In a study published in 2011, it was found that children even up to the age of 10 find it very difficult to express themselves. They find it difficult to convert feelings, (many of them that which they have experienced for the first time) into a tangible and coherent form of expression. Every child goes through different milestones of development at different ages. While a 2.5 year old may easily be able to string together sentences, another child of a similar age may still be struggling with simple words.

Since children find it so difficult to express themselves, and parents find it even more so to understand their feelings, it becomes important to show them other ways of venting out.

Like adults, children feel the need to verbalize their fears and concerns, let it all out. They look to elders to give them a sense of security when everything around them seems alien and abnormal. Children, like adults, love the comfort and routine of a normal life, when they are acknowledged, when they are listened to, and when they know that there is someone who understands them.

A child's Amate bark paintings, a traditional Mexican folk art

A child’s Amate bark paintings, a traditional Mexican folk art

It is therefore very important, to be extra observant and vigilant when they exhibit even the slightest change in their normal behavioral pattern. and these signs are some of them:

  • Children expressing themselves in a broad range of emotions
  • Children complaining about some physical illness (especially stomach aches)
  • Children displaying physical signs like high fever, vomiting without any accompanying illness
  • Children having problems sleeping (waking up suddenly, nightmares)
  • Children experiencing separation anxiety when away from parents
  • Children having increased attachment to adults
  • Children showing signs of irritability or excessive anger

It is not easy to ask a child reasons for this change in behavior, but any deviation from normal should be taken as a sign that not everything is all right.

Using Art as a means of SELF EXPRESSION

Whether a child has been traumatized by ragging, is a victim of abuse, has witnessed a crime, or even experienced a tragedy that has unfolded on TV, they go through significant emotional stress. These situations induce a sense of fear and helplessness that can take a long time to heal and alter their behavioral pattern sometimes for life, if not dealt with properly at the right time. CHILDREN CANNOT COPE WITH TRAUMATIC EVENTS MOST TIMES. They therefore cannot express or discuss what they feel because of under-developed language skills and limited vocabularies.

Painting by a Child undergoing Art Therapy

Painting by a Child undergoing Art Therapy

One IMPORTANT MEANS for parents and teachers to encourage children to talk about what they have seen, heard, or felt, is to give them art materials. DRAWING helps children communicate without using words.

Nashville Clinical Therapist Julie Barlar, makes some significant statements explaining why art is so important to children, more so when they have undergone traumatic events:

  1. Children process their learning through play.
  2. Drawing helps manage their situation. Once a thought or an idea is drawn, it becomes solid, it becomes concrete. A child can do whatever it likes with it then, manipulate it, hang it on a wall, stamp it down, or even tear it up.
  3. If a child’s anxiety about a situation is excessive, encourage him/her to draw the picture of a “happy and safe” place.
  4. If the drawing is scary, ask the child what they want to do with it. Allow them to tear up the picture and use the pieces to make something pretty.
  5. Encourage the children to use colours in the form of crayons, markers, and paper. Clay and paints may make the paintings more expressive, something that the child may not be able to cope with at an early age.

Interpreting the Child’s Art
Once children have ‘drawn’ their feelings on paper, a parent or teacher must know how to interpret it. Children who have experienced traumatic events, will almost always show signs such as these in their art and below are a few of them.

  1. Young children might draw themselves very small and others extremely large. Art therapy experts believe that the child feels like they have little control over the situation.
  2. If an adult has abused a child, the abuser may appear large and frightening.
  3. If the child has a phobia for animals, they will express this in their drawings. A dog or cat for example, may appear much larger in the drawing and loom over the child. This is the child’s way of showing their powerlessness in controlling the animal.

ART can be a very powerful tool for children to express themselves. Parents must do all they can, in encouraging their little ones to use this medium to communicate.


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