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Art Therapy Exercises Help Manage Your Child’s Emotions

Healthy Living

ATR-BC, Registered Art Therapist, AdventHealth Shawnee Mission, Behavioral Health Unit

Second only to recess, kids often name art as the favorite part of their day. But for many children, art projects can have legitimate healing powers.

Who Can Benefit from Art Therapy?

All children benefit from art therapy, but most referrals for professional help involve kids who have these issues:

  • Excessive anxiety
  • Aggressive behaviors
  • Trauma
  • Social interaction problems
  • Oppositional defiance
  • Autism
  • Other cognitive and physical limitations

Art Therapy is Backed by Science

For centuries, since the days of cave drawings, art has been a source of communication and recreation.

It wasn’t until the 1940s, though, that art therapy emerged as a distinct health discipline. Art therapists and other related professionals are dedicated to helping patients express themselves through art, leading to better assessments and more effective treatments.

The benefits to a patient’s physical, mental or emotional well-being include:

  • Improving self-esteem
  • Boosting self-confidence
  • Facilitating social interaction
  • Lowering anxiety
  • Providing a cathartic release
  • Increasing insight and self-understanding
  • Helping to bypass cognitive defenses

Children can especially benefit because art allows them to express feelings they may not be able to express verbally. It also provides a natural outlet for feelings and increases a sense of self-control.

Engaging in an art project helps patients become more relaxed and more in tune with themselves. In some cases, the results can be transformational.

At-Home Art Projects Can Be Of Help

Although art therapy is only considered actual therapy when directed by an art therapist, the benefits of at-home projects can be therapeutic, as well.

If you’re interested in offering your child art projects at home, keep these basic materials on hand:

  • Crayons
  • Colored pencils
  • Thick and thin markers
  • Chalk pastels
  • Oil pastels
  • Tempera paint
  • Watercolor paint
  • Big brushes (bristle and foam)
  • Scissors
  • Glue sticks
  • All types of paper
  • Modeling clay
  • Air-dry clay
  • Play dough

Only use materials that your child can manage successfully with assistance.

Ideas for At-Home Art Therapy Projects

Children respond to these creative, yet therapeutic activities:

  • Ask them to draw what they are feeling; angry, sad, worried, fearful, etc. This allows free expression for a child who doesn’t have verbal capabilities.
  • Use clay to pound out their anger, and create an anger monster that can express those feelings.
  • Use paint to create a relaxing image, using relaxing music in the background.
  • Create a collage of things they like about themselves and their lives.
  • Make a puppet out of a sock or paper bag, and let the puppet tell about their fears.
  • Decorate a box that can hold their secrets, and encourage them to share them with you when they are ready.
  • Draw a picture of what makes them sad and talk about that. Then, add to the drawing what they need in order to feel safe.
  • Create an image of their disease/illness/disability and have a conversation with it.

Tips for At-Home Art Therapy

  • If your child has issues of aggression or defiance and needs greater self-control, provide more controlled types of materials, like pencils and markers.
  • If your child has obsessive-compulsive disorder or issues with anxiety or worry, using looser materials, like clay and paint, can help in letting go of control.
  • Don’t discount or minimize your child’s feelings. Validate the feeling, no matter what it is.
  • Remember that an art project can be counter-therapeutic if your child is frustrated at not being able to master it.
  • Keep in mind the goal is not to always make a project that is pretty, because the purpose of the exercise is to convey feelings that are not always pretty either.
  • Ideally, you, as the parent, are a role model and can guide your child in appropriately expressing and managing feelings in a healthy way.

*Note: Contact a professional art therapist if your child is unable to share his or her feelings, or becomes behaviorally out of control and can’t be safely redirected.

How We Can Help You

Since 1972, The Lee Ann Britain Infant Development Center at AdventHealth Shawnee Mission has served about 4,000 children with special needs, including those benefitting from art therapy. Services are available for children ranging in age from infant to 6 years.

Construction of a new, larger building is underway, with plans to open in the spring of 2019.

Your primary care doctor can help you identify whether your child could benefit from art therapy. Take a quick survey to be matched with the right primary care doctor for you

Get more information about art therapy for children from the American Art Therapy Association or visit the Kansas Art Therapy Association to find an art therapist near you.