Helping Children & Teens Express
Who They Are
Children and teens express themselves through their actions all the time, but not always in words. In fact, did you know that we rely on our unconscious minds much more than our conscious minds? Children and teens have a lot on their minds that they aren’t aware of that they act on all the time.
All kids don’t express who they are very well or frequently talk about themselves, but they have so much to tell us or become aware of privately for themselves. Parents can encourage their kids to draw, paint, write poems and stories for their own private use or for a chosen audience (like their parents). It’s a great way for your child to get to know herself better and for you to look, listen, and learn.
Kids express themselves by drawing and painting, but you don’t have to be able to draw to be an artist. Anyone can pick up a pencil, pen or marker and put a design on a page. The colors used, the tension in your grip, the way space is used all tell about the artist. The child doesn’t have to explain what he did, but he expressed himself nonetheless and may feel relieved and relaxed, discover emotions he didn’t know he had, and feel accomplished or confident.
Unhappy feelings may be expressed without having to talk about them. It’s a great release for the young person while drawing or painting to express confused or distressed feelings and gives much to ponder on later.
If you see a very aggressive picture in bold red or black, you may ask your child to tell you about it. If a dangerous story is depicted, try to have your child tell you the story. If you’re concerned after seeing a picture that’s disturbing you, consider a consultation with a mental health professional.
Parents can invite their child to show their drawings but don’t press the child to reveal them. If the child wants you to see, never judge or criticize or even make a suggestion. This is his production only. Just listen to what the child has to say about his picture and ask if he wants to hang it up or put it in a folder. You might want to ask if your child wants to give it a title.
Children can express themselves in interesting word combinations. Poetry can be complicated but it needn’t be at all. It doesn’t have to rhyme or follow any rules. Kids like to write phrases, kind of in a list. The phrases may seem very disconnected to you, but not to your child’s unconscious. Your child is expressing her inner thoughts and feelings and has a sense of pride.
If she wants to share what she thinks it’s all about, all well and good. But she can keep it to herself, collecting her poems in a special box or drawer for her eyes only. One odd moment, she may pull out her collection and read one to you, so you get to know her better. Always accept whatever is said. Any judgment is strictly taboo.
Children can express themselves through stories. In fact, they are natural storytellers. They create fascinating characters revealing how they think people get along or keep to themselves. They build on the stories when they write many, like chapters in a book. They may illustrate them. Again, listen and learn. Be attentive and curious, but not judgmental. If the child enjoys reading them to you, tell him you’d be delighted to hear more if he wants. Some kids are private; some very open. Follow their lead.
A Few Reminders:
- This is not homework. It’s not something that must be done.
- This is not to improve writing skills or turn your child into a precocious artist.
- This is for the child and if you’re lucky, it’s for you, too.
- Observe, listen, discover, be wary of the unexpected that’s hiding deep inside, but never judge or criticize, just praise the adventure of it all.
- **If anything is revealed that suggests deep anxiety or depression, with your child’s knowledge, seek professional guidance. You may be seeing a vivid imagination or a cry for help. This is the only time you do use your good judgment and loving care and intervene.