by Craig Roberts, Licensed Clinical Social Worker
Have you heard the saying, “A picture is worth 1,000 words?” For children, whose language skills are still developing, the idea is even more potent. Children can often express themselves better through creative means than they can through words. This helps them in the following ways:
1. When feelings are stuffed (unexpressed), they fester, build up pressure and find expression through misbehavior. Allowing safe expression reduces problems.
2. It brings understanding and insight to the child and to you. For example, it may be sobering to see yourself drawn dead in a grave, but suddenly you understand that losing you is your child’s biggest fear, and that’s why he’s so afraid to go to school.
3. It gives your child a chance to find emotional healing. The next picture your child draws may be of him with a magic wand, calling you back to life. Although not technically true, a little part of your child’s brain will say, “I don’t have to worry about mom dying, because I’ll just bring her back to life. So I can go to school.” He has overcome his fear through fantasy.
What are some options for creativity? Anything. Art, dance, movement, pretend storytelling, writing, sculpting with play-doh or pipe cleaners, playing with action figures or dolls, music, sound effects, and many more things can be used. Go where your child is comfortable and give lots of options. Your child will find her way.
How can I help my child express feelings creatively?
1. Appreciate, don’t criticize. Because your child needs to express dark feelings, he might just scribble in red on the paper. It’s not an art contest; it self-expression. So you warmly say, “Wow. This is a red scribbly paper. Lots and lots of red scribbles.” Don’t be concerned to see themes that are gory, violent, depressed, etc. Be grateful that your child will share with you.
2. Only comment on what is obvious. Don’t interpret. Saying that there are lots of red scribbles avoids you making the wrong guess by saying something like, “Does this remind you of all the blood at the accident?” Your child may not be ready to discuss that verbally, even if you had guessed right.
3. Invite the child to comment if s/he wishes. “I’m very interested in this picture, if you want to tell me about it.”
4. If the child makes a commentary, repeat it back to make sure that you heard right, and invite more commentary. “So let me see if I got this right. The red is about how mad you feel about moving. Anything else about it?”
5. If invited to join, remember that it’s your child’s creation. For instance, if your child hands you a Joker action figure, and his Batman figure hits it, you don’t know if Joker is supposed to fight back, cry, die, laugh, or whatever. To keep the story coming from your child’s imagination, you ask, “What does Joker do now that Batman hit him?” Then follow your child’s instructions.
Root for Kids serves pregnant women and children from birth to age five in Washington County, Utah and the Arizona Strip. If you have any concerns about your child’s development, fill out our referral form.