This year’s Children’s Mental Health Week has as its theme 'Express Yourself' - what a wonderful topic to focus on!
During the course of the week, we will be exploring why it is important for us to encourage our young people to express themselves and how best to do this.
Scroll to the bottom of our page for ideas and resources for self-expression through creative activities.
Why it is important to express yourself?
Being able to fully express ourselves increases our mental wellbeing and helps us to connect with our real self and become more balanced and happier within.
When we truly express ourselves, we can explore what feelings and emotions lie within us, rather than our exterior self that we might be showing to the world.
This also applies to children and young people who need to be given the chance to express themselves from an early age.
When we encourage children to be expressive, we help them to build self-confidence as they begin to understand themselves, their feelings and emotions. This will in turn, lead to greater sense of wellbeing.
Who is it important for?
Self-expression is something adults, young people and children alike can benefit from because it offers us all an outlet for our inner emotions.
Children need to find ways to process or to make sense of their experiences. Sometimes, they find the words to help them with this but other times, simply taking about problems isn't enough.
That is where the power of creativity comes in: being creative allows children to 'work things out' as well as giving them the opportunity to express their thoughts, feelings and emotions.
When we offer a safe space they feel comfortable in, children in our care begin to open up, to work things out and tell their story.
Children can do this at home too where it can be a positive experience to express ourselves together and build connection and closeness within a family group. Having a project as a family that you can do together, or something siblings could create between them, allows children to form positive memories and have fun!
There are some great Sibling Activities to help strengthen sibling relationships from Playtivities, encouraging children to play together with the aim of building a more positive relationship with each other based on happier, more positive interactions.
Children are used to being creative at school and can often communicate their unsaid feelings through a more creative outlet. Teachers are often the first to notice something 'isn't quite right' by reading a poem, a story or seeing a picture.
The child is finding their own outlet to share what is happening for them in their world.
Why is it sometimes difficult to express ourselves?
In society we are shackled by expectations of how we should be - we are encouraged to look, speak and act in certain ways. Unfortunately, these expectations and the pressure they put upon us to be different, can make it more difficult for us to be who we truly are.
Self-expression allows us to tap into the authentic part of ourselves, and to move past these expectations to a place where we can express our own being.
In therapy we aim to create a safe place for our clients to tap into this part of themselves. In order to achieve this, we work hard at being accepting of all our clients' thoughts and feelings, helping them to feel safe enough to express whatever they need to.
This is where creativity becomes an important tool for healing - it allows us to give the child permission to be who they want to be in that moment and to look ahead to a more hopeful future.
What are the different ways we can use to express ourselves?
There are many ways we can express ourselves. For some it could be through the spoken word - through story-telling or poetry while others may prefer drawing, writing, painting, playing, singing or dancing to name but a few!
The important thing is that we find a way of expression that makes us happy, that makes our heart sing!
Whilst working with children and young people in therapy sessions, we try to help them find their preferred way of expression. This is achieved by being flexible and fluid in our approach, going with what works best for each individual child.
For example, one young person might like to draw what is going on in their life through a series of cartoons, or alternatively, they might find expressing their thoughts through lyrics in a song works best for them.
So, we aim to meet the child in their world, in the place where they are most comfortable - so they can feel safe enough to express themselves fully and be accepted for who they are.
How do we encourage a child to express themselves?
When we start working with a child or a young person, we work hard at building a relationship with them where they can feel safe enough to express themselves fully.
When we don’t feel safe we will often protect our true self, and as a result, we feel too vulnerable to show our real selves or to express our inner feelings.
This in turn can be detrimental to our happiness and mental wellbeing as we are putting so much effort into holding our feelings inside. So, in giving our clients a sense of being understood and accepted for who they are, we are building up trust between us.
This, in turn, will help the child or young person to express their true emotions as they begin to feel safe with us and trust that we will be accepting of their inner expression.
How do we help our clients to express themselves online?
Throughout lockdown, we have been faced with the challenge of how to continue our therapy sessions both practically and creatively.
In many cases, we have moved to work via the on-line communications platform zoom. It has certainly made us tap into our own creativity, finding new ways of working to blend therapeutic approaches remotely!
For those children who prefer to express themselves through art, we have enjoyed using the whiteboard feature on zoom to create a picture together. For those who communicate better through play, we have found ways to ensure that this could continue, enabling the child to play in their home with their own toys whilst talking with their therapist on-screen.
Using an on-line sand scene is another example of a creative and expressive way to work which some children have enjoyed: the child chooses images which they place on the virtual sand to represent their hopes and worries during lockdown which in turn enables a discussion around feelings and fears.
We have learnt that children are so much more relaxed and able to adapt in an on-line world than the adults around them and many have jumped at the chance to explore new ways of creativity.
Self-Expression and Creativity
“I’m not creative” is something children might say and this may be what stops them from trying to express themselves in a creative way.
However, this often comes from negative messages about their creative efforts in the past, or from comparing themselves unfavourably to others.
Creativity isn’t about being the best - it is about expressing individuality and that comes from what each individual feels happiest doing.
If we all learn to tap into that inner creativity, rather than squashing it, we are introducing meaning to our world.
With this in mind we help the child in our care to find their own comfortable way to express themselves through singing, acting, doodling, taking pictures, gardening or playing.
We help them to make space for their inner world to have expression. We find our own way to communicate with them when words are difficult and increase their sense of wellbeing.
Sometimes just the act of expressing confusing feelings through art can help us feel better and be more hopeful for the future and of course, art can be used
to help a child explore their feelings of anxiety and worry whilst also
allowing them to tap into their creative, expressive side.
So too can music, writing, dancing, poetry, drama, gardening - when we use our senses to create something that makes us feel good - we are being creative.
Have a go at some of our activities with your child - try something new and use it to find a different way to communicate and have some fun!
Click here to download our Art for Heart booklet with a mix of mindful and creative activities to explore and express feelings of 'being in the moment'.
Drawing emojis is a great way to 'check-in' with your child throughout the week to see how they are feeling.
Take a look at this little video on YouTube about how to draw different emojis. You can ask your child to scroll to a different part of the video to choose a different 'feeling' to draw. Keep track of your child's 'feelings' and talk about them when the time seems right.
You can use our Mindfulness Cards with your child to help talk about feelings, focus on breathing and to 'switch off' from anxious thoughts.
Choose a quiet time of the day, ask your child to pick an activity and have some fun together or why not be creative and make up some of your own?
Music activities for families:
If your child enjoys making music, why not have a look at some of these activities to try out with them?
If you would like to talk to us about anything you have read here or would like more information about how we support children and families in school or through our Self-Referral arm, please email Catherine Munns who will be very happy to help.
Read more about the services we provide in the Our Services section of our website.