Making Art For Back to School Fears and Tears

Every child and teenager feels an amount of tension during transitions such as changing schools, having a new teacher, losing friendships or transitioning to high school. Experiencing emotions going back to school is normal and should be expected and anticipated.

Sometimes back to school tensions turn into disruptive emotions that only worsen or don’t abate or your child develops physical symptoms such as a sore tummy, shaking, eye twitching, a racing heart or headaches. If your child experiences ongoing, unresolved overwhelming feelings that they can’t articulate or aren’t coping with, is experiencing physical symptoms that aren’t allowing them to move through each day, sleep and eat well, they may need help to express and process their world.

Encouraging your child or teen to make create something can help them explore their inner world and problem solving rather than worrying.

Step 1) Create a private space for your child to create in. While your tween or teen will probably prefer their bedroom, younger children can enjoy a specially designated art space at the dining table. Ask family members to respect the art space and materials. 2) Provide basic art materials such as paint and pencils, white paper (A4 and A3 are ideal, let your child choose the size), and if they are happy to create without a prompt, just encourage them to create. Reassure them it’s ok to draw or paint anything.  Tell them that sometimes it helps to draw how they feeling.

Step 2) Assure your child that this is their private work and they don’t have to share it with anyone if they don’t want to. Without pressure, let them know that you would love them to share their artwork with you if they like. If your child or teenager shares their art with you, thank them for sharing it with you. Instead of complimenting them, be interested and ask some general questions, but remember they should feel completely free not to answer, and keep their process private. This step is about allowing discussion and exploration of the art as a reflection of their inner world, but do not interpret the artwork yourself. What a bird in a nest means to you, will not be what a bird in a nest means to them. If your child or teenager chooses not to share their art with you, encourage them to journal or write poetry about the artwork. A young child could write a letter to a character from the artwork or write feeling words on the picture itself or write a story that goes with the art.

Tell me about your picture.
What part is your favourite part? Is there any part you don’t like?
If you were to give the artwork a title, what could it be?
Are you in the artwork? Where/what are you?
Is anything missing from the picture?


Share observations without judgement allowing time for them to answer.
I notice that…
    the person is larger than the house
    the cave is black inside
    your picture is only one colour

Allow your child to respond but don’t push them to answer. And if your child begins to talk in metaphor allow them to stay in the metaphor and ask them to tell you more about the monster/cat/skeleton.

Affirm their art process not their outcome by responding with statements that show you aren’t judging how ‘good’ their art is.
I can see you have used many colours
I can see you have spent alot of time on the details in that tree/bear/rainbow
I love that you spent so much time creating such a large work of art, well done for stopping and creating a picture.

Step 3) Find out what they would like to do with their art. Because this about the process and not the end result we need to be ok if they want to screw it up and throw it away. If they would like to keep the artwork, find a secure place away from siblings or display it where they can see it.

If you have a concern for the immediate safety of your child or teenager from what they expressed in art form, immediately contact a professional mental health service such as CYMH Acute Response Team on 07 3068 2555, Headspace on 1800 650 890, or call 000.

Although art therapists do not interpret ark work, sometimes a child’s art is confronting concerning and a phone chat or private consultation about the art process can be helpful. Contact Rochelle here or on 0402 577 556.

Rochelle Melville

Rochelle Melville is an art therapist and intentional creative. Rochelle works from Pathways to Expression in Bald Hills facilitating individual and group sessions and is available to facilitate workshops in the community.