How To Engage With Your Child Through Making Art

We are delighted to welcome art therapist Anna Storch to the team. In this article, she explains the many benefits of creating art with your child, and how to get the best out of this activity.

Child making art with paints

As an Art Psychotherapist, I naturally favour art projects as a means of connecting with children. As well as being a mode of communication in therapy, art can be a fantastic mediation tool. If your relationship is fraught, art can be a very useful buffer, something to focus on and work on together while building and repairing your relationship.

Connecting and Communicating

Navigating your children through their busy lives can be physically and emotionally exhausting. When they find a creative hobby they enjoy, it can be a fantastic way to keep them occupied while you get some of your own work done or just to take a break. However, taking an hour or so to work on a creative project together can be a relaxing, bonding experience that has numerous positive effects for both you and your child.

Art As Therapy

Young children begin to express themselves through the medium of art before they learn to talk. Memories are encoded visually at an early age, and art can be used to ‘unlock’ and process past trauma. If a child’s emotions or behaviour are significantly affecting their wellbeing, art therapy could help them explore difficult experiences, and support them in managing challenging feelings and emotions.

Whether or not your child would benefit from professional therapy, doing some art with them at home for fun will be beneficial for you both.

Boosting Confidence

When a child approaches an art table, they instinctively and confidently start manipulating the materials into fantastic creations. Allowing the child to do this while you sit back and observe is empowering, and fosters trust between you. Almost all children are experts in the field of art, and having a parent acknowledge this is a great confidence booster.

The process of creating art is as important as the finished product. As your child works, ask them to describe what they are doing - you might even learn a few techniques yourself! If your child lacks in confidence, they might value some encouragement from you. Be specific in what you say. Rather than ‘that’s good’, try ‘I like the way you’ve used lots of bright colours’ or ‘using the sponge to make those patterns is a really good idea!’. Categorising their behaviour into ‘good’ or ‘bad’ isn’t helpful to a child’s developing sense of self. Children can easily internalise these comments and start to view themselves as either good or bad rather than a person who is capable of a range of emotions, moods and behaviours.

Learning Life Skills

As your child experiments with different materials and the various ways of using them, there will inevitably be disappointments. Paint will splash in the wrong place, clay models will fall apart, and pens will tear through paper from over-zealous colouring in. These are vital experiences where the child learns problem-solving skills, how to deal with disappointment, anger or sadness, and how to find a way to carry on. As an observer, it is very tempting to step in and sort out the problem for them, but try instead to encourage the child to think how to proceed for themselves.

Art-making is a sensory experience - all those different textures, colours, smells, and tools to be held in different ways. Such experiences have been shown to strengthen neural connections in a child’s developing brain, and can also support the development of fine motor skills, as the child learns to use their hands and fingers in a myriad different ways.

Encouraging Creativity and Imagination

Allow your child’s imagination to run free during your art-making time. If a story starts to emerge, encourage this narrative. Ask ‘what happened next?’ and ‘how did they feel?’ or ‘tell me more’. If they draw a character, ask about it, - where does it live, what does it eat? Get your child thinking.

Teaching Independence Through Trust

One of the most important aspects of creative projects with children is allowing them to experience responsibility and a sense of control. You will need to trust them to handle glue, paints, scissors and glitter, and to manage the risks of spillage, mess and breakages. Trusting them with this can give a much-needed boost to children who may lack independence. Conversely, a child who is outgoing and who always wants to be in control might appreciate being handed the reigns. It may even lead to them not needing to fight for control so often in other areas of their lives. Of course, the parent will ultimately need to set rules and boundaries, such as not irreparably damaging the surroundings.

Accept The Mess!

One of the most important features of art-making with your child is accepting the mess that comes with it. If you have difficulty with mess or if you feel like your child may get carried away with spilling and tipping, then you might need to take a bit of extra time prepping the area with plastic sheets, newspaper or even the shower curtain. If you fear that even these precautions won’t contain the mess perhaps an outdoor project might be better. You could build mud faces in the local park and use elements found from nature to make the features, such as acorns for eyes or leaves for hair. Make sure your child is wearing old clothes that you don’t mind getting covered in mud. An outdoor project has the added bonus of allowing children to use their voices to the full- a great release for those children who have difficulty with anger.

If your child is having particular issues around being in control, then there is a chance that they might snub your carefully laid out art table. If this is a possibility, then don’t lose heart. I find that a new pack of stickers or a jar of sparkly sequins can encourage even the most reluctant child get creative.

If your child lacks focus and concentration, then you might need a few other techniques to keep them engaged. Try bringing out art materials in stages, rather than laying them out all in one go. Once the child’s attention seems to be waning, bring out something else. Start with pens, then paints and finally glue and glitter. You could try having some soothing music in the background but avoid having the TV on.

Developing Social Skills

An art session can be something shared between siblings or friends as well with parents. A team effort can bring about all the above benefits as well as encouraging sharing, turn taking and communication skills. As it is their project, children should be encouraged to solve problems themselves. Ask them to think of some ground rules before they start. As the adult in the group, you can step in when necessary and mediate when things get too difficult.

If only one child is having particular behavioural or emotional issues, they would probably benefit from time with a parent away from the other children. This is even more important if there has been a change in the child’s life such as a new baby in the house, or if the child has recently started school.

So there we have it, art is a very useful parenting tool that can be adapted as your child grows and develops.

If your child finds it difficult to be creative, or to relate to parents or siblings during art sessions,  or if you are concerned that your child has particular behavioural or emotional needs and might benefit from an assessment, please call us on 0208 6737930.  You can also find out more on the Art Therapy page of the website. 

Lizz Summers

Voice & Presentation Skills Coach