Art Activities Help Children Recover from Natural Disaster

Girl sitting on floor coloring with mother in backgroundIn 1992, after Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida, I contributed to an article a list of art activities that children could do at home to help them process their thoughts and feelings after their hurricane experience. The activities are still relevant today, not only as a way to process a hurricane experience but to prepare for one by taking a more proactive approach. The activities in the original article were listed and categorized under the following headings.

Activities that Acknowledge and Validate Children’s Feelings

  1. Draw a protest poster against hurricanes.
  2. Draw the scariest event that occurs during a hurricane.
  3. Draw the worst event that occurs during a hurricane.
  4. Draw a picture or make a collage of what your anger looks like during a hurricane.
  5. Illustrate and complete the following statements:
    1. I feel out of control during a hurricane when . . .
    2. I feel in control during a hurricane when . . .
    3. I feel angry during a hurricane when . . .
  6. Draw a picture or make a collage of what your sadness looks like during a hurricane.
  7. Choose from the following list of feelings and illustrate them: guilt, grief, denial, hopelessness, confusion, hope, growth, anger, nervousness. (Note: This activity is most appropriate for older children and teenagers.)
  8. Draw or paint a picture of anything that makes you feel happy after a hurricane.
  9. When you are tired of thinking about hurricanes, illustrate what you do or think about that makes you happy.
  10. When you are feeling OK inside, draw or paint a picture of how you could help others who experience going through a hurricane.
  11. Make a magazine collage of items of necessity and luxury.

Activities That Help Promote Feelings of Trust and Safety

  1. Design a medal of honor for your parents or guardians in your life, indicating a positive action they perform before, during, or after a hurricane.
  2. When you cannot sleep at night, draw or paint a picture of what you would like your mom or dad to do to help you feel relaxed and  safe.
  3. When you cannot concentrate at school, draw, or paint a picture of what you would like your teacher to do to help you focus.
  4. If you feel angry with God or your faith because of hurricanes, draw or paint a picture, and illustrate why.
  5. Draw or paint a picture of the person and/or place you think about that helps you feel calm and safe when you feel upset.
  6. Draw or paint a picture of the people and/or pets you need. Illustrate how you help and support them.
  7. When adults fight, illustrate what you do to make yourself feel safe.

Activities That Promote Problem Solving

  1. Draw or paint a picture of what you know about yourself as a result of your hurricane experiences.
  2. Draw or paint a picture of the advice you would give to someone on how to survive a hurricane.
  3. Design a 3-D trophy for yourself illustrating a positive behavior you exhibit during a hurricane.
  4. Draw the action or behavior you exhibit during a hurricane that makes you feel responsible.
  5. If you could teach the world one thing about your experience during a hurricane, what would it be? Your answer may be an idea, a skill, or an attitude.
  6. Draw or paint a picture of a challenge or difficulty you are facing in your life right now. Next, draw or paint a picture showing how you would like your life to be.
  7. Construct a 3-D survival kit for your life that is specific to your needs and wants.
  8. Recall an unhappy dream or nightmare  (as the result of a hurricane experience) and draw a new ending to your dream that you choose.

Activities That Help Children Live in the Here and Now

  1. Draw an important possession of yours that was lost in a hurricane. Draw an important possession of yours that survived in a hurricane.
  2. Fold a piece of drawing paper in two parts. Draw items you need now and items you would like to have in the future.
  3. Draw a picture of when you feel safe now. Include a place in your picture.

Activities That Help Children Promote Hope for the Future

  1. Make a timeline of your past, present, and future and how hurricane season, each year, affects it.
  2. Draw or paint a picture of an event or situation that is still the same in your life and does not change after hurricanes.
  3. Draw or paint a picture of how people help each other after hurricanes.
  4. Draw or paint a picture of two goals you have for the next year.
  5. Fold a piece of drawing paper in quarters. Draw a picture for each of the following, one picture per section: Where am I? Where am I going? What is in my way? How can I meet the challenge? (Note: Include images of others who will help you with what you’re exploring in each picture.)
  6. Draw a picture of something you can do well that you could not do a year ago.
  7. Draw a picture of how your holidays (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah) will be the same this year after hurricane season.
  8. Draw a picture of what is positive after hurricane season each year.

Art therapy is an effective treatment for children to foster self-awareness and to reconcile emotional conflict through verbal and nonverbal expression and art experiences. Art therapy allows children to express themselves through drawing, painting, collage, and clay work as well as verbally. Engaged in the creative process helps children define inner strengths that help them function and cope with the experiences in their everyday lives.

Art expression can also help children define hidden difficulties they experience with family and relationship issues, personal trauma, grief and loss. These may include divorce, difficulties related to medical illness, anxiety, depression, and other mental and emotional issues. Children with developmental disorders, such as autism, can benefit from the a nonverbal, visual art outlet. Art is our first language when words are not enough to express ourselves. Art therapy serves all children including those who are at-risk and who have special needs.

Reference:

Bush, J. and Dunn, P. (1992).  Art therapy has healing power: Art activities help students through the storm.  Sun Times FDLRS- South 14 (1), 10-11.

© Copyright 2007 by By Peg Dunn-Snow. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Art Becker-Weidman

    Art Becker-Weidman

    March 13th, 2008 at 3:30 PM

    A very well done article. The suggestions are quite useful. One of my partners is a registered Art Therapist and has found media to be very helpful with children who have experienced early trauma. It seems to be a good way to help develop a more healthy and secure attachment with the child’s caregiver.

  • Stacy1

    Stacy1

    April 28th, 2008 at 11:18 AM

    I have read that art therapy can be very useful for younger kids who have experienced a great deal of hurt or trauma in their lives and yet cannot verbalize this. Is this true? Can art therapy be useful in court cases, or can what is presented thru these therapy sessions be admissible in criminal cases?

  • maddie

    maddie

    April 28th, 2008 at 11:19 AM

    That’s a very good question. Of course it holds up on TV and Law and Order but I would love to know whether or not actual courtroom judges allow evidence when preseted in a manner such as this.

  • Arthur Becker-Weidman, Ph.D.

    Arthur Becker-Weidman, Ph.D.

    April 29th, 2008 at 3:48 AM

    Yes, the products of therapy (art and other forms) can and are admissible in criminal cases. I am a diplomate of the American Board of Psychological Specialities in Forensic and Child Psychology and often am called as an expert in Termination of Parental Rights proceedings and other cases. The contents of sessions can be used as evidence by an expert to support an opinion. The relevant ruling is the Daubert Rule (federal) which allows an expert to state an opinion so long as there is a “scientific basis” for that opinion. For example, the interpretation of the House-Tree-Person projective test is admissable since there is significant lit on that subject. In addition, when one is admitted as an expert in a specific field, one can state inferences based on ones clinical judgment.

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