For children dealing with a world of uncertainty, art can be a useful and comforting way to induce mindfulness and joy.
Three nights ago, my nine-year-old daughter suddenly burst into tears during her bedtime routine. These were not the typical tears in defiance of bedtime, but instead, ones preceded by odd behavior. Recently, she became overly apologetic for her actions with such severity I became worried. I gently reminded her that she did not need to apologize for so many things and that apologies like that are for when she was truly sorry. Something was off in my child’s headspace and I wanted to know what it was.
Later, she confirmed my suspicions. A new teacher at her school was intimidating and discouraging. Feeling powerless in her outer world impacted her inner world.
Children lack the emotional vocabulary and perspective to understand the concepts of life. They are not “thinkers” so much as they are “reactionaries.” As a parent, I have to provide my child with a set of tools to help her keep her peace of mind and mental agility.
Worry and anxiety have no age restrictions. Knowing this, I parent with a conscious approach to my daughters’ mental health. As an artist and holistic healer, I employ creative tools to empower her mind.
My greatest tool is showing my child that accepting all of her emotions is important. Our emotions show us something may be “off” in our world. She may not yet understand the significance behind her feelings, but she should understand her feelings are significant. Expressing her feelings in healthy ways lays the foundation for her to have healthy emotional release tools as an adult.
I also believe my daughter should witness my “off moments” and my response to them. I may tell her about a challenge I faced and what I did to feel better. I then ask her what she would do in this situation. This gives her a stage for her own solutions.
Additionally, I set her up with creative tools to process her experiences, release pent up energy and empower herself. Each morning, we set intentions for our day. Our brains are bombarded with sensory information, so to combat this, we can choose what our minds focus on and filter out. Setting daily intentions helps her mind focus.
To end her day, we go through a small meditation exercise to quiet her mind and release the noise of the day. It is no surprise mediation has a profound impact on the brain, and doing so with children is important for their overall long-term mental health.
I have her close her eyes, take a few deep breaths, and in her mind, visualize herself carrying a basket. I ask her to take out items from her day that she doesn’t need to carry anymore. Whatever comes to mind is what she releases. I encourage her to do so without any judgement and to notice if she feels better, lighter and more peaceful. She usually does.
Making art is also a profound part of our home. It is not only a joy-filled experience, but it is a tool to release the muddled thoughts and emotions that cause anxiety. When something bothers my daughter and she can’t find the words to express it, l suggest that we start painting. She always feels better. Availing the home with art tools at a child’s disposal gives them the ability to reach for creative self expression instead of emotional suppression, which is essential for mental self care.
In Psychology Today, Cathy Malchiodi, Ph.D., says, “By its simplest definition, art expression is a form of non-verbal communication. For children who may not be able to articulate thoughts, sensations, emotions or perceptions, it is one way to convey what may be difficult to express with words.”
As an adult, life can sometimes feel overwhelming and loud. Being a child, the world is not only overwhelming and loud, but often enormous and confusing. As adults, we can not oversimplify the emotions of children and dismiss their outbursts. Children are often searching for answers to their complex mental experience through our examples, guidance and teaching. By giving them tools to empower their mental health at a young age, we are providing them with life-long solutions that will create mentally resilient adults.
The key to answering life’s greatest questions resides within yourself, but you must first learn how to access this internal well. This meditation, designed for the cancer community from art teacher and healer Liz Tuckwell, will help you connect to your internal landscape.