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Art Therapy is for all kids

Updated on July 17, 2008

Art therapy is for all kids, not only for troubled children

Many people don't know what art therapy is. They may think it's some ultra specialized therapeutic process that takes place only in a psychiatrists office.Like play therapy made famous by the famous book Dibs by Virginia Axeline.

And to a small degree they may be right. When art therapy is used strictly as a therapy, then you do need a highly qualified art therapist that has been trained to understand all of the nuances of children's art and how to get them to heal through art. It's actually very dangerous for non art therapist to play art therapist and to try to analyze children's art without having a real grounding in psychology.

However, you do not have to be a trained art therapist to use art as therapy because art IS therapy. Especially for children.

Now I am not talking about the standard arts and crafts projects that is done in so many preschool classrooms and at home with parents in so many homes. I am talking about art that is developmentally appropriate and therapeutic for children.

I mean art like painting. Art like mushy grey clay. Art like collage and construction and paper mache. Art that let's children express themselves without having to follow some sort of model like little robots.

As a matter of fact these type of art or arts and crafts or crafts projects as they are called are not only NOT only not therapeutic or developmentally appropriate for children, they are downright detrimental to kids development.

Imagine a child who is very distraught about something and his mom wants to calm him down so she sits him down with and an arts and crafts project to do because she heard that it helps with creativity. The child dutifully tries to copy this project which allows for little leeway in how you follow it and in his angst, by mistake rips the paper, sees it will not be perfect and just rips the whole thing to shreds.(can you see this scenario?)

Now imagine another scenario, the child is tense because of a fight he had with a sibling and Mom pulls out some delicious, squishy grey clay. The kind that you just dig your hands into and mush and squish and pound and pinch and squeeze and pound again. What a release. what a wonderful vehicle for letting out aggression.

Wouldn't you rather have your son pound the clay then punch his brother. OK he may still punch his brother after using the clay but with greatly reduced energy.

Clay, drawing, painting , collage all of these art activities are the most therapeutic vehicles for children to let out any frustrations, sadness, discomfort ,fears and any other emotions that they cannot verbalize. Many children go through traumatic experiences. I'm not talking about the really traumatic ones like death of a loved one or abuse. (Even thou art is vital for experiences like that also, you would probably need someone trained to deal with those issues)

I'm talking about things like natural disasters, fires, robberies, the death of a pet etc. If they are traumatic events for adults than realize that they are doubly or even triply traumatic for kids with no real language to express.

Young children do not have the language skills adults have and need more sensory materials to deal with their many feelings.

Believe or not even the birth of a younger sibling can be quite traumatic for a youngster and being able to express themselves through these mediums are enormously therapeutic for kids. (for us adults also if we would only let ourselves)

If we allow our children the opportunity to express themselves through this type of art we can also sometimes figure out if something is wrong in their life without them telling us. If we see a child using dark colors in his paintings over and over again or the marks she is using in her drawings are sharp and jagged and stabbing at the paper over and over again . We may want to try to figure out whats going on.

There is the danger and I said before of overreading things. There is the story about the boy who was only using black crayons and when taken to the school psychologist (because the adults around him said he must be very depressed.)said "Well that's all thats left for me when ever I get to color"

When I was teaching preschool many years ago I was working with a 5 year old boy who was making drawings of his whole family. He left out his mother. When his mother received these drawings that were in the form of a book she came down to school very distraught. It seems like she had actually been a very absent parent leaving the kids under the charge of a housekeeper. From this book she realized how her son was viewing her and the situation at home and made great changes in her parenting style from this from this.

I also aught a little girl who had a fire in her house who made endless drawings and paintings about it until she was able to deal with it and her activity slowed down from the previous frenzied state.

So all in all we as parents and educators of our most precious children need to realize the unbelievable importance of giving our children the proper kind of art to help them deal with so many of the regular, normal trauma that everyday life has to offer us.

For some more ideas of art activities that allow children to create on their own you can cehck out educational arts and crafts


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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I love lots of articles and u graces

      So I can fist see then copy on plain

    • mrod profile image

      Monique Rodriguez 

      7 years ago

      Love this article. I think if more caregivers could see the priceless value in the arts, we will be gearing our young children towards a future where self therapy would be the rule rather than the exception. This would mean less substance abuse, domestic violence, and suicides. Great hub!


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