Expressing emotions with creativity is not a new concept. Art therapy has been in practice since the 1940s, but art has been around since the dawn of man. Children, in particular, struggle with putting words to their emotions.
Big emotions can be scary for toddlers and preschoolers. It’s our job as parents to help them navigate through them. Part of my research has led me to a parenting book called No-Drama Discipline. (This isn’t a review of the book, just throwing it out there that I’ve learned a lot from this particular book.)
The next part of my research has included ways to distract, calm, and redirect my preschooler during a meltdown. Using what I’ve learned, Roo and I are building a calm down tool kit.
Inside will be tools she can use to calm herself. To Roo the tools look like toys and games to play with. I know that each tool will help her to calm down and recenter so she can better communicate her emotions.
What we are adding to the kit today is some art mediums for Roo to experiment with. These mediums will include watercolors, finger paints, acrylic paints, crayons, markers, and colored pencils. She can use these to express her emotions through creativity.
To help your kids express their emotions through creativity and art, there are several different methods we can use.
Explore the Medium
For this exercise, give the kids paper and the medium. Art mediums can be paint brushes and paint, finger paint, charcoal pencils, chalk…
Don’t provide any instruction, only the materials. By doing this you are giving the kids freedom to make their own choices. This can be both exhilarating and scary for kids so remain present to help them through any emotions that might come up. If the child is still hesitant, try asking questions about the medium. Ask about favorite colors, the way the brush feels.
Paint or Draw Emotions
The next exercise, once they are content with the last project, is to ask them to use a medium to create some emotions. Give them examples like “Happy,” “Sad,” ect.
Older kids might draw people or faces with those emotions, or things that make them feel those emotions. Ask them questions about the picture. Ask how they know a person they’ve draw is feeling that certain emotion. Is it a facial expression? An action?
Younger kids may continue to scribble, but watch their technique. Comment on how slow the “sad” emotion was or how hard they were coloring for the “angry” emotion.
Paint or Draw Their Emotion
When helping kids to express their emotions with creativity and art, we might immediately jump to this part. After all, we want to understand their emotion and why they’re feeling it. But they might not know yet, and probably don’t understand it. Beginning with just getting the creative juices flowing, then talking about emotions in general is getting their brains warmed up for the last bit.
Now when you ask your kids to put their medium to their feelings, they have a better concept of those feelings, having just reviewed them with the last exercise. And they are familiar enough with the medium and the creative process that it’s a comfortable communication tool for expressing emotions.
Listen without judgment when your kids explain the emotion in their picture. Ask questions about the feeling, the situation, and the way they reacted. But this is not the time to have a discussion about whether they acted appropriately, or why they shouldn’t have done what they did, or avoided the situation all together. Instead, use the information the picture gave you to have a discussion later. After a snack, for example.
Abstract Paint Methods to Express Emotions with Creativity
After your kid is finished expressing their emotions through creativity, they may still have a little creative steam to blow off. Now is the time to try some mediums off the beaten path. Think cotton swabs instead of paint brushes, leaves and crayons, flowers and a hammer, bubble wrap and finger paint.
Glob watery paint on one side of the paper. Give the kid a straw (Check out these awesome reuseable bamboo straws I have!) and have them blow at the paint. Encourage them to take a deep breath before blowing and challenge them to get a droplet all the way to the other end of the paper.
This is great because it promotes deep breathing. Also the force of the breath out can really help to release some anger and frustration!
Another deep breathing exercise that is also a great way to express emotions through creativity is to make bubble pictures. Crayola makes fun colored bubbles. Or you can make your own by adding a little food dye to your bubbles.
Take a deep breath and blow bubbles at paper on the ground or hung on a wall. Watch the circular shapes that form when the colorful bubble pop on the paper.
Cotton Ball Throwing
This one is definitely a relief for the angry and frustrated kids (and adults too.) Soak a cotton ball in watery paint before throwing it at paper hung on the fence or wall. The *splat* sound is so satisfying and so is the splatter images the cotton ball creates.
Pictures made with dripping paint remind me of rain or tear drops. So this way of expressing emotions through creativity might be good for kids who are sad or just feeling a little lonely or melancholy.
Use an eye dropper to soak up some watery paint. The like the pain drip on to paper laid below either on the table or ground. Experiment with different distances and colors!
Tape Resist Painting
Use painter’s tape to make geometric shapes on paper before inviting the child to paint. Meticulous kids might like to create separate pictures and shapes inside each tape line. Other kids might enjoy globbing on the paint and watching the shapes that are made when the tape is removed.
This is great for kids who are feeling out of control. Anxious kids seek out limits and lines and this emotion can be expressed through tape resist painting.
For even more Painting Ideas with Kids check out this post filled with 17 creative ways to use paint. Maybe you’ll even find a little stress relief be expressing emotions through creativity right along with your kids.