The emotional release of drawing, painting, or sculpture can have healing and therapeutic effects for adults and children alike. These calming methods of working through emotions and expressing oneself can help to understand certain things that talk therapy cannot articulate.
What is Art Therapy? Art Therapy for Children
Art therapy, as defined by the American Art Therapy Association, allows for creative expression that can overcome the limitations of language. In other words, if an idea or emotion is too difficult, confusing, or painful to be said, written, or signed, then maybe drawing, painting, sculpting, coloring, sewing, collaging, and many other methods of visual art can surpass the stumbling block of language.
Its potential applications can help improve areas of deficits like:
- Cognition and sensory-motor function
- Self-esteem and self-awareness
- Emotional resilience
- Social skills
- Conflicts and distress
Applications Of Art Therapy
Art Therapy can be used to:
- Improve Cognitions
- Improve Sensory-motor functioning
- Cultivate emotional resilience
- Foster self-awareness
- Foster self-esteem
- Promote insight
- Enhance social skills
- Reduce conflict
Fun Art Therapy Ideas and Activities for Children and Teens
Art as a means for healing and communication is highly relevant for children and teens. Young children often rely on their limited language skills to express complex thoughts and emotions. That barrier can be breached with methods of expression they understand a little better, like drawing and coloring.
Teens also benefit from a pressure-free, consequence-free medium for their thoughts and feelings. Listed below are some possible art therapy activities and exercises for children of all ages.
Most people would probably agree that it’s easier to express or recognize hurts and regrets when there’s the distance between yourself and the problem. This is why the postcard activity can be a good self-discovery exercise that helps answer the question, “what would I say to someone if I didn’t have to do it face-to-face?”
The instructions for the postcard activity are as follows:
- Have clients write a message to someone they’re frustrated with or to someone with whom they have something to share;
- One the blank side, have the client express their feelings with art;
- Use this as a way to start a conversation about what’s being expressed with the postcard
Words to Live by Collage
Teens can be vulnerable to harsh, judgmental environments where they don’t feel they can be themselves. They may suppress their true character to avoid censure from their peers, and it’s for this reason that it’s important for teens to identify their core values and identify who they think they are—and to write those things down.
This activity allows teens to visualize their core values through collage. Here’s how to teach this activity:
- Set out magazines, newspaper, scrapbook paper, and other art materials to allow students to form into a collage;
- Ask participants what words they live by. If students don’t know, it might be helpful to have some quotes laid out already that they can use;
- Have them represent their worldviews in the collage and use their quotes in the art. The final results can be discussed in a group setting.
Humans are all tactile creatures, but children especially are touchers, explorers, and curious feelers. Utilizing touch is a way for them to learn about the world and to find comfort.
This activity is a form of art therapy that focuses on comforting textures, allowing for a manageable exploration of uncomfortable emotions.
Here are the instructions:
- On a blank, stiff piece of paper, have the participant create a mural out of soft materials. Perhaps in an older group, using handmade knitting or crocheting blocks would be a great way to add some time, pride, and relaxation into the project;
- Glue the material to the page, taking the time to really dwell on the textures, to feel, and to arrange in a way that feels right;
This activity could easily be transformed into a guided group activity by adding prompts. For example, you could tell the participants to use the materials to depict an event that is painful for them, depict a person with whom they have painful conflict, or depict a part of themselves they’re unhappy with. With this project, participants are literally softened by the act of collage, rendering painful things into pleasant things
In a group with young children, we recommend using materials like glue sticks as opposed to glue bottles and having pre-cut pieces of material ready.
Safe Place Activity
Building a safe place is an activity that’s adaptable for all age groups, but maybe a sensitive project for kids and young adults who often have little control of their environments and who might struggle to ever feel safe. This project may help a child or teen reflect on ways to find a safe space, or may simply help them feel like they have some control over their environment.
Using materials like cardboard boxes, popsicle sticks, or folded poster board could be more fun for an older age group, but for young children, using materials on a two-dimensional surface would be easier.
Arrange the materials to create or depict a place that feels safe. Participants may not have a real place where they feel safe, and if so, should be encouraged to imagine it in whatever way they’d like.
Talking about what went into space, whether real or imagined, and whether it’s feasible to create can help clients actualize their safe spaces in real life.