bring in items from home.


Seven year old Tommy's history of abuse included witnessing domestic violence, mother drunk and being beaten, brother being kicked, taking his brother and hiding him in a closet to not get beaten (2 yr difference in ages). Tommy came to therapy exhibiting extreme behaviors. He had to be put in the time out room with padded walls because he was unsafe, throwing chairs and calling names, rocking to dissociate from things around him, felt helpless to stop himself. He had many attachment disordered behaviors.

I began working with him to identify good feelings, when he had them, how to remember them and use them to redirect self, using butterfly hugs and self-tapping for calming BLS. I also helped him to understand and normalize his behaviors to himself. Tommy used his adoptive father as his anchor. Father had worked very hard to help this child recognize positives about himself in the face of all the phone calls, often several a day, about behaviors at school, etc.

This child’s negative beliefs were “I don’t belong, I am bad, I am not good enough, I have to make sure my family (stuffed animals) is ok” by controlling things with anorexic behaviors. He had a wall against peers, with additional NC's “I am not important or smart enough. My mother chose her boyfriend who beat her and abused us over us. She didn’t love me, I am unlovable.'

Preparation phase with Tommy helped him identify positive emotions and also where they sit in the body. Then we moved to negative feelings and where they sit in the body. We identified times he was happy and confident, then identifed incidents of trauma which were targets that caused him great fear and PTSD.

When Tommy went to live with his aunt and uncle, he would put all his stuffed animals at the table, have to make sure they ’ate’ before he did. He was displaying anorexic behaviors by refusing to eat certain things, obsessive about what could and couldn’t touch on his plate, feeling completely out of control. His memories of being confident were of himself being able to be in charge of himself, not having to answer to his mother who ignored him and allowed him to be outside as long as he wanted to be. This was also part of his difficulties when he went to a new home and had rules “HAVING to be a kid”. We used EMDR to help him change his mind set about this.

One day he came in and flopped on the sofa and said “ I need the buzzies! I am so angry I can’t control myself. I know that when I was with my birth mom, I was in charge, I could do what I wanted and now I can’t and I have to be a kid”. He used the buzzies and ‘let go’ of the need to be in control of everything. He knew he was better being a ‘kid’, but couldn’t rectify this with being in control of what he wanted to do, when he wanted to do it. Previously, he was in charge of protection of his younger brother only because he put himself in charge. His mother was more attached to his younger brother and his father was no longer in the picture due to addictions and criminal behavior. Tommy was his only advocate.

Tommy resolved that he is more important than he had believed; that being a kid, although not always getting his way, was the more fun way to be and probably better for him. He identified that his mother was incapable of making good choices and that he could make good choices. He went from being inpatient and on the verge of being placed in a school that was ‘better equipped’ to handle his outbursts of anger and inappropriate behaviors, to getting 98% green day, then all ‘green days’. He still has processing to do related to some past abuse, but he has done a wonderful job of becoming more in control of his own behaviors and emotions, so that he knows that he is the ‘good one’ now.”

Thanks Kenya for these great ideas and the encouragement from the case you shared! You can contact Kenya at or leave a message at her website Kenya also provides an EMDR Specialty workshop: Deeper Connections: EMDR with Couples and Families, for EMDR & Beyond, which has been extremely well received. Kenya combines EMDR Therapy with Emotionally Focused Therapy (Sue Johnson), which integrates very well with EMDR therapy.

Contact me if you are interested in hosting this training. We are also offering this one day specialty workshop in Des Moines and through live streaming as well as onsite by request. Plans are being made for developing this excellent presentation into an online course in future.

Bonnie Mikelson LISW
Director, EMDR & Beyond