This year’s theme for Children’s Mental Health week (1st-7th Feb) is ‘Express Yourself’.
Place2Be launched Children’s Mental Health Week in 2015 to shine a spotlight on the importance of children and young people’s mental health. To help us think further about 2021’s theme, ‘Express Yourself’, we spoke to one our children’s counsellors to find out more about how children can learn to express their thoughts and feelings, particularly through art.
Lots of us will have heard the term ‘Art Therapy’, but what actually is it? And how can it help?
Art therapy works at an unconscious level, tapping into feelings and emotions that are otherwise difficult to put into words. An emotion that is felt in the body can evoke a colour or a shape which can be given form on the page. Using these colours and shapes, an image is formed, and, together with the art therapist, this can be examined, (interrogated if you like), and in the process, the thoughts and feelings can then be put into words. Anyone who has overwhelming feelings that they are finding difficult to understand or get under control may find that art therapy provides a way in to exploring those feelings and ultimately making sense of them.
Can you give us an example of an activity that can help children express their feelings?
The first thing that comes to mind is using colours to help a child to express their mood. The great advantage of using colours for this is that there doesn’t actually have to be an explanation of what the colour means- each colour can have a unique meaning for each person ! A child could say I feel yellow today, which could mean they feel sunny, safe, jealous or something else! Only they can say what it means for them.
The colour could be just the start of a conversation. “Oh, I see you have used yellow ….(substitute for the appropriate colour”). I wonder what yellow might mean? …..What things do you know that are yellow? …..Do you like yellow? …..What comes to mind when you think about yellow?….”
Any of these discussion starter sentences can be used to draw out more information or simply to enter into a curious mindset to engage with your child e.g. ‘I wonder what colour/shape you might use next? Simply choosing and using colours with a child can be a shared activity that brings you closer together. It is possible to work together on a level playing-field in which there doesn’t have to be an expert. And then you have something which you have created together at the end of it too!
In what other ways can creative activities be beneficial for a child’s mental health?
When a child has an overactive mind or suffers from anxiety, which might intrude on enjoyment or stops the child from being playful, the use of a simple colouring sheet can help to focus the mind, and become an absorbing activity, taking away other feelings of responsibility. This can in turn help intrusive thoughts to recede and reduce decision making to that of what colour or shape to be used next. It can be very freeing, calming and relaxing, suspending anxiety for a few precious minutes.
You can find more Children’s Mental Health resources here: