Art is Life
We’ve heard it said before, the Earth without art is just “eh.” As clever as this phrase is, it remains a reality for a large population of adults, young adults, and even children, that rely on art in order to express themselves, have a healthy outlet, make a living, or even as a means of therapy in order to live a functioning and happy life. Now, studies are showing that various forms of art, even those such as acting or theater, are great outlets for child development, and can lead to relief and processing from past traumatic events in childhood. In fact, a variety of research published in 2018 was aimed at measuring the benefits of art therapy in a multitude of demographics, including prison inmates, trauma victims, the elderly, and even cancer patients and those patients with medical ailments, showing that the benefits of art therapy is beginning to be taken more seriously and given more research, effort, and energy. In addition, new research has found that 50 minutes of art therapy can work to improve mood and lower levels of physical pain and anxiety.
Art in Childhood
Art in childhood is nothing new and remains an integral part of child development. For example, paper crafts, coloring, writing in a personal journal, drawing, and origami among other things are all essential teaching tools and skills taught to children from pre-kindergarten up until middle school. Art expresses a child’s personality and is unique to every individual. It’s no wonder it is now being used to treat anxiety, depression, and PTSD in hospitals and therapy sessions worldwide. If you have a child that you believe would benefit from art therapy, or you would like to get into the profession of art therapy, here are ten key benefits from art therapy, and all are important to the healthy development of a child. Art is not just a past time anymore. Art is not just arts and crafts, or simple child’s play anymore either. Art has evolved into a key way to tackle childhood mental health issues and has become the true savior of a number of children.
Where to Get Art Therapy
Before we begin, it’s important to realize that art therapy is not, as mentioned above, simple arts and crafts or art in a school setting. Art therapy is given by licensed individuals, such as family therapists, psychologists, and child psychologists that specialize in not only child therapy but a mix of art therapy as well. It is important to check with your health insurance and see what help is available for your child in your area. In addition, if you do not have health insurance, national programs such as Medicaid and even state insurance plans such as Medi-Cal can be made available to your child in need.
1. Cognitive Development
In addition to being fun to experiment with, art can start helping children learn about colors, shapes, relationships between the two, decision making, and techniques to achieve artistic goals. All this can help in developing a child’s cognitive skills, that is, information processing, developing conceptual resources, and perceptual skills among other things such as language learning.
Rather than focus on regular talk therapy for children, art therapy can help provide children with much-needed development opportunities, and in turn help them achieve better grades in school, leading to a more positive outcome.
2. Social Development
When working on art projects, children can work with their peers in order to accomplish an art project, or they can work in the setting of a parent or therapist. In art therapy, a child can have the opportunity to express his or her own take on art, show then unique designs, such as unique jewelry, and not have to worry about the possibility of harsh critique from their parent, therapist or peers.
Should a child face criticism for their artwork during art therapy or another setting, this is still a valuable lesson for children to learn in a safe and social setting. Accepting opinions of others, likes, and dislikes, can all help a child have normal social development, no matter their circumstances.
3. Create Emotional Resilience
What is emotional resilience you might ask? Emotional resilience is our ability to adapt to conflicts, stresses and life situations, and it is essential for children to learn at a young age in order to be able to confront and properly handle life later on. Art therapy can help with this on an emotional and cognitive level, as children who practice art can express and share their story and truth through different mediums, such as drawing, painting, sculpture, even poetry. In expressing themselves, and having the courage to speak up in a therapeutic setting, children can grow to realize and put to practice their newfound strength. Emotional resilience is not just a benefit of therapy in general, but in children in art therapy, it becomes a way of living and recovery.
4. Improve Self-Esteem
In addition to emotional resilience, art therapy can help foster self-esteem in children. Most who need therapy need it because of mental health issues that might affect them, such as depression, anxiety, and other factors such as bullying. In art therapy, children learn that their own way of expression will not be ridiculed, but rather praised as truthful, colorful, and beautiful in its own unique way by a therapist. In therapy, a rule is to never show your patient in a bad light, but always uplift them and reinforce their lives through positive affirmations.
The effects of positive affirmations, reinforcement and reassurance of one’s art and oneself by a parent, therapist, or other peers in the art can all help to create better self-esteem in a child. This is especially important when helping children victims of abuse, and is just one essential block in building up a healthy child’s life.
5. Create Self-Awareness
Many times, children don’t know what exactly they’re feeling or how to put it into words. Inner turmoil, inner conflict, repressed emotions, feelings, or even hyperactivity or anxiety can create feelings of confusion in children. Having art as an outlet to express themselves, and then having the benefit of a therapist to help process those expressed emotions can be extremely beneficial to children.
With art therapy, children can put their feelings to a tangible medium, and in the process understand their feelings better. Being able to build self-awareness early is important, as adults who do not have self-awareness can go years with repressed emotions, repressed thoughts, and can begin to struggle with mental health issues that stem from being unable to understand your thoughts and emotions. This can be stopped early and taught to children with art therapy.
6. Give Insight into One’s Own Personality
Even as adults, it’s difficult to possess valuable insight into who we are as people. In children, that can be even more difficult, especially with children who have been abused, suffered mental issues, and now cannot figure out who they are as a person. This is especially a problem going into their teenage and early adult years and can lead to a life full of drifting, lack of a clear self-image, and lack of a steady career and goal plan.
Though the teenage years will always come with questions such as “who am I?” and “what is my purpose?” children who have a better understanding of who they are as a person, what they like and dislike, and what they are interested in can all have a better time in dealing with adolescent emotions of confusions and self-doubt. With art therapy, a child can gain insight on their own thoughts, talents, skills and unique attributes. Art can even help children be sure of themselves in the future with what they want to do as a career. For example, using art therapy, designing, and drawing can lead to a steady goal and future in graphic design. This is just one example of many, that can come from learned insights through art therapy.
7. Exercise All Parts of the Brain
The brain is a complex machine and is still widely developing in children all the way until, as recent research shows, age 25. The brain can also develop newer pathways later on, in what is called neuroplasticity. Creative expression is largely dominated by the right hemisphere of the brain, and making art uses the entire brain, but also focuses on their one right region of the brain. Children that practice art-making in different forms can benefit from utilizing all of their cognitive and brain functions. Different ways of art-making and learning in general that can help children develop include visual, kinesthetic, audio-visual, and tactile art-making among other forms. The possibilities for making art and the effect of art therapy on the brain are endless.
8. Reaching Conflict Resolution
In addition to helping children gain insight on themselves, develop cognitive skills, and develop socially among a myriad of other things, art therapy can have immediate help in helping children reach conflict resolutions. Perhaps a child feels threatened by a new or older sibling, or they are having trouble accepting a new student in the class, or even act out because they feel alone and need more attention. Art therapy, because it utilizes various forms of expression, can help a parent or therapist reach an accurate diagnosis for a child, and lead to a more behavioral health plan that enlists the help of conflict resolution skills.
These skills are taught to children regardless, and can include phrases such as, “When you do X, it makes me feel Y or “I don’t like when x does this because it is mean.” I contrast, a child can say, “It’s okay to do x, because of y,” and thus, such statements, when finally said and acknowledged aloud, can help children learn the basics of conflict resolution and morality, even at a young age.
9. Physical Development
Art therapy and art-making have to make use of many skills, as mentioned above, including verbal, written, audio, and hands-on, or kinetic learning. Different art forms that aren’t just limited to drawing, painting or coloring, can include theater, dancing, designing and 3-d modeling using clay or other forms. All these forms of art therapy can help a child improve their motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and even their muscle and physical development.
This is essential for children to build up not just physical, but emotional strength, confidence, intelligence, and ultimately recover from a traumatic or abusive setting in therapy. Even if children do not have these issues, art therapy can still help a child develop much-needed sensor-motor skills, and even lead to mastery of an art form in the future if learned early. For instance, a child who starts art therapy and finds a passion for the drawing will have the opportunity to master their skill and develop sensor-motor skills that far outweigh those of people who did not utilize artistic talents early on.
Finally, art therapy has the unique ability to be practiced anywhere and can lead to a mood-stabilizing effect known as affect-regulation. Affect-regulation can be useful even in adult patients such as those with a chronic or terminal illness, in order for them to better process their emotions anywhere at any time. A child, for instance, can use the skills learned in therapy to make music, draw, color, write a song, dance or make poetry and use these skills to do what most adults cannot: learn to put those emotions to good use.
Affect-regulation can take years to truly learn, and with art therapy, children have the benefit of learning this powerful tool right away. In addition, those suffering from trauma, anxiety, depression or hyperactivity can calm themselves through their art, leading to a decreased need for other forms of therapy such as medication or hospitalization. In this way, art therapy can be one of the most powerful and useful forms of meditation for children to learn.
Art Therapy Takeaways
Taking your child to art therapy consistently and without judgment is key for their recovery. It’s not enough to just enroll a child in summer programs, or wait for them to reach out during a crisis in order to consider a positive form of therapy such as art therapy. Children are molding blocks and can become masters of anything when they start early. Don’t just limit yourself to one form of art either, as now, writing, dance, and other forms of art can help your child reach healing, and improve their success in life.