How to: Expressive Art with Children

We’ve all, at some point, heard “before a child speaks, it sings”. This powerful quote from Phylicia Rashād highlights the innate artistic qualities that all humans are born with. However, it may come as a surprise to some to hear that the quote continues: ‘Before they write, they draw’.


Often, when we think about the creativity of children, we think of singing and playing pretend, or the way they bop to music before they can walk. However, drawing, painting, and other forms of visual art do not only come naturally to our little ones: they are a key form of self-expression, too.

“Children have ideas, often fine ones, and they express them vividly and beautifully, so that they make us feel what they feel” - Mark Rothko

Children’s art goes deeper than drawings of stick people and houses - more often than not, a child will create these images because they have been told to. If we allow our children a little more free reign over their visual creations, they will, naturally, use the form to express their inner states and emotions. This can be a valuable tool in aiding the development of good emotional regulation.


Expressive Painting with Children

While allowing a toddler free reign over the poster paints may sound a bit daunting (and horribly messy!), there are a few ways we can use art to encourage our little ones’ own self-expression.



Start with colour.

Colour holds an immense amount of power. It can affect our mood and emotional wellbeing. It can change our levels of productivity, and even encourage us to take certain actions. We talk about feeling blue, of seeing red, of the green-eyed monster of jealousy.

Colour and emotions go hand in hand. Allowing your child to select from a range of colours can help them to understand and share their emotional state (although remember, where we may see yellow as happy, they may see it as something else. Try asking them why they’ve chosen their colours!). Furthermore, the ability to choose gives children a feeling of autonomy: for those that have so little control over their own day-to-day lives, these little choices can make all the difference.



Try to avoid specific instructions...

It can be tempting to ask our children to ‘draw mum’, ‘sketch the dog’ or ‘paint our home’. However, while these instructions may help to develop our children’s motor skills, they will do little to develop their self-expression.

Instead, try providing prompts, or inspiration. Maybe you could ask them to do a painting of how their best friend makes them feel, or how their lunch tasted. You can also use images of fine art as inspiration.



... But do give specific feedback.

We always want to tell our children how wonderful they are. However, giving praise such as ‘this is wonderful!’ or ‘you’re so talented!’ can encourage children to paint as a way of chasing praise.

Instead, try giving specific feedback, such as ‘I love the colours you’ve used, they make me feel happy’. This way, you can open up a dialogue with your child, encouraging them to evaluate their own efforts, and motivating them to keep at it!

Furthermore, you can use these opportunities to open up conversations about emotions with your child. Try asking them how the colours they chose made them feel.



Show it off!

Showing off your children’s art - whether that’s by sticking it on the fridge, sending photos to grandma or framing it - can give a huge confidence boost to your little ones. This will only encourage them to continue using the visual arts to explore and express themselves.



To Sum Up

Encouraging children to have a go at expressive art can be a fantastic way to develop their emotional regulation and ability to communicate their feelings. Remember to allow them access to a range of colours, opt for open prompts over instructions, give specific feedback and open a dialogue, and show off their efforts! It’s also a great idea to paint alongside them, as, we all know, children learn by example. So have a go yourself!

Happy painting!

Content Creator @MEplace

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