How to Use Art to Promote Your Child’s Self-expression

Published on in Health Tip of the Week

Young boy drawing a picture In any challenging time, whether brought on by stress, worry or sadness, it’s important to realize that children experience difficult emotions, too. To help them cope, children need outlets to express their thoughts and feelings, either verbally or nonverbally.

The creative arts can provide healthy outlets for children to explore their feelings. Children's Hospital of Philadelphia’s specially trained creative arts therapists have recommended some simple ways that you can incorporate the creative arts into your family’s activities to provide structure, to promote self-expression and to support wellness.

Music

Encourage use of voice for self-expression

Children may have different ways they communicate, and even if your child is not able to speak, you can still pay careful attention to any vocalization that your child may make! If your child is starting to vocalize using any type of sound, imitate this sound back and take turns vocalizing with your child, with the prompts “my turn” and “your turn.” This call-and-response type of musical interaction is a great way to encourage your child to use their voice to interact with you and to feel heard!

Include songs into everyday routines

Don’t be afraid to be creative by making up new songs to familiar tunes. This can provide a sense of structure and assist with transitions throughout the day — for example, when your child is getting dressed, during teeth brushing, between virtual classes or before bedtime. Encourage your child to make up lyrics with you, which will provide opportunities for play and for your child to make choices and have control. You can also include lyrics such as “Today I’m feeling _____ because _____,” which will provide opportunities for your child to identify how they are feeling and why. By singing back your child’s words to the tune of a developmentally appropriate song that is familiar, you are offering validation and encouraging further exploration of feelings.

Use rhythm, tempo and dynamics

Invite your child to participate in music-making at home, using whatever materials are on hand or even using your bodies and voices as instruments! Encouraging your child to play in a variety of styles such as fast, slow, loud and soft can provide opportunities for nonverbal emotional expression. Try taking turns playing music with your child and mirror each other’s playing by repeating back exactly what was played. This is a simple way to help your child feel heard and validated for the music created and emotions expressed! Feel free to invite your child to move or dance to the music as they create it! You can also turn this into a game by pretending you are having a “musical conversation” with each other and taking turns guessing what the other person was trying to communicate musically! This is a great music activity for creative self-expression and socialization.

Music for wellness and stress reduction

For adolescents with access to a smartphone or tablet, creating playlists and listening to music may be a helpful way to connect on an emotional level and reduce stress. Consider suggesting or creating a playlist together with songs that help them feel uplifted or relaxed. Apps such as GarageBand (Apple iOS) or Walk Band (Android) provide many opportunities to create music and can be easily accessed without any musical background.

Art

Use art to help children feel empowered

Current events are times for you to check-in with your child and ensure that potentially stressful news is incorporated into their understanding of themselves and their world and is an opportunity to create positive change. If an issue or event has an impact on your family, you can create artwork together that sends an uplifting message or a call to action. Encourage each family member to think about what they want to tell the world right now. The resulting artwork can be displayed in your home’s windows or taken to a local rally. By empowering children to become advocates and give a visual form to their voices, you can help them connect with a sense of control and foster resilience around situations that otherwise may feel overwhelming.

Draw as a family

Co-creating a picture together can be a unique way to share time and some laughs. Each family member chooses one colored pencil, marker or crayon and starts their own picture, drawing for about two minutes. After two minutes, everyone passes their picture to the left and adds to the new drawing. This continues until everyone has their original artwork back. Each person can then tell, or attempt to tell, the story of their picture. The results can be quite funny! Add an extra element of excitement to it by dropping 30 seconds off each round of drawing until you have only 10 seconds to add something to the image!

Get a used book and alter it

Obtain a book that can be altered, whether the book is from your own family library or found at a secondhand store. Altered bookmaking can be a great way for school-age children and adolescents to create a private, visual journal in which they get to rewrite the story. Some possibilities: use a Sharpie marker to create “block-out” poetry, add envelopes between pages to place keepsakes, or paint over entire pages to create a new narrative or to just check in with feelings throughout the week.

Take your art outside

If it is possible for your family, being outside in a green space is proven to have positive impacts on our physical and emotional health. Collecting various nature elements, such as leaves, acorns, pieces of bark and flowers, and then creating artwork with them, either while outdoors or later on inside, can be relaxing. You can create chalk paint using the following recipe as a way to add color on a sidewalk, driveway or even on the items from nature themselves. Challenge your child to paint a picture on the ground and then find two things from nature to add finishing touches. Try giving each person their own special role in the mixing of the paint beforehand!

Chalk paint
Ingredients and materials
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 1 Tbsp washable paints (be sure to select paint that is labeled “washable”)
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • Paintbrushes (larger, thick paintbrushes work best)
  • Cups/bowls
Instructions

1. In each cup or bowl, add 1/4 cup of cold water
2. Stir in 1 Tbsp of desired washable paint
3. Slowly add in 1/4 cup cornstarch while stirring the water and paint mixture. Your finished paint will have a water-like consistency.

Tip: The paint will dry on the sidewalk or driveway quickly and will wash off easily with rain or a hose!

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