Art Therapy for Children

Children may benefit from an art therapy session for a variety of reasons. Some are referred to art therapy by their pediatrician because of complaints of stomach pain (that is not due to a physical issue), some are referred by their teacher, or a school staff, to learn manage ADHD or anxiety symptoms, and some are referred by a child psychologist to learn express the thoughts and emotions in a creative way.

Children can also benefit from art therapy when they are struggling with sadness, anger and aggressive behavior, adjustment disorder, fears and phobias, OCD, Eating Disorders, anxiety disorders such as separation anxiety or selective mutism, ADHD, reactions to divorce, immigration, childhood trauma, or behavioral difficulties.

Art therapy and play therapy are often combined with Mindfulness, child-based Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, and Solution-Focused Therapy to help children achieve the therapeutic goals.

To find out more about our art therapy services for children or to book an appointment, contact us.

Child mental health is one facet of their general health and is just as important as physical health. Their thoughts, actions, and emotions are how they experience the world and if they are misdirected they would become maladaptive and lost. Moreover, just as maintaining proper physical health can reduce the negative effects of diseases, maintenance of proper mental health in children can reduce negative thoughts and emotions (anxiety & depression). Balancing both physical and mental health is essential to create well-rounded healing for the growing child.

A child’s life is constantly changing from forming new friendships to creating new memories, which is why it’s essential to take care of their mental health throughout their developing years. Providing care for the child’s mental health can introduce structure to their evolving lifestyle and reduce the negative effects of any mental disorder they may experience. Maintenance of childhood mental health is so essential that without it they can develop increased cognitive & emotional stress that can worsen into other behavioural-related disorders. 

Furthermore, if the child’s mental health has been neglected for too long, they can develop depression, anxiety, and behavioural tendencies that resemble antisocial behaviours found within conduct disorder. However, these adverse outcomes can be avoided by maintaining a positive household to create positive experiences for the child’s mental health. Any slight disturbance in any environment (home, school, etc.) by any amount of conflict can introduce unnecessary and harmful amounts of stress into their life.

Moreover, these conflicts/interactions the child has with their parents are the most crucial to developing their mental health because they act as role models, and a healthy relationship between mother, father, and child can lead to instrumental consequences for their growth. Whether these interactions are positive or negative, they affect the life and mental health of the child and should be taken with care and responsibility to foster positive growth in their childhood.

There are multiple factors involved in the mental health of children that may be disruptive both at home and at school. The cumulative experiences of their behaviors, cognition, and emotions both with family and peers can shape the child’s mental health and have lasting consequences that can affect them for the rest of their life. Moreover, a large component of this is the socioeconomic status of the family, where instability in their home life can create tension that negatively impacts the mental health of the child.

This tension can determine:

  • Which school they can attend.
  • How they make friends.
  • How they get along with their loved ones.
  • How well they conduct themselves going forward.

Furthermore, the tension in these conflicts can exhibit itself in a myriad of ways like fear, anxiety, and anger. These feelings of inferiority will showcase the internal and external issues the child may be experiencing and may explain their following actions. Externally, these issues can appear through emotional outbursts or peer conflict, causing difficulties in forming/maintaining childhood friends and feelings of belonging. Internally, they can express themselves through bad conduct and hyperactivity, causing further problems without any regard for their mental health. 

As mentioned previously, to develop mental health among children you must provide them with a positive environment that is safe and nurturing in order to overcome the negative aspects of their mental health. By providing a positive environment to raise your child, you not only provide structure to their life but also a place to foster positive relationships and experiences. Moreover, through activities and family outings, you can develop a stronger bond with the child to ensure that they feel comfortable expressing themselves in an honest and healthy way.

Through honest expression of how they feel, the parents can better ascertain what issues the child might be experiencing with their mental health. What they could be feeling, thinking, or acting may indicate what type of problem they are dealing with at home or at school (whether it’s emotional, conduct-related, or peer problems). Furthermore, by understanding the needs of the child’s mental health, they can better deliver the care they require to improve the quality of life of the child.  

Trauma can affect anyone at any age and could become an obstacle to your mental health if neglected. This is why mental health professionals are seriously concerned about the increasing prevalence of mental disorders that negatively impact children. Clearly there is cause for concern as there are countless reasons that can create traumatic experiences for children growing up. Depending on the situation their distress could be the result of something in their environment, a genetic reaction, or a combination of the two. Ultimately, childhood trauma comprises of unpleasant experiences that can cause great discomfort to the child which significantly interferes with their quality of life. 

These traumatic experiences can occur anywhere for any reason, sometimes they could even be the result of an accident. However, they typically occur from a lack of control in the child’s life and an inability to communicate their problems effectively in order to receive the help they deserve. Whether it’s children fighting, abusive care givers, or a dysfunctional family, events like these can carry long-lasting effects that have undetermined consequences for the child. Furthermore, these events will most likely stick in their memory because children’s brains are exponentially growing, and they will easily remember these traumatic experiences as moments from their childhood. Occasionally, if something in their adult life reminds them of their traumatic experience, it will cause them to have negative reactions, and ignore the issue altogether which can impede any chance of achieving positive mental health.

Examples of childhood traumas are numerous and it could be among any of the following:

  • Psychological, physical, sexual abuse
  • Witnessing (or experiencing) domestic violence
  • School violence 
  • Sudden loss of a loved one
  • Natural disasters such as an earthquake or tsunami
  • Experience of war and refugee camps

The impacts of childhood trauma can have everlasting effects on mental health throughout all stages of their development. Depending on the context of the traumatic experience, they may develop coping mechanisms to adapt to the stress of the traumatic event. These psychosocial behavioral tendencies can prevent the child from engaging in their favorite activities, socializing with peers, or even behaving themselves at events. This stress can cause them to avoid crucial aspects of childhood because they cannot properly process the traumatic event which can prevent them from growing up and emotionally maturing. 

Moreover, the effects of childhood trauma can prevent them from developing socially and being unable to adapt to their environments. Depending on how old the child is, the trauma may lead to several cascading crises that negatively affect their mental health. They may develop distrust, shame, guilt, and an inferiority complex to name a few. Being unable to process their traumatic experience, they become incapable of properly understanding their own emotions. Childhood trauma can influence how the child understands themself and their place in society. This skewed perspective on reality and morals is due to psychological delays to the development of their ego and superego. Overall, the impact of trauma on mental health can be seen in multiple aspects of the child’s life as they misbehave and become anti-social as they struggle to develop themselves.

Childhood trauma can further interfere with their mental health by delaying development and introducing negative coping mechanisms that impact the growth of the child and their brain. Without early intervention the traumatic childhood experience can have immense long-term effects throughout the lifespan of the child. They will most likely feel anxious, distrusting, and unmotivated throughout their adolescence and avoid important stages of their life such as their relationships, big social events such as graduation, and more. Avoiding these experiences will introduce further negative emotions and reactions into their life which will make them feel more insecure and less attached to their loved ones. 

Consequently, avoidance of these important emotions, thoughts, and events will definitely halt their brain’s development. Lack of these experiences can introduce complex challenges into their life like being unable to communicate, unable to feel attached, and unable to process their emotional thoughts. These developmental issues can present themselves in various regions of the brain, like communication disorders within the temporal lobe or attachment disorders (which can influence their personality and relationships) within the frontal lobe. Additionally, there is also the possibility of developing PTSD regarding the traumatic experience which can introduce further stress to their life. These are but a few examples of how childhood trauma can have long lasting effects throughout their life by negatively impacting their mental health and slowing potential growth. 

Ultimately, traumatic childhood experiences can create difficulties with concentration, attention, and learning, which may consequently impact their academic performance. This is especially important in a school environment as stress, anxiety, and anti-social behaviour can impair the child’s education and make it so they become unable to express their emotions or thoughts effectively. Everything that has been mentioned can be discouraging to the child as they feel further detached from their family and friends and feel unmotivated to progress in life.

However, through direct and early intervention methods addressing the traumatic experience there is a chance to overcome this obstacle to the child’s mental health. Through structured therapy and compassion-based arts, it is possible to reduce the stress of the traumatic childhood experience, and foster a positive outlook to the child’s motivation. For example, music therapy has shown that it is possible to regain emotional balance and motivation through non-verbal rhythmic communication of music. Unscripted musical recording sessions with music (or art) therapists can create a sense of attachment with the child, which allows them to feel emotionally engaged as they make music together to have fun. Through engaging with their emotions and communicating by various means, the children will be able to self-reflect on their thoughts and emotions to overcome their issues regardless of their limited vocabulary. Thus, the child can begin to return to normalcy and engage with their family, friends, and education with an improved outlook on their mental health.

If you or a loved one is concerned about your child’s mental health and are worried about a trauma they might’ve experienced, you can consult with a psychotherapist at our Toronto office to see if art therapy or psychotherapy can help you. For further information, please contact us at or at 416-548-7975. 

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Delaney, L., & Smith, J. P. (2012). Childhood health: trends and consequences over the life-course. The Future of Children/Center for the Future of Children, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, 22(1), 43.

Hass-Cohen, N., Bokoch, R., & Fowler, G. (2022). The compassionate arts psychotherapy program: Benefits of a compassionate arts media continuum. Art Therapy, 0(0), 1–10. DOI: 10.1080/07421656.2022.2100690

Klyve, G., P., Rolvsjord, R. (2022). Moments of fun: Narratives of children’s experiences of music therapy in mental health care. Nordic Journal of Music Therapy, 1(1), 1–21. DOI: 10.1080/08098131.2022.2055114

Credits to J A Salucci