One of the topics I love most is how we, as parents and teachers address big emotions, big worries, and big behaviors in the little people we care for. As adults we often don’t realize how much experience we have with emotions; labeling them, reconciling them, ignoring them and how we have used these experiences to guide how we behave no matter what our feelings are. Children in our homes and classrooms don’t have nearly the skill we do, the vocabulary required to express emotions, or the self-regulation to always handle big emotions, big worries, or big behaviors appropriately. We need to expect that they need help as they develop appropriate responses and one way to help them is with art. You have probably heard of art therapy, and you may know that sensory play like play dough, slime, swinging, jumping on a trampoline, etc… are great options for children as they process emotions but let me give you a few concrete resources that can help you without having to buy big gross motor equipment or turn your bathroom into a slime factory. One great way to do this is with simple art projects and a perfect resource for that is the book The Artful Parent by Jean Van’t Hul
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I am not an art therapist, but I do know from first-hand experience as a preschool teacher and a mom to a child who struggles with both anxiety and ADD that art is one tool in my helping kids with big emotions toolbox. The trick with young children is that you need to tailor this to your child or student’s specific likes. As much as you find fly swatter painting to be a stress relief ( I LOVE hearing the swatter bop the paper) if a child is sensitive to sound in a heightened emotional state, this is not going to help at all. Just like a child who is adverse to mess on their hands will not be soothed by finger painting. There are very few universal “fixes” so make sure you know the child before you dive into using art to help calm them.
That said one of the best resources I know of for parents, but it works wonderfully for teachers too is my dear friend Jean Van’t Hul’s book The Artful Parent: Simple Ways To Fill Your Family’s Life with Art and Creativity. I have had the first edition of this book for years; this newly released revised edition includes a bunch of new art materials, books, and resources. It also features new and essential chapters with activities for children toddler-age through elementary school. This book delivers exactly what it says it does, simple art to foster creativity, which is why I love it. So often teachers and parents mix up crafts and art. I love crafts and think they have a place in every home and classroom, but art is a different thing and should never be replaced by crafts. Children need access to art at home and school, and this book helps explain why and makes any family capable of focusing on creativity.
Art Activities To Ease Anxiety and Big Emotions
Two of the simple projects in the book are among my favorite for kids who are stressed after school ( I like to call this kindergarten rage), kids who have a tough time navigating the ins and outs of friendships, and others like my daughter who stress out on Sunday night with a week looming in front of her.
The first blow painting is excellent for the angry wound up kid that won’t share, but you know she is just totally stressed out. I often find myself saying “Just calm down and breathe, tell me what’s worrying you.”, but just telling them is like screaming at a fire, it’s not going to do anything actually to help. Giving a child a straw, some paint and watercolor paper, however, does help.
It takes the child away from their worries and focuses their breath on something concrete, spreading that paint with the power of their breath!
As long as the child is calm enough to sit and participate, you will see how well this activity works to help center the child. Deep, forceful breaths feel great to let loose on the paper; it’s almost cathartic!
Make as many as the child needs to feel some of their rage or worry dissipate and hopefully come to a place where they can talk about it. I like to ask about the finished project; usually, it gives me a little insight into what is worrying my daughter, and then I can help.
Another great project from the book that is a useful tool in my experience is tape-resist painting.
What I love about this is that when a child is having trouble identifying or labeling their emotions, they can feel like they are angry or frustrated but don’t know why. Sometimes disappointment or anger earlier in the day is matched with exhaustion or hunger or other emotions, and we end up with a kiddo who can’t piece together the big emotional puzzle but knows they feel chaotic. Sometimes what the child needs is simply something new to focus on. They need to let the chaos settle to the bottom, and that won’t happen until they are focused on something else.
Tape resist painting is excellent for that. First, they must focus on adding the tape to make shapes on the paper.
Next, they focus on painting each shape.
Then carefully take the tape off the paper.
It’s not a complicated project, they have total control ( also, so important when they likely didn’t have power during the situation that caused the upset), and it’s very satisfying as that tape is peeled off the paper.
There are so many other great projects in the book, along with how to foster creativity and discuss your child’s or students’ art. It is a rich resource that helps me be better at providing art as a tool for self-expression as well as self-control in my home and class.
Get your copy of the new revised edition of The Artful Parent: Simple Ways To Fill Your Family’s Life with Art and Creativity here and see for yourself why it’s a must-have!