YWCA Greater Lafayette’s Outreach Coordinator and Violence Prevention Educator, Kelly Hampton, is back with a post about how art and creative expression are a healing force for survivors of domestic violence and trauma.
Healing Art & Domestic Violence
Domestic violence, by nature, is a destructive force and one that rips power and control away from survivors. YWCA Greater Lafayette is on a mission to help place power and control back in the hands of survivors and provide them with the resources and tools to successfully work through and overcome trauma. One of the tools we enjoy sharing with the survivors of trauma we serve is art and creative expression. While we hope that you are able to attend Expressions, our healing art group, we also want to empower you to create on your own window of time during which you can experience the healing powers of art in the comfort of your own home.
Studies have long shown the benefits of artistic expression, regardless of artistic ability. There is something intrinsically healing about picking up an art supply and using the movements of your body to intentionally create something new. Artistic expression has been shown to reduce the amount of cortisol, the stress hormone, in participants of healing art workshops. Creative expression can also support improved mental health in those experiencing depression and anxiety by supporting mental, emotional, and spiritual healing. Learn more about the healing power of art here.
Healing Art At Home
It can be a challenge to find time to focus on self-care when you’re living in crisis, experiencing a transition in life, or raising a family. Many people believe that you need certain supplies to create art, which can hinder creative expression. The truth is, you can make anything into an art project. The key is to keep the expectations you have for yourself at a reasonable level, let go of the fear that you will mess up, or that you aren’t good enough.
Making an intentional effort to create space and time for yourself can really lend itself to your overall mental and emotional well-being. Personally, I always need a reminder that focusing on myself is not a selfish act, but one that is essential for the well-being of my family. Taking time and space away from the obligations of life is one of the best ways to achieve balance.
Get Set Up
Here are a few tips for creating a safe place to focus on self-care and the creative process:
- Set a time to create. It can be daily, weekly, or monthly. If you have children who demand a lot of attention, invite them to create with you or wait until they’ve gone to bed. Creating with kiddos can be very rewarding but it can also be very stressful. You know your children best and what kind of an experience you can have together. If you won’t be able to relax relax while creating with your children, maybe wait until they’re sleeping or occupied. For me, I always grab a pad of paper and some markers when my son wants to watch a show together. I am not usually interested in what he wants to watch, but I am always down to doodle. Life is all about compromise, I suppose.
- Make a plan. What are you going to create? Do you feel like coloring? Drawing? Making a collage? Maybe you feel like writing in your journal or creating a poem. Decide what YOU want to do and stick to it. My family really enjoys coloring, so we keep a pile of coloring pages in the house to choose from when we feel like creating. A quick google search of “coloring pages” will pull up thousands to choose from. We also love adult and children’s coloring books, but don’t always love paying for them.
- Gather your supplies. You might benefit from collecting your scissors, glue, markers, crayons, magazines, paper, and other supplies before you get settled in. Gathering your supplies will also solidify your plan and make it an easy option to sit down and create. As you start to create more regularly, it might be beneficial to create a safe space for your supplies. I recently purchased a craft cart to hold and organize all of my supplies. But, for more than 20 years, I was just as successful with a large tote box. Do what works for you.
- Create. Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect. You do not have to finish. There is no pressure to be a creative genius. The benefits of creating art come when you are simply able to create something from nothing. I typically throw away or recycle the artwork I create, but I love displaying my son’s work. If you finish a piece of art and decide you hate it, you can pitch it and nobody will ever know.
Supporting Children’s Creative Expression
Adults aren’t the only people who can benefit from self-care or who need time to process the stresses of life. Particularly now, we are seeing an increase in anxiety and depression in our children as they work to navigate the new normal brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Children are now tasked with filling their days while parents are working or working at home. With social distancing guidelines and limited outings, children may be feeling overwhelmed and under-stimulated.
There is a reason so many children’s therapists utilize art during sessions. Children are full of creative energy and can often express themselves through their art better than through spoken language. Allowing a child to show you what they’ve experienced or what they’re feeling takes the pressure off of finding the right words and opens pathways to healing and better communication. Providing children with safe spaces to create is also important. Creative and artistic expression, much like with adults, help children with cognitive and emotional development, self expression, and emotional processing.
Connecting With Your Child
How many times have you had a child run up to you and show you their artwork? If you’re a parent, it probably happens all of the time. This behavior shows that you have created a safe space for your child, where he or she is comfortable coming to you when they need praise or validation. This safe space that you have created will lend itself to conversations with your child about their thoughts, feelings, and experiences now and in the future. As we say in YWCA Greater Lafayette’s Expressions Healing Art Group, you have opened a window of time for your child where they can express themselves and share with you. Seize that opportunity.
Children are inherently proud of their artwork and they want praise and approval. One thing I learned when my son was very little, was that I should never try to guess what he was trying to create. I hurt his feelings by guessing wrong so many times before I decided to change my approach to viewing his creations. The new approach was pressure-free and instead of guessing, I would use the phrase, “Ooooh tell me all about it! What did you make?” Not only would he be excited to show off his artwork, but he also had an opportunity to work on his language development and skills.
If your child is not speaking yet, that’s ok too! They can still create art using age appropriate and sensory materials, and enjoy celebrating with you. Before my son was able to speak, I would just tell him how much I loved whatever he had made and that I couldn’t wait to see more. That type of validation will encourage children to keep creating. It will also let them know that you are their biggest fan.
If your child uses American Sign Language (ASL), or other alternative communication device, it might be beneficial to teach your child art-related signs, possibly with the help of a speech professional. You can also add or program art-related words or phrases into their device or PECS board. You can also practice demand words at home with your kiddo like, “Look!” A fun way to do this is to create art with your kiddo and then model the signs or words you want your child to use. For example, you draw a picture, hold it up, use the ASL sign for “look,” and then prompt your child to do the same. Naturally, hugs, praise, and validation should follow. Let your child know that you want to see what they’ve created and you love it because they made it. For the ASL sign and PECS picture for “look,” click here.
For children who have experienced trauma, the way they experience the world around them might be very different than a child who hasn’t experienced trauma. It may be difficult for them to express the way they are feeling, their hopes, their dreams, or their worries. It might be too painful to talk about their trauma. Providing a child with art supplies and a safe space to create allows them to use whatever skills they have, without using their words, to express themselves.
As adults, we have the opportunity to teach our children how to establish healthy outlets for big emotions. It is also our duty to stand by and support them when they are struggling or hurting. Asking a child about their art work and listening to them as they speak can make all the difference. Reflecting back the things they say to you without talking them out of their feelings or sweeping them under a rug can be really validating and lend itself to the healing process.
Empowering Young Artists
Again, it is okay if you don’t know much or anything at all about art. For many of our facilitators, art was a new concept when they started delivering workshops to clients. You don’t need to know much, you just need to be willing to try. Remember, creative expression includes things like dancing, yoga, creative writing, and collage. You don’t have to be tied down to paint and paper.
- Collect Simple Supplies. Keep simple supplies stocked in your home including crayons, markers, paper, glue, sidewalk chalk, coloring books, or pencils.
- Create Space. Create a space where your child goes to create artwork; the kitchen table, coffee table, patio table, etc.
- Hold Time. Create opportunities for your child to sit down and focus on their artistic expression. I can always get my son to create if I set up his supplies before inviting him to the table.
- Unplug from Electronics. It might be tempting to let your child keep a video playing while they draw or color, but it is incredibly important that devices be turned off in order to get the most benefit from creative time. I find that playing music while my son creates or during Children’s Expressions can really impact the mood and get those creative juices flowing.
Explore Your Artistic Abilities
By nature, I am not one to go outside of my comfort zone to try something new or something I know that I won’t immediately excel at. This has prevented me from trying so many new things and is something that I have to consciously work on every day. I want to remind you that you do not need to be an artistic genius, have any natural artistic ability, or own the best art materials to express yourself creatively.
When the COVID-19 pandemic started and the realization that I would be stuck at home for an indefinite amount of time finally sunk in, I came up with a list of all of the arts and crafts projects I had always wanted to try; wood burning, embroidery, oil painting, coffee mug art, polymer clay, etc. I reminded myself every time I would start a new project that it was okay if I wasn’t good at it. It was even okay if I was downright awful. I found out that changing my internal dialogue about my creative abilities also changed the way I approached each project. I started practicing the fine art of walking away and coming back once I felt more creative.
My hope is that you will also find a way to change your internal dialogue and become a supporter of your creative process and abilities, however grand or mediocre they might be. Find what feels good to you.
Ideas for art projects at home
I am going to be completely honest… some of my favorite art projects are those based on elementary school art teachers’ curricula. I love finding simple projects that I know children can make (so I should be able to make them, too) and making them my own. It also helps to create a space where I can include my son if need be. If you’re a social media junkie, search for art teachers. Their pages are full of fun and creative ideas. As always, Pinterest is also a solid option for inspiration. Here are just a few ideas to get you started.
- Marker/Crayon/Pencil/Sharpie & Paper
- Sharpie on Tin Foil
- Coloring Pages
- Yoga/Dance Videos on YouTube
- Magazine & Photo Collage
- Sculpture: Recycling/PlayDoh/Modeling Clay/Wire Hangers
- Sharpie Coffee Mugs
- Watercolor & Resistance
- Polymer Clay
- Elementary Art
So, I challenge every member of our YWCA Greater Lafayette family to start creating. If you find that the artwork you’ve created is something you would like to share, I invite you to post it to Instagram or Facebook with the hashtag #YWCAGreaterLafayetteHealingArt and check out Virtual Expressions, every Friday at 6:00PM.