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Raising children is hard enough, but raising children with ADHD and anxiety problems can be downright nerve-wracking. We simply aren’t taught how to communicate with a child who has such difficulties, since adults often gradually move away from the mindset of children and struggle to connect with kids who are anxious or have ADHD.

Luckily, there are a variety of possible solutions to this problem of bridging the gap of age, thinking styles, and even language. Several types of therapy have been proven very effective, but even they can be hard for kids. Many children simply don’t have the vocabulary to describe what has happened to them, if their conditions have an underlying cause, or how they feel. Such words aren’t a part of anxious kids’ vocabulary, but they are still bothered by the feelings, even if they can’t identify them with language. These emotions are, therefore, sometimes better expressed without the direct aid of language.

With art therapy, unlike other forms of therapy, children are often more free to express their true feelings. They aren’t restrained by their vocabulary, or even their artistic abilities, as emotions have a way of making themselves known even in the most rudimentary, “childish” art.

Children with ADHD characteristically find it difficult to “slow down” and concentrate on even basic activities, but art can engage the mind and emotions more effectively than other forms of therapy. Various artistic activities can help stabilize the moods and thoughts of a child with ADHD, through the child attaining a state often called “flow” or “the groove” in sports, art, and daily life – the experience many people have had of being fully immersed in an activity, while also feeling happy and free from anxiety.

For the same reason, children with anxiety disorders can also benefit from art therapy. When the mind is engaged with expressing certain feelings through art, it is too busy and focused on positive activities to worry about negative consequences, the passage of time, intrusive thoughts, or other emotional disturbances.

Of course, art therapy is not a “one size fits all” solution, nor is it intended to completely replace other forms of therapy like cognitive-behavioral therapy. It is still helpful for children with ADHD and anxiety disorders to talk to a therapist and become aware of the reasons they feel anxious or hyperactive, and teach themselves coping strategies with the guidance of their therapist. Alongside such typical forms of therapy, however, art therapy can offer an outlet when children feel frustrated, worried, scared, or anxious about expressing what they feel through language. If your child isn’t comfortable sharing the art they have created with others, he or she can work on it on their own, too.

Some therapists will teach children how to do art therapy on their own, while others prefer to be present. If your child is not in therapy, or their therapist does not use art therapy, parents can still do a tremendous amount on their own to encourage their children to express themselves through art. The therapeutic benefits may not be identical to performing art therapy under the guidance of a trained therapist, but if that is impossible for any reason (and there are many valid reasons you may not be able to get your child to work with a professionally trained art therapy expert), doing it at home is the next best thing.

Before you even begin, however, remember that you shouldn’t force your child to do art therapy, control their subjects and styles, or respond negatively to what they produce. The most important thing is to maintain a strong connection with your child, if you’re going to be helping them express themselves openly and without fear. They are displaying trust in you and vulnerability by showing you their artwork, so do your best to stay non-judgmental and engaged when you look at your child’s art. If your child is too young to describe accurately what they have drawn, this will help even more by giving them the verbal tools to link their feelings with their art. Of course, negative subjects may be drawn, including violence, anger, sadness, and other emotions that reflect the experience of an anxious or ADHD child. These, too, shouldn’t be looked at completely literally, but as healthy ways to express feelings, that also don’t hurt anyone else, and you can tell your child that if they seem worried about their own art.

For instance, if your child draws a self-portrait of himself looking sad under a tree, you might start by saying, “This looks like a little boy under a tree. I see that he looks sad.” If your child agrees, you might gently question who the little boy is or why he looks sad, or why he’s sitting in that particular spot, for example. Don’t bombard them with questions – try to keep it to just a few questions, at least ten seconds apart so they have a chance to answer and add any more information they’d like to. It may feel intrusive if they feel like you’re demand answers about what they’ve created and they aren’t yet ready to share.

Even art isn’t the only option. Typical art therapy is thought of as forms of art like painting and drawing, but other options include creating or listening to music, sculpting, photography, scrapbooking, paper crafts, dance, yoga, and so on. If your child isn’t very interested in drawing, find another artistic avenue that reflects his or her own desires, attention span, and creative impulses.

Some of the results of art therapy can include the child battling his or her own personal “monsters” and negative emotions, learning to get in touch with the positive, healing energy of creation, and coming to terms with their own past, present, and future.

Children with anxiety can learn to better cope with the negative feelings of worry that crop up and can identify when, why, and how they occur, and even combat them. At the very least, art provides a temporary respite from a child’s anxiety, as long as you try to provide them with an artistic atmosphere free of stress and pressure.

Kids who have ADHD, meanwhile, can learn to control their moods more, identify triggers or reasons for their difficulty focusing, reduce impulsive behavior, and can enjoy the respite from a hyperactive mindset while feeling focused on creating art.

Even if your child experiences just a few of these benefits, they may well have access to a method of expressing their feelings that is far more powerful than other forms of therapy. Remember that art therapy is a viable alternative, not a substitute or miracle treatment, and particularly when performed at home.

If the situation does not allow for other forms of treatment, or when it is done alongside other treatments, art therapy can give children an outlet they otherwise wouldn’t have had, and can even provide your child with some of his or her most relaxed, happy moments.

About the Author:
Keeping up with the latest information about anxiety and ADD can be difficult as new treatments are being introduced all the time. Children And Anxiety Disorder blog is dedicated to arm you with the latest info, facts, and opinions. Our comprehensive articles bring a fresh look at the latest treatment techniques and alternative methods. Our honest reviews of anti-anxiety programs will help you decide which program is right for your child and which ones are just a waste of money. Browse our archives to discover a wealth of valuable info, data, and tips, all expertly written and researched. Every piece of content is published for a single purpose – to help and empower concerned parents like yourself to better understand and ultimately beat their child’s anxiety.

Earnest Parenting: help for parents of children with anxiety or ADHD

Image courtesy of Ana Fukase via Creative Commons license, some rights reserved.