A traumatic event is very difficult to process emotionally and mentally – but even more so for children. When young people experience something difficult, they really struggle to deal with the conflicting emotions that result. Whether it is a natural disaster, the death of a family member, an act of terrorism, a house fire or another scary and disturbing event, the young child is left feeling confused, anxious, sad, angry and so much more.
One of the first and most important things that counsellors and mental health professionals do when working with traumatized children is to give them art supplies and let them express themselves. Making art has so many benefits for traumatised children and gives them an outlet to express their feelings about what has happened to them. Let’s take a look at some of the ways that arts and crafts can help children to deal with trauma.
Art Allows Children to Express Grief
In the wake of a great loss or a traumatic event, children might be hearing messages that they need to “be strong.” However, this message might be making them think that they should stifle their tears and not show their emotions. They may be worried that talking about their feelings will only add additional stress on everyone else, so they bottle up their emotions inside. Also, they may be confused about their complex emotions of grief and not sure how to express them.
Arts and Crafts are ideal for helping children to express their grief. They can share their feelings in a way that doesn’t require words and allows them to express freely what is in their heart.
Art Gives Children a Sense of Control
When something big and scary happens or a loved one is loss, a child can feel helpless and like they have no control over anything that happens to them. This is a very disconcerting thought and it can lead to anxiety and depression.
However, when a child is working on an arts and crafts project they have control. They can make decisions and create something with their own hands, which gives them back a small sense of power and makes them feel calmer and more in control.
Art Gives Children a Feeling of Calm
Many studies have shown that creating art helps to reduce stress and releasing calming chemicals in the brain. When a child is working on a papercraft art project their heart rate slows down, their breathing becomes more regular and their “fight or flight” response is turned off. They relax in a profound mental and physical way, which is very important after they have been through a stressful event.
Art Gives Children a Way to Imagine What Can’t be Explained
When something very traumatic and serious happens to a young child, they begin to think for the first time about some of the biggest and heaviest questions in life. Where do we go when we die? Why is there suffering in the world? Why do the people we love have to die and leave us? These questions are difficult for adults to wrestle with, so imagine how tough it must be for a child to face them.
Creating art gives children a means of processing these difficult abstract subjects that are very difficult to talk about. Maybe the child finds it difficult to talk about the afterlife, but they are able to draw a picture that expresses what they think it might be like. Being able to express these abstract ideas can really help a child to conceptualise these heavy concepts.
These are just a few of the ways that arts and crafts projects can help children to process their emotions and work through traumatic experiences. The best type of project to do with a child who has experienced trauma is to give them some arts and craft supplies and simply let them express themselves in any way they like. You can guide them or help them if they are just learning to use the materials, but don’t tell them what to create. Give them the freedom of the blank page so that they are free to share what is going on inside their own head.