Article: Creative Expression for Children


Most folks who have experienced profound loss are all too familiar with the thought “There are no words to describe how I’m feeling”. Kids are no exception, and I wanted to share a few thoughts about the healing value of "art with heart".

Much has been written on the restorative power of the arts in the aftermath of loss, and creative modalities have been widely recognized for their efficacy in the treatment of trauma.  The great things about it are that one doesn't have to be "artistic" or skilled in any way to benefit, it can be helpful to children of all ages and backgrounds, and there are so many forms of creative expression that can be valuable....from puppetry to painting, from masks to musical instruments, and everything in between!

Here are some of the ways in which creative expression  promotes the healing process:

  1. It allows children to communicate without using words.  Children may not yet have the cognitive ability or vocabulary to express their grief clearly,  and may feel intimidated by a strictly verbal question and answer type of conversation.  Creative expression can therefore be a much more viable, comfortable, and effective solution that draws on their natural interests.
  2. It provides safety for grieving children to communicate.   Kids sometimes fear what others think of them.  They often feel greater safety from judgment when expressing themselves in an artistic way, knowing that there is no "right or wrong" in art. Furthermore, by externalizing thoughts and feelings through art, for example, on a piece of paper outside of themselves, they can maintain a protective distance from the emotional aspects of the loss as needed.
  3. It can provide a sense of control.
    After a loss, kids can feel powerless over what happens in their life.   By giving them the opportunity to paint, draw, make music, or model whatever they wish, they can begin to regain a sense of self-efficacy.
  4. It can help safely release their emotions.
    A lump of clay, an empty canvas or sheet of paper provides children a creative, open landscape to channel their feelings.  Try letting a child color hard on a piece of paper for awhile, or pound play-doh, as a helpful outlet for anxiety or anger issues.
  5. It helps bring concreteness to the abstract nature of loss.
    Trying to understand death and all of its implications is abstract and overwhelming for anyone, but especially for young developing minds that still think very concretely!  Kids can begin to work with more concrete, manageable pieces of their loss through artistic expression.
  6. It helps ground us in the present moment.  When we can step out of the pain of the past and the worry of the future, even if just for the moment, the creative process brings our attention and wholeness into present time.
  7. Because grief lives throughout our bodies, not just in our cognition, art activates the many senses(kinesthetic, visual auditory, etc.) and mobilizes creativity as a healing force. When we connect to our creative capacity, it leaves us feeling lighter, more energized, and refreshed.

So, enjoy helping your child explore their creative side and the rich expressions of  "art with heart"!

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