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Seven Ways to Use Art Therapy with Your Child

Submitted By: Charlotte Reznick PhD


Since the first cave paintings, we humans have found creative ways to express ourselves with art. We naturally draw, paint, and doodle to capture thoughts and feelings. Art has also been used throughout history for healing. Studies show that it creates brain wave patterns that enhance the autonomic nervous system, hormonal balance, and brain neurotransmitters. While doing artistic expressive art, the body's physiology shifts from stressed to serene.


It's often easier for a child to talk about pictures than about himself or his feelings (grief, anger, shame, etc.). Drawing will allow your child to express difficult feelings or to disclose what he might not share verbally. Your child's artistic expression will give you a clearer sense of his inner struggle, an insight that will help you guide him.


Drawing also increases your child's awareness of his inner world and creates a window onto that landscape. In addition, a child's artwork can be a launching point for conversations that reveal her thinking about the world around her.


You don't have to be a trained therapist to do art therapy with your child. Just stock up on a variety of supplies-giant rolls of paper, colored paper, crayons, and a variety of markers, including scented, metallic, fat, thin, even markers that change color as they write over another color. Then try the following art therapy techniques to explore new ways to communicate with your child.


Draw a self-portrait. On a large sheet of paper, trace your young child's body. Have her fill it in. Older children can design and complete their own. Drawing increases your child's awareness of her inner world, and it's easier to talk about a drawing than to express troubling feelings.


Picture the future. Artwork is also an effective starting point when you're working with clear end-goals, like getting a good night's sleep or reducing a fear. Have your child draw two drawings-how things are now and how he'd like them to be. Kids often hang these pictures in their bedrooms to remind them of their desired direction.


Show and tell. After an imaginary journey, such as a walk through a special place she imagines with her eyes shut and tells you about, have your child draw her experience. The picture gives you both something to look at and discuss. If the drawing illustrates a problem-say, a dangerous goblin or a fire at home-ask her what might solve the situation. She can even draw the solution right onto her picture.


Accept every drawing. Some kids have a tough time committing their mental pictures to paper; they fear they won't measure up. Reassure your child that anything he creates is fine. Sometimes all that comes are strokes of bold color evolving out of a wonderful or terrible feeling that is finally set free on paper. Praise each one. They are the artifacts of your child's inner world.

Talk to the image. Once your child has spilled his feelings on paper, he can converse with them. He might use his picture of Fear to ask what it needs to calm down, or to tell it to leave. It's much easier to speak to feelings when they're outside than when they're gnawing away at his tummy.


Take artistic action. It's a great release when a child can draw her angry, hurt, or upset feelings, but pictures don't have to be static. She can erase part of it, or draw over it in "healing" colors with a changeable marker-an immediate transformation that feels magical. She can even rip up or throw away the paper. These actions can offer a hurting child a sense of control and satisfaction.

Capture the memory. The special places your child visits on her imaginary journeys are personal healing sanctuaries. Hanging pictures of them somewhere private but visible will remind her that she can return whenever the need arises. Drawings of trusted animal friends and wizards can help her remember support is always near.


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Charlotte Reznick is a child educational psychologist, an associate clinical professor of psychology at UCLA, and author of a new book, The Power of Your Child's Imagination: How to Transform Stress and Anxiety into Joy and Success (Perigee, 2009, $14.95).


Scotts Valley Library Introduces Special Needs Resource Center

Thanks to a grant from the State Council on Developmental Disabilities, the Scotts Valley Library will house a collection of books and materials for the special needs community.  Available starting June 2, the collection includes reference books, legal manuals, videos and DVDs either purchased as part of the grant or donated. Conditions addressed in the Special Needs Resource Center collection include Autism, ADD, ADHD, Tourette's Syndrome, Asperger's Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Visual Impairment, Pervasive Developmental Delays, Dyspraxia, Bipoloar disorder, sensory processing disorders, Down Syndrome, Anxiety, Depression and OCD.


Parents, educators and individuals with special needs throughout the Santa Cruz Public Library System will be able to access these resources, which will be housed at the Scotts Valley Library. Internationally known therapist, author and lecturer Michelle Garcia Winner donated copies of all the publications produced by her company, Social Thinking Publishing. Available resources include addressing legal rights for those with disabilities, obtaining appropriate educational placement, dealing with siblings of a special needs child and much more.


The Special Needs Resource Collection is being made available through a $15,000 grant written by Elizabeth Walch, president of the Friends of the Library - Scotts Valley Chapter.

"We are so pleased that the library's commitment to providing resources and education to the community now includes the special needs community," said Elizabeth.  "We hope to obtain a similar grant next year so that we can continue to build on the Special Needs Resource Collection and do even more community outreach in support of our school system."


For more information on the Special Needs Resource Center, please go the Scotts Valley Library web site at

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