5 Fresh Ways A Parent Can Think About Their Child’s Artwork

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5 Fresh Ways A Parent Can Think About Their Child’s Artwork

Small kids naturally have such confidence when it comes to making art. Then somewhere along the way, art becomes reserved for the ‘artistic’ or ‘talented’. But actually we should be less worried about how ‘well’ their art is made, and far more interested in its restorative qualities. Because it is in the ‘making’ itself that so much value lies. So here are 5 fresh ways a parent can think about the creative process and the value it has on their child’s emotional development.


  1. Art encourages self-mastery

According to psychoanalysts, creativity is ‘born’ in the mind at a critical time in a toddler’s development when they experience separation anxiety and disappointment that they are reliant on others. This is a good thing because from that moment the child begins to draw on his own inner self, create out there in the world and begin to self-actualise. When you encourage kids to create, you are helping them build a tool to explore the world and then very importantly – locate themselves in it.


  1. Art materials are symbolic


Every material in your child’s art box is a potential symbol. Depending on the quality of the material and how it performs while it’s being used, provides a multi-dimensional symbolic experience. It matters if the materials are sticky, slimy, scratchy, chalky or smooth. Each quality holds huge potential for creating a meaningful experience for the maker. For example, making a squishy mess with finger paint shows a child that they can explore and make mistakes and that it’s ok, within the boundaries of a big piece of paper. Similarly, having an adult gently wash their hands at the end of the process, unconsciously communicates that exploring the world can feel messy and out of control, but you’ve got their back… or in this case, their hands. This kind of experience quietly encourages them to explore another day.


  1. Art helps kids understand themselves and their world


Art is a kind of play. It encourages kids to process new information and test their environments. This can happen in surprising ways with art materials. For example a child who may be grappling with control issues, may select clay or play dough (for example), which is a wonderful medium to explore what can and can’t be manipulated. Pressing and banging the clay can relieve bottled up stress and in this way, big feelings can be reduced to bite-sized proportions and manipulated in a contained way.


  1. Making art is easier than talking


Children absorb an incredible amount from their environments. But with such young minds, they aren’t necessarily able to verbalise and understand how they feel about it all. So making visual marks and 3D objects holds huge potential to say something important about what’s happening on the inside. As an Art Counsellor, I pay as much attention to what is being created as I would to how those marks are being made. As a parent, it can also be helpful to notice what feelings come up in you as your child works too. Do you feel anxious when they can’t get proportions right? They may be feeling anxious about something too and this may be their only way of telling you something else is up. 


  1. Art is not about the final picture on the wall

When they come home at the end of the day with a finished product, we praise them for how well they drew and put the picture up on the fridge. And while this is a lovely gesture, we need to be wary of a potential message that communicates that only “good art” gets put up on the fridge. Actually, the real magic has already happened in the process itself. The choice of materials, the way they were negotiated on the page and the feelings that bubbled up while creating. These are invisible forces at play and while we won’t necessarily ever understand them, as parents we need to know that when you hang that picture up on the fridge – you are not just hanging up a picture of a truck, you are validating all the feelings and forces that came into making that truck happen.


Drawing the bottom line

As parents, it’s not always so important what the image means (that’s for the professionals to understand). But on a simple level, all you need to notice is that there is so much more to a child’s picture than meets the eye. Reducing the praise to how accurate the likeness is- misses so much of its value. So the best thing you can do is notice that there is a much bigger picture at play. Then offer them lots of materials, plenty of space and ongoing time; to make, do and get messy. 

Andy Cohen

Andy Cohen

About our Mommy Blogger: Andy Cohen is a TEDx speaker, psychoanalytic candidate, published author, Art Counsellor and mom of 2. Here this thoughtful mama shares insights gained along the busy road of motherhood, where nothing is quite as it seems. Her psychoanalytic training will also hopefully help all our moms think about old problems in a new way.
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