by Kerith Glass~In the past several years, mental health professionals have noted that children who are coping with the separation and divorce of their parents have experienced the following emotions: sadness, anger and anxiety (Harris Family Law, 2014; HelpGuide.org, 2014).
They may also be experiencing sleep problems, difficulty with school work, and a loss of concentration on a variety of activities. In contrast to adults coping with this change in the family, children do not have the emotional maturity and verbal skills to express how they feel to others.
Non-verbal therapy options and activities, such as art therapy, music therapy, and play therapy can provide children with the opportunity to express themselves more easily. It is important for children to know that they can be validated for and that it is okay to be honest about how they are feeling, and that they can learn ways to express and cope with their current situation.
Art therapy is the use of art to help children express their current feelings and concerns (Wallingford, 2014). In art therapy, children are first asked to draw, paint or create a sculpture that tells a story. Then they are encouraged with the therapist’s help to talk about the different parts of what they created. Children are not expected to create a certain type of style of artwork, and the art created will not be given a grade. The child is encouraged to create something based on how they draw developmentally. For example, preschool children may scribble and afterwards tell others the story behind the picture.
Art therapists working with children coping with changes in their family have asked children to create artwork based on the following ideas: draw your family or part of your family, draw your new family or new home(s), draw how your mom and dad act with each other and with you, and draw you leaving one parent house to go to another (Wallingford, 2014).
There are many art projects that children can be encouraged to create. Four project ideas have been used frequently with children from separated and divorced families:
One is a journal that goes back and forth between homes. In this journal, children can draw or write different activities and feelings to keep in the book, and they can decide whether or not they want to share their book with others.
The second project is a clay object. Children are encouraged to use clay that dries quickly to create a small object that can fit in their pocket and can travel back and forth between homes. For children this becomes an object of security and comfort and can help them adjust from one household to another.
The third project idea is a feelings box. Using a shoebox, stickers, pictures and drawings, the child decorate the outside of the box and can whisper into the box their current feelings. They can also add pictures to keep in the box that tell stories about what is happening in day to day life.
The fourth idea is an angry painting. Instead of yelling, or lashing out at others, children are encouraged to use thick paint and to press hard on paintbrushes to create a painting that helps them to release their feelings.
Children may work on these projects individually with a therapist or as part of group that meets with other children or families. By having the opportunity to participate in a child or family group, children realize that others are going through the same thing, and may have the same emotions. They may not feel as alone and have the opportunity to feel that they are part of a supportive community (Living Arts Counseling Center, 2014).
A therapy group for children of divorced parents. Retrieved from www.livingartscenter.org
Children & divorce: Helping kids cope with separation and divorce. Retrieved form www.helpguide.org
The multiple benefits of art therapy for children and families facing divorce. Retrieved from www.harrisfamilylaw.com
Wallingford, S. (2014). Kids’divorce art gallery: Expressive imagery of children’s experience of divorce. Retrieved from coloradodivorcemediation.com