Children’s Art Therapy: Everything You Need to Know

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Child participating in art therapy.

Children and adults alike can benefit from therapy, however, the road to determining the best style for you or your child can be long and daunting. If you are willing to try a variety of styles and techniques, you will be tremendously rewarded when you find a therapy method that works for your family.

The list of art therapy benefits is vast, and they are not limited to children or neurotypical individuals. In the media, art therapy activities are depicted with people standing around in a group, painting on their own easels. However, as with most media portrayals, there is much more to art therapy than painting.

 

What is Art Therapy?

Art therapy is a branch of psychotherapy in which participants utilize the creative process to heal and promote well-being. The American Art Therapy Association is a non-profit organization committed to the growth and development of the discipline. The AATA defines art therapy as:

“An integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship.”

 

A professional master-level therapist facilitates art therapy activities with the goal to:

  • improve cognitive and sensory functions
  • build self-esteem and self-awareness
  • grow emotional resilience
  • allow for insight
  • practice social skills
  • reduce and resolve conflicts or distress
  • bring about societal and ecological change

 

Who Can Benefit from Art Therapy?

Anyone and everyone could potentially benefit from art therapy activities, but individuals that fall into the following categories may gain the most:

  • people experiencing mental health problems
  • people who have suffered a brain injury
  • people who have experienced trauma
  • adults under severe stress
  • children suffering from behavioral or social problems
  • children with learning disabilities

 

Art therapy has been especially helpful in treating the following conditions:

  • autism spectrum disorder
  • aging-related problems or issues
  • anxiety, depression, or both
  • cancer
  • eating disorders
  • emotional problems
  • family problems
  • medical conditions
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • stress
  • substance abuse

Child painting for art therapy.

What are Art Therapy Benefits?

 

Art is an ancient, universal language. Adults and children that have difficulties communicating and expressing themselves may find that art is an effective release and a means to communicate. Some art therapy benefits include:

Self-discovery

the creative process can bring subconscious feelings to the surface so they can be acknowledged, processed, and healed.

 

Self-esteem

creating art fosters a sense of accomplishment and pride, which allows participants to grow in their confidence.

 

Emotional release

art is a healthy and safe outlet for expression. Sometimes, even for expert communicators, emotions can feel too complex to express with words. Art can achieve what words cannot.

 

Stress relief

often, creating comes with release and relief from stress.

 

Pain management

for individuals who suffer with chronic pain, including cancer patients, art therapy reduces pain perception.

There are many benefits of art therapy for a vast number of conditions. It is often used in conjunction with other therapeutic tools or medications for the best results. There are wide applications for art therapy benefits, and thus it’s a good idea to explore the advantages of art therapy activities in specific subpopulations like children.

 

What is Children’s Art Therapy?

Children’s art therapy is creative expression therapy for children. It applies to many of the same situations or conditions we mentioned above. Children’s art therapy is especially beneficial because a young person is typically more comfortable expressing themselves through art than with their limited vocabulary.

In children’s art therapy, the art therapist has specific training and communicates while the child participates in the creative process. Kids are encouraged to explore a wide range of materials and mediums to create artwork. The therapist may or may not ask about the child’s specific artwork but will almost always initiate conversation. Typically, both artmaking and conversing with the therapist will happen in each children’s art therapy class.

 

What are Art Therapy Benefits for Children?

 

By allowing children to explore their natural artistic abilities, they can improve their overall quality of life. With children’s art therapy, kids can also:

  • process healing, both physically and emotionally
  • express their feelings about difficult situations such as illness, medical treatments, or traumatic experiences
  • offer a sense of control and mastery
  • ease grief and bereavement
  • reduce anxiety and depression while building resiliency
  • become more self-aware
  • increase self-esteem
  • improve problem-solving and coping skills

 

The subpopulation that greatly reaps the children’s art therapy benefits are children with Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD.

 

Art Therapy Benefits for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

 

The natural abilities to be creative and artsy is, of course, not limited to neurotypical children. In fact, children with ASD are sometimes even more inclined to be creative. One of the typical markers of ASD are challenges with speech and social situations. Children’s art therapy creates a bridge for us to meet them where they are at. When we do this, we can better support them, gently introduce new and essential skills, and build on positive behaviors.

 

Children’s art therapy for children with autism offers these art therapy benefits:

  • building upon visual skills
  • tweaking and perfecting fine motor skills
  • encourage social skills in a non-threatening manner
  • practice sensory integration
  • exercise attention spans

 

In addition, through the integration of other therapies such as ABA therapy, kids can improve behavioral problems.

Child coloring for art therapy.

Art Therapy Benefits for Families

Art therapy benefits are not limited to the child in families affected by ASD; in fact, children’s art therapy can benefit parents, caretakers, and siblings as well.

It allows for countless assessment opportunities in a non-threatening, therapeutic setting. Parents and professionals can observe a child’s fine motor skills, cognitive skills, ability to concentrate, and sensory processing.

Art therapy benefits also extend to the family because children typically have fewer behavioral problems after they’ve engaged in an artistic activity.

 

Art Therapy Activities

 

In a children’s art therapy class, participants might take part in a variety of art therapy activities. They could be as simple as scribbling and crumpling tissue paper to something as messy and fun as finger painting or building with clay. The end result is not what’s important; in children’s art therapy, it’s all about the process.

Things like playing with cold clay or sticky glue can gently ease children with sensory processing issues. It’s important to note that in children’s art therapy and the various art therapy activities, a child is never forced to be uncomfortable. Trained art therapists meet children where there at and gradually introduce new things.

All kids are different, and some may benefit from children’s art therapy in a group setting. Others might prefer a one-on-one children’s art therapy curriculum, while some might benefit from a combination of both methods.

 

One-on-One Art Therapy Benefits

One-on-one children’s art therapy means a child meets with an art therapist individually. They engage in the art therapy activity’s process while the art therapist engages with the child about the art or the two converse about other things.

Art therapy benefits of this method are like the list above, but children gain from some personalized attention and observation as well.

 

Group Art Therapy Benefits

Art therapy activities in a group setting can add a social facet to the already vast art therapy benefits.

In addition to the list of art therapy benefits for children, children’s art therapy classes with as few as two students can improve children’s skills and comfort with:

  • eye contact
  • verbal communication skills
  • social skills
  • staying on-task

 

In children’s art therapy group sessions, the art therapist will emphasize and encourage this social interaction so that the children are more likely to benefit from these interactions and build on the skills they already have.

 

Art Therapy Activities to Try at Home

 

Even parents and caretakers who are not professional art therapists can introduce some art therapy activities in their day-to-day routine. Aside from the standard art therapy benefits, doing art therapy activities together can strengthen the bond you share and allow for connection and fun.

Before you begin, consider some crucial tips for art therapy activities at home:

  • Allow for a mess. Things are bound to get messy when you’re playing with artistic mediums for your art therapy activities. While some parents might struggle with this, it’s essential to relax and allow a mess to happen. Choose washable materials so that you can easily clean up. You can practice your patience and allow yourself to be carefree while you are allowing your child to experience art therapy benefits. Let your inner child come out to play for a little bit.
  • Join in. It can be tempting to use art therapy activities to take a moment of time for yourself. While taking time for yourself is critical, art activities are better suited for parental supervision, guidance, discussion, and involvement. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and join in on the fun. Your child will enjoy the art therapy activities, even more, when done with a beloved caretaker.
  • Use a variety of materials. You don’t have to break out the markers, clay, and paint all in one sitting, but you should try to introduce various materials each time you do art therapy activities. Variation keeps things exciting and fun while allowing your child to experience different mediums.

 

At Home Art Therapy Activity: Draw or Paint Emotions

This is an easy children’s art therapy activity involving things you likely already have at home. You will need paper, markers, and optional paint and paintbrushes.

Start by drawing an outline of a heart. Set out various crayons, markers, colored pencils, and paint if you choose. Ask your child to “draw what’s in his/her heart.” Allow a moment for your child to listen to what is in their heart and bring a picture to mind. Then ask them to draw a picture of it.

Model by doing the same, and feel free to discuss what you’re doing as you are creating. Ask questions about your child’s project or simply talk about anything else when it’s their turn.

 

At Home Art Therapy Activity: Family Sculptures

Using clay is an excellent way to bring fine motor skills into your art therapy activity. All you need is clay for this pursuit. You can get a variety of colors or get natural colored clay and paint when you finish.

Each participant can create their own depiction of their family unit. Allow for a conversation centering around the important relationships in your child’s life.

 

At Home Art Therapy Activity: Magazine Collage

A great way to reuse old magazines is to turn them into an art therapy activity. Gather all the old magazines you can find, along with scissors, poster board, and glue. Instruct your child to cut out any image that catches their eye. Participants can arrange the images on their poster board and glue them in place.

Creating these open-ended collages is a great way to gain insight into how your child is feeling. Plus, it’s open an avenue for a conversation about those feelings.

 

At Home Art Therapy Activity: Nature Art

Nature is scientifically proven to help people feel more connected and grounded. This is true for children as well as adults. For this activity, start by taking a walk and collecting various pieces of nature. Flowers, dandelions, clovers, sticks—the only limit is your imagination and the size of your wagon.

Next, your task is to get creative and create art from what you’ve collected. Some ideas include nature bracelets, flower pressing, sculptures, or self-portraits using the items. Try to encourage your child’s creativity and imagination. Ask them what a piece of bark looks like or reminds them of, and follow their lead. Allowing your child to have a say in what they create can make them feel more confident and powerful.

No matter the art therapy approach you take with your family, keep in mind that the true art therapy benefits come from the process, not the end result. Through patience, consistency, and various art therapy methods (including at-home art therapy activities and one-on-one and group settings with a professional art therapist), you can experience the many benefits of art therapy.

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