8 Art Therapy Activities To Help Kids Identify and Manage Their Feelings

“Art tells the truth.” —art therapist Edith Kramer

art therapy activities

Your kids may be having a serious case of the feels these days—from sadness and anxiety to feeling disconnected, lonely, and bored. And no wonder! While most of us are not registered art therapists, we can still incorporate a few art therapy activities to help them identify and manage their emotions.

Note: The term “art therapy” in the context of this article is not intended to imply that teachers should act as therapists. While there are many potential benefits to providing students with opportunities to use art as a creative outlet in school, it is important to acknowledge that this is not the professional practice of art therapy.

What is art therapy?

Art therapy is a therapeutic process that integrates psychotherapy and art. It can help kids explore their emotions, improve self-esteem, relieve stress, and ease anxiety and depression.

Krista Reinhardt-Ruprecht, a registered psychotherapist, explains how art therapy works. “When we’re stuck in feeling states,” she says, “we are in the right hemisphere, low in the brain, and it’s hard to climb out of that. When we use our hands to make art, we trigger our left hemisphere to come back online. Meanwhile, we are making an internal emotion into an external piece of art, which can help us by looking at it as separate from who we are.”

Here are a few simple art therapy activities that will help your kids identify and manage their feelings.

1. Create mandalas

art therapy activities

Drawing figures with repeated patterns, like mandalas, is good for regulating emotions and the nervous system. It can help kids focus their attention and calm down. After drawing them, they can color them in!

2. Picture your emotions

One of Reinhardt-Ruprecht’s favorite activities with clients is creating Anger Monsters. She asks her client to picture in their head, and then draw on paper, what their anger looks like. As a result, says Reinhardt-Ruprecht, “Anger gets to have its own identity. We can bring the anger out—look at it, how ugly it is—and then we can find out what it needs.”

More tips on helping kids express their feelings through art from Psychology Today.

 3. Make art from nature

art therapy activities

Working with natural materials is soothing and helps ground us. Plus, you can find beautiful materials to work with by just taking a walk outside. Make nature bracelets, sun-catchers, or create beautiful weavings with natural materials. For more ideas, check out 25 Fun and Easy Nature Crafts and Activities.

4. Transform something

Reinhardt-Ruprecht recently helped a patient who was struggling with our current world state of affairs. Together, they sat down and made a list of all the terrible things about COVID-19. Then they tore the list up and used the pieces to create a piece of art, turning something ugly into something beautiful.

5. Piece things together

art therapy activities

Creating collages is a very therapeutic activity with a two-fold benefit. The physical sensation of handling different materials and textures—soft, scratchy, rigid—is very comforting. And the creative process of putting things together in a new and different way helps organize and calm your brain.

For more collage inspiration, check out Collage Art: 50+ Ideas.

6. Create a magazine photo mashup

Dr. Cathy Malchiodi explains the process of magazine photo collage as “using images to create a visual narrative that enhances the dialogue between client and therapist.”

A simple way to do this at home is to have your child cut out images from magazines that catch their eye. Then give them a piece of paper and glue and have them arrange the images in a collection. If they are willing, ask them to narrate their process as they go.

7. Make masks

In art therapy, creating or decorating a mask often leads to exploring different aspects of our personality. Sometimes we can create a mask that reveals feelings that are hard to express. Give your child a pre-formed mask or make one out of paper and give them free rein to embellish it however they’d like. When they are finished, ask them to tell you the story of the mask.

8. Family sculpture

One of Dr. Malchiodi’s recommended activities as an art therapist is to encourage kids to create a family sculpture out of clay. The size, shape, and arrangement of family members invites conversations about the important people and relationships in their life.

For more great ideas, check out The Ten Coolest Art Therapy Interventions.

What art activities have you used with kids that have really had beneficial effects? Come share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.

Also, check out 20 Apps to Combat Anxiety and Stress.  

8 Art Therapy Activities to Help Kids Identify and Manage Their Feelings