Imagine a child who is grieving the loss of a beloved pet. He sits quietly in his room, and without a word, grabs the brown colored pencil to draw a picture of his dog flying in the sky with his newfound wings. The artistic expression helps him process his grief.
Perhaps another child comes home from school after a tough day and frantically draws angry scribbles with a red crayon all over a sheet of paper. Afterward, she feels a bit better and is ready to engage with her family. This artistic expression helps her manage her emotions.
Art, in all its forms, has a powerful healing ability and contributes to healthy development. Positive social and emotional development in childhood is important for long-term emotional well-being. Children with higher emotional intelligence have more positive relationships, are more empathetic, and have better outcomes in school.
Emotional intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and there are many avenues for helping children develop this important skill, including using a calming corner in your home with the Time-In ToolKit, modeling emotional regulation, practicing communication skills, giving your child a SnuggleBuddies, and utilizing art therapy.
What Is Art Therapy?
Art therapy integrates psychotherapy and art to help people explore and cope with their emotions. It is often used to help young children overcome psychological or emotional challenges. Just the simple process of being creative is good for emotional wellbeing. Benefits of creativity include stress and anxiety reduction, increased self-awareness, sharper critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and self-expression. Engaging in creative activities such as art helps focus the mind, and this calming effect is comparable to meditation. In this way, creative expression is a kind of natural antidepressant.
Studies have shown that painting and drawing help people express emotions that are too difficult to put into words. Krista Reinhardt-Ruprecht is a registered psychotherapist, and she explains art therapy in this way - “When we’re stuck in feeling states, we are in the right hemisphere, low in the brain, and it’s hard to climb out of that. When we use our hands to make art, we trigger our left hemisphere to come back online. Meanwhile, we are making an internal emotion into an external piece of art, which can help us by looking at it as separate from who we are.”
Therapeutic Art Activities For Kids
While seeking out a certified art therapist would indeed be helpful if your child is struggling with processing difficult emotions or dealing with trauma, your child doesn’t necessarily have to see an art therapist to experience the therapeutic benefits of artistic expression. It’s important to note that, unless designed by a licensed art therapist, these activities cannot be considered true Art Therapy, but they are nonetheless beneficial in calming the mind and moving through emotions. Here are some exercises you can do at home with your child to cultivate better emotional health.
1. Paint your emotions
This is a straightforward but powerful therapeutic activity that children of all ages can do. You’ll need a canvas or a large sheet of heavy paper, tempera or acrylic paint, paint brushes, and various styles of music.
- To start, talk with your child about the many different emotions we feel on a daily basis. This Feelings Faces poster is very helpful for this.
- Discuss how different colors can bring up different emotions within us.
- Demonstrate the different types of lines such as jagged, squiggly, and straight.
- Begin by asking your child to draw happy lines, mad lines, and exciting lines. Then ask them to use sad colors, happy colors, etc.
- Once they are warmed up, put on some music and ask your child to “paint their feelings” as they listen. Switch the track after several minutes and watch how the painting changes. This is all very intuitive, and it’s about letting the creative process play out. There is no right or wrong way to do this exercise.
2. Turn your child’s worries and fears into art
If something is weighing heavy on your child’s mind, such as monsters under the bed, bad dreams, or this pandemic, have them write it down on a sheet of paper. Then shred that sheet and use the pieces to create art. In this way, something ugly becomes something beautiful.
3. Pretend to send a postcard
It is often easier to express our feelings to someone when we aren’t looking them in the eyes. If your child is feeling angry, frustrated, or resentful toward someone, try this postcard activity.
- Print this postcard and ask your child to draw a visual representation of how they felt toward that person.
- On the lines, write out what you would like to say to that person.
Just getting it out on paper is therapeutic, and this also gives you the opportunity to open up a discussion about what your child is feeling, further aiding in the healing process.
4. Create a mask
Use a face mask template like this one. Provide pencils, pens, crayons, and even old magazines if you’d like. On one side of the mask, ask your child to depict how they think others see them. On the other, ask them to depict how they see themselves. Discuss the differences from one side to the other. This is a good exercise for older, school-aged children.
5. Do a tactile project
A tactile project is perfect for young children as they love to explore their world through the sense of touch. For this project, you’ll need cardstock paper, glue, and various pre-cut fabrics such as cotton, felt, silk, and velvet. Allow your child to explore these fabrics, and ask them to notice which ones feel good to them and which don’t, and then ask them to select the pieces they want to display on the cardstock. Your child can arrange a collage of fabric any way they like, and even build it up to create a soft sculpture!
Art therapy can help your child release and express feelings they may not know how to process and let go of otherwise. It has been called an “expressive language of the conscious and unconscious mind.” As Pablo Picasso once said, “Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.” We could all use a good wash!