How to Help Children Express Feelings
Save the Children’s caring staff often work with girls and boys who have been through the most devastating experiences imaginable. Many of lost parents and family members to war, disease and natural disasters. Others have suffered the worst forms of abuse and exploitation. That’s why our experts have drawn on the power of creativity to help children express their feelings.
Five Ways Creativity Helps Children Overcome Tragic Experiences
Meet Raveena: Overcoming Sadness Through Creative Expression
Raveena sat, alone and quiet, in the corner of her pre-school class looking forlorn. She loved music but the voices of her classmates rising in the air as they reveled in the new songs they were learning did not move her. Instead, she folded herself onto the floor and drew another crayon picture. When she finished, she stacked it on top of all the others she had piled throughout the school day. These days, it was all she could muster to do at Save the Children's Shree Bhagwati Early Childhood Development (ECD) Center near her home in Baglung, Nepal.
Neither the teacher nor her mother quite understood the depth of Raveena's dejected state. Her father, a blacksmith, had died one day on his way to work months ago, leaving her mother to fend for the family. For a few weeks after his death, she stopped going to the center and instead stayed home shedding tears with her mother. Then, her mother decided it was time for her to go back.
But back in school, Raveena was no longer the happy child she had been, always eager to learn and participate in class and friendly with all the children. Instead, she hid behind her drawings.
“I asked her: Why don’t you play with other children? Why don’t you dance and sing? Why are you so quiet?" explained Saraswati Ghimire, the Early Childhood Development facilitator at the school."
The answers, she came to understand, were in the drawings. The drawings spoke of despair so deep it surprised both Raveena’s teacher and mother.
Raveena drew pictures of moments her mother thought she had not understood and, therefore, could not have been affected by. The images, Raveena explained, were of her father’s body being cremated in a ball of fire by the river with her mother standing nearby weeping. Others showed her father being transported to the hospital in a jeep and of his body being carried by relatives to the fire.
Raveena drew these same images over again as she tried to grasp their meaning. She was, after all, the youngest in the family, the one her father had doted on. His death meant a loss of this special bond – a loss of her special place as daddy’s little girl.
"Without Raveena’s drawings, I would never have been able to understand her," explains Saraswati who trained in Save the Children’s Healing and Education through the Arts (HEART) program, introduced to the school two years earlier. "It helped me understand her better and how to help her. From then on, I just let her draw. I did not force her to participate in other activities of the center. She would even ask for crayons and papers to take back home."
Drawing in the HEART program is not just an art project. It is a means by which children can express their fears and dreams while also learning the early steps of writing. Saraswati points out: "Instead of asking them what they are feeling and expecting an answer from them, drawing helps them express easily.”
Saraswati added, "Children also learn to hold the crayons, make various shapes and lines which lay a foundation for them to write their first alphabets. And children love colors. The Early Childhood Development center helps children prepare for school and HEART is supporting this process.”
For Raveena whose passion for drawing spills onto any piece of paper she finds and even onto her front yard where she often sketches with coal, HEART was the perfect means to express her voice in a safe place. "I kept encouraging her to draw and tell the stories of what she drew until one day she stopped drawing about her father’s death,"Saraswati said. "When you give her crayons and papers, she forgets there is anything else.”
Raveena’s old self reemerged with time. She began singing and dancing with her friends and followed class lessons well. Her teachers did notice one change. Before her father’s death, she drew animals, birds, and flowers. Now she was sketching people. "She has started drawing happy faces of her siblings and friends," remarked Saraswati.
Today, Raveena still remembers her father but cries less. She recently graduated from preschool and has started first grade. Her mother Patali attributes this to experience which grounded Raveena in a desire to learn in a safe environment.