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How drawings can show what your child is feeling

An art therapist outlines how kids' art can be used to help them and the rest of the family express emotions and bond together. Lisa Salmon reports

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Close bond: drawing can bring families closer together

Close bond: drawing can bring families closer together

Press Association Images

Close bond: drawing can bring families closer together

For most parents, children's art is just something to stick on the fridge and stow away when possible. But those splodgy works of art could actually be a window to their soul. Honestly.

Instead of trying to get young children, who often have a very limited vocabulary, to talk about how they feel, their drawings can be used to help them express their emotions. And while such a process is a form of art therapy, you definitely don't have to be a trained art therapist to use it.

Art psychotherapist Fransie Frandsen says art therapy is very different from the popular belief that it's just the interpretation of drawings - explaining that it uses art as a form of communication and expression, helping to identify, convey and process difficult emotions.

"As an art psychotherapist working with children, I find the idea of artwork becoming a 'third person' in a session particularly important," she says. "This dialogue between therapist, child and artwork helps to make the process feel safer, so it becomes possible to gently turn on the lights of those dark rooms they avoid."

Frandsen, whose children's book Do Grannies Have Green Fingers is about to be published, says as well as art therapy being a specialised area of mental health therapy, creating art through drawing, painting, colouring or sculpture is therapeutic in itself, bringing focus, satisfaction and calm that remains long afterwards.

Here, Frandsen suggests five fun art activities that will help children and families bond and express their emotions...

1. Draw a Mandala

The word 'mandala' means circle in ancient Sanskrit and is a pattern with a circle within a circle, representing the universe. Start by drawing or tracing a small circle in the centre and then continue drawing a few outward concentric circles and patterns to complete the mandala. Your mandala can be coloured in with coloured pencils or markers. Adults can help smaller children to draw the basic outline for their mandala. Because of the repetitive nature, drawing mandalas is calming and helps focus the mind.

2. Draw or paint your emotions

Ask all members of your family to draw or paint how they're feeling at that moment. When done, ask everyone to talk about what they've painted and encourage them to talk about the colours they've used, the marks or images they've painted and why they made that choice. It's important that there's no right and wrong and that adults reassure children their feelings are heard and valid, no matter what they are.

3. Draw outside

Take art materials into the garden, where parents and children can pick a flower or find a feather, leaf or insect, and then talk about what they found and why they chose it. Then, everyone should draw or paint their object. This is a great way to encourage dialogue and to learn about each other, while spending peaceful time outdoors.

4. Make clay handprints

Parents and children need a ball of clay each, which should be flattened until it's roughly the size of each person's palm. Press your hand down into the clay to create an imprint of your hand. Now compare all your prints and talk about how similar, but different and special we all are. You could also print the paws of cats and dogs. When the prints are dry, they can be painted and exhibited together. The tactile, sensory quality of clay is a relaxing material to play with and especially therapeutic where anger or control is an issue.

5. Do a group painting

Use a large sheet of paper or several pieces glued together. Arrange the family members equally around the paper and ask each member to start painting where they are and to work towards the middle until all paintings meet in the centre. There are no restrictions on what or how each member chooses to paint. When completed, ask members to describe what it was like for them to work together, what feelings they experienced and what they think of the finished artwork.

Do Grannies Have Green Fingers by Fransie Frandsen is published by Artfox.Bookwolf on June 11, priced £7.99

Belfast Telegraph