The Benefits of Art Therapy for Children
We have recently welcomed Anna Kellerman to our team of psychologists. Anna is an Art Therapist and here she explains the benefits of art therapy for children and some art based strategies you can explore with your children at home.
What is art therapy?
There are various art therapy approaches, but central to all orientations is the commitment to the art process. It is the presence of the art form that distinguishes art therapy as unique, with an emphasis on the inherent healing qualities of the art process, than purely on the finished art product as an aesthetic statement. Art making can provide individuals with the opportunity to express themselves in creative and non-linear ways, which can deepen the client's experience of the self, offering potential for insight and ultimately personal healing.
What are the benefits of Art Therapy for children?
Art making offers a very natural form of communication for most children. As such, art therapy is often considered useful in helping children with a variety of challenging presentations such as personality and emotional disorders, speech and language disorders, childhood trauma, abuse and deprivation, grief and loss.
Some of the main benefits to using an art therapeutic approach with children include:
- Emotional Safety - it can offer children a safe way to share their story in a non-confrontational manner.
- Art Space - the actual space can offer children a place to explore, experiment, test boundaries, make a mess, let go, process unconscious and conscious material and reflect it back in an acceptable manner.
- Metaphor - the use of art materials also lends itself to metaphor and symbolic language, and can be a very powerful way for children to externally express their internal feelings and sensations. Having the opportunity to externalise these feelings in a safe therapeutic space is not only playful but also allows insight into a child’s unconscious world, which would otherwise have remained hidden.
- Tangible Reference - Creating something tangible within the sessions allows the experience to be retained and referred to later in the therapeutic process if necessary.
Art Based Strategies to Nurture Your Kids at Home
Drawing on my experience as an art therapist I have developed a range of art-based strategies that can enhance children’s overall wellbeing. Below are three strategies that you can try at home:
1. Deepening your Parental Bond
It is well known that parents are the centre of their children’s world. Their role is to provide comfort, delight and protection when needed. All they really want is to spend quality time together. If they are ‘acting out’ they are most likely communicating that they want to feel comforted.
Exercise: Spend 10 minutes a day drawing, doodling, creating or making an artwork separately, or together with your child. The goal is to simply sit and spend more quality time together so they feel an increased sense of love, nurturing, acknowledgement and being prioritised. Be consistent with this simple activity and notice some incremental, or grand, shifts in your relationship. More information about ZenTangle drawings by legendary art therapist, Cathy Malchiodi here.
2. Help Organise Their Feelings
I don’t know about you but I know many adults who are not very good at managing their moods and behaviour. They can easily snap, shout and get angry yet we expect little people to be able to manage their own emotions. It is actually very normal for children to express their emotions, including anger and frustration. It may be hard to witness but rather than trying to change and stop this form of expression it is actually better to acknowledge it, otherwise it could lead to lifelong feelings of shame and an inability to manage anger as an adult.
Exercise: Create an ‘art angry wall’. Stick a large piece of paper on the wall and when your child is angry encourage them to draw it out. Ensure they can easily access art materials so the process goes more smoothly in the moment. It may take time to include into your routine but it can quickly become a way to both acknowledge their anger and teach them to self-soothe in a healthy way.
3. Increase Children’s Self Worth
It is so easy to get overwhelmed in our busy lives, but our children are absorbing all this adult stress into their bodies. It is also very easy to let them unwind in front of a screen rather than through their own creative experience.
Exercise: Offer opportunities to make cards and gifts for friends and family, away from technology. This can be very relaxing and rewarding. It can also set them up from an early age to consider other people’s feelings, helps create a sense of pride and value in their contribution.
About Anna Kellerman
Anna has a Bachelor of Art Education and Masters of Art Therapy. She has been working with children and art for over 20 years. She is a registered art therapist and has worked with children from a range of backgrounds including domestic violence, trauma, parental separation, and who all present with various forms of anxiety. She is also the founder of Mama Creatives.