Your Inner-Child Called, She Wants her Creativity Back: How to Reclaim the Healing Power of Artistic Self-expression
Creativity is universal and can contribute to our sense of well-being. In fact, expressive visual art activities can decrease feelings of sadness, increase positive emotions, and reduce stress. Young children seem to know this, as they quite naturally grab whatever is available to scribble, cut, or sculpt. However, adults are oftenmuch more constrained, sometimes even paralyzed, as they approach creative self-expression. If we polled a kindergarten classroom, I expect the kids would mostly agree: adults are missing out. Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” Here are a few suggestions to help adults reclaim the healing power of spontaneous artistic expression:
Create for You (and you alone!)
Around second grade, most of us begin to question our artistic abilities. Likely because at this point in child development, we begin to focus more on winning approval from others. It is this developmental change that likely contributes to the shift of focus from creative process to artistic product. “My picture isn’t as good as hers.” If adults are to rediscover spontaneous creativity, we must throw comparisons out the window, and choose to create art for ourselves – not for the satisfaction or approval of others.
Get Lost in the Experience
Young children often appear to tune out all surrounding noises and distractions when they are deeply engaged in artwork. Adults can rediscover this sort of absorbed focus if we practice and make time to turn off the television or put our cell phones on silent-mode. If we are fully present in the moment, it’s more likely we can access and express deep emotions during the creative process.
Be Willing to Make a Mess
Sometimes life is confusing, chaotic or ugly, and it’s helpful to have a way to work out or process those uncomfortable feelings. If we adults give ourselves permission to create chaotic or messy artwork, then we can begin to confront and explore the jumble of emotions hidden beneath the clutter of our lives.
When we make something new, we tend to feel more alive. So, what’s stopping you: “Go, get your creativity on!”
As a child therapist, there is one thing I know about exceptionally intelligent kids: they are often misunderstood, and for good reason. Gifted children possess an inner world so rich and complex, that quite frankly, others just don’t get them. We tend to view gifted and talented kids narrowly, in terms of their performance: “Wow, Landon has a huge vocabulary. Jane made a fully functioning robot. Sam reads all day.” This is where we sometimes miss the mark. Yes, gifted kids think more, know more, create more, but to truly understand them, is to see how uniquely they experience the world. If the young gifted child could teach us, this is what she might say:
“My feelings are bigger and different than everybody else’s.”
Super Sensitivity and Emotional Intensity: Just as gifted kids’ thinking is more complex, so is their feeling. Teachers, friends, and parents often see their emotional eruptions as a sign of instability, when actually their ability to sense and feel on such a deep level is one of their greatest strengths.
“I don’t feel my age.”
Uneven Development: Gifted children’s intellect, social skills, and emotional self-control can progress at different rates. If you can imagine a child housed in an eight-year-old body, with the mind of a thirteen-year-old, and the social skills of a six-year-old, then you can begin to comprehend how complicated daily life can get for these kids.
“People don’t make sense and I’m the only one who cares.”
Deep Social Concerns: Gifted kids are often highly troubled by issues of suffering, injustice, and hypocrisy. As such, they can react intensely when such things directly affect them or they observe this is the larger world. Most people will understand how an adult approaching mid-life could worry about the meaning of life, death, pain, and the injustice of the world, but when the 5th grader is crying about such issues during recess, it leaves most people rather confused and even uncomfortable.
“There is no one in the whole world like me.”
Profound Sense of Loneliness: A keen self-awareness accompanied by the feeling of being different can leave gifted kids feeling like aliens––it doesn’t help that their passionate curiosity and interests often do not match those of their classmates. Because of these difficulties, the school experience for gifted kids can be sometimes one of painful rejection.
Despite their many differences, gifted children have the same basic emotional needs of every other kid: they long to be accepted and understood. As parents, educators, and mental health professionals, we can help by simply listening when they try to show us that being exceptional does NOT always feel like a “gift.”