Art’s power heals young hearts

Children who explore their creative side can use it to overcome loss, trauma and abuse. Picture: The Lamb family /

CREATIVE play such as music, art and drama can help children deal with traumatic experiences in their lives.

There’s a saying that play is a child’s work – and when that play takes an artistic form it can help heal and build resilience.

That’s the premise of creative therapies, which are currently growing in popularity – and why every child should be encouraged to explore their creative side, says Margo Ward, founder of KidsXpress, a charitable organisation that helps children deal with loss, trauma and abuse through music, art and drama.

“Making creative expression a part of daily life is a healthy and positive way to live, no matter what your age – but the benefits to children have been documented and I have witnessed it myself over and over,” she says.

“Through the ages we have told stories and expressed feelings through art, drama, dance and music. All of us have also experienced how this sort of creative expression can make us feel happy.”

Tapping into the benefits

Ward’s call is not some “arty-farty” theory urging parents to let their kids find their inner Monet, Mozart or Minogue. Nor is it about kids being groomed as art prodigies. It’s about kids, particularly those who have been through trauma, tapping into the therapeutic benefits of engaging in creative and imaginative play, Ward says.

Studies have found that drama, music and art therapies can aid the healing process for a child who has gone through traumatic events such as grief, abuse, divorce and bullying.

“Children don’t always have the words to tell us how they’re feeling. Maybe they’re too young and don’t have the language skills, or they’re not comfortable communicating words,” Ward says.

“Creative expression enables children to tell a story about how they feel. Using art, drama or music are all ways to externalise the problem, share our stories and connect with others. Once the connections are made, it is easier to share our more difficult experiences.”

Creativity in daily life

KidsXpress is a Sydney-based service to which children are referred – and there’s a waiting list. However, Ward says, no matter where they live, parents can help children tap into the power of creative expression.

“Whether kids have been through a traumatic event or not, they will benefit from taking part in creative activities. Not only that, kids love doing it – it’s fun,” she says.

“These expressive tools were used before language was invented. So, humans have always been drawn to connecting and expressing in these ways. For all of us [including adults] there are intrinsic rewards in communicating using these methods.

“For children, these are available and accessible ways to express and reflect upon what is happening around them.”
She has these suggestions for creative activities at home:

– Art: drawing, painting, collage, clay modelling, construction and making video journals
– Drama: telling stories, puppetry, writing plays and role playing
– Music: making up songs, listening and discussing the role of selected songs, playing instruments and singing

“Share the creativity with your child,” Ward adds. “Engage in the same experiences and then reflect upon each other’s creations by asking non-judgmental questions such as ‘What have you created?’, ‘What is the feeling in this picture/story/song?’, ‘I’m curious how this makes you feel?’.”

Dealing with trauma

Ward says kids can struggle to make sense of traumatic events in their lives such as the death of a loved one, divorce or bullying. While there are services which help, parents can play a pivotal role at home.

1. Schedule in regular attentive time for each child – it’s not about the quantity, it’s all about the level of engagement.

2. Listen to your child’s experiences and responses without judgment. To prompt conversation ask open questions that show you’re curious but not judging.

3. Ask your child feelings-based questions – for example, “How do you feel about what is happening?” Is there anything they want you to know about what is going on for them?

4. Ask how you can help them through a challenge – kids aren’t always looking for you to have the answers; sometimes they just want a parent to listen / November 11, 2012

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