Art therapy exercises help manage your child’s emotions

All children benefit from art therapy, but it can be especially helpful for kids with issues such as excessive anxiety, aggressive behavior, autism or social interaction problems.

Second only to recess, kids often name art as the favorite part of their school day. Whether your kids are physically attending school or learning virtually this year, art projects can provide legitimate healing powers for many children. 

All children benefit from art therapy, but it can be especially helpful for kids with issues such as excessive anxiety, aggressive behavior, autism or social interaction problems.

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 are dedicated to helping patients express themselves through art, leading to better assessments and more effective treatments.

“Art can benefit a patient’s physical, mental and emotional well-being in many ways including improved self-esteem, increased self-confidence, facilitate social interaction and reduced anxiety,” said Noel Kearns, ART-BC, Registered Art Therapist at AdventHealth Shawnee Mission. 

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

“Engaging in an art project helps kids become more relaxed and more in tune with themselves,” said Kearns. “In some cases, the results can be transformational.”

At-Home Art Projects

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.

For 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

Ideas for At-Home Art Therapy Projects

  • 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 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 it with you when they are ready.
  • Draw a picture of what makes them sad and talk about it. Then, add to the drawing what they need in order to feel safe.

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.

Your primary care doctor can help you identify whether an art therapist could benefit your family. Visit MyHealthKC.com to find a primary care physician who is right for you, or learn more about art therapy at arttherapy.org