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WHY DO THE ARTS MATTER?

Things children and parents alike can learn from art

Enjoying art for art’s sake is a noble goal we should all aim for, as it unquestionably enriches our lives. But in a world where time spent on art can be viewed as time better spent on something “more useful”, it can’t hurt to remind ourselves what art actually does for us. Most parents and children invest their every waking moment in learning more, on extracurricular activities, and improving their chances of getting into the school they want. Meanwhile, art pursuits often get left behind even though they, too, can promote the skills necessary for academic and life success. This article reminds us of the ways the Arts enhance our learning and enrich our lives.

The Arts make us more creative

It is impossible to overstate the benefits the Arts bring to our creativity and divergent thinking [8]. As we express ourselves through various art forms or observe the art of others, we come to understand that being creative isn’t exclusively confined to the world of art itself. Rather, it enables us to see the larger world through different eyes and teaches us how to be creative and innovative in many fields not necessarily having anything to do with the Arts themselves [3].

Enjoying the Arts “makes us smarter”

Art, like science, is a broad term with many interpretations, but most art can teach us something about aesthetic perception and taste [1]. This isn’t where the magic ends, though. How many times have you heard that you need to read a lot in order to be well spoken or be a good writer? Literature is art and enhances our vocabulary and language skills [4].

However, it is not only literature and reading that can improve our skills and widen our knowledge. When children draw, paint, or play with clay, they are not only creating their own art, but they’re learning about the world and at the same time developing their cognitive skills by going through the oh-so-hard decision process of which color to choose, planning how their drawing will look, tweaking and experimenting. In other words, art gives children a chance to make decisions and learn from them [6].

The Arts teach us how to be human

While nothing can really prepare us for a living except actually living and learning along the way, the Arts offer us an invaluable window into the human experience and can teach us how it is to live on this planet for different people from different places. It also shows us our similarities and differences and helps us empathize with others. For instance, Maya Angelou’s autobiographical “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings”, though written in 1969 and relates events that happened in the ‘30s and ‘40s, still manages to teach us a great deal about racism and how to overcome it, and gives us a different perspective on coming of age as an African-American girl in the United States back then. Similarly, paintings can show us a lot about how some people live and what is important to them, and also help us understand the way they perceive reality.

This insight into the lives of different people helps with our social skills, but there are other ways the Arts can nurture these skills. Many artistic endeavors, such as different types of dramatic performance or large-format paintings, can be created by groups or with one partner, thus teaching the participants how to be cooperative, helping, and caring and how to share with others [5].

The Arts help us master our emotions and feel better about ourselves.

Expressing and regulating our emotions is essential to our everyday life, but a lot of us experience difficulties with one or both of these. Art is there to help when things are too complicated to verbalize. This is often the case for children, so it is especially beneficial for them to have access to art and to feel free to draw things the way they
want. It can be instructive to give a child a piece of paper when they are upset or unusually quiet since many things can be revealed through their art. There is usually some meaning behind a child exaggerating something in a drawing, not paying attention to something else at all [3] or simply using dark colors.

Art is also used in therapy to help people with a wide range of problems and has been shown to have beneficial effects on emotion regulation [2] and attitude, and in improving self-image [7].

Additionally, specific activities like drama and dance can be great confidence builders [5] and help with stage fright. Just participating in the realm of art teaches us perseverance and focus, as art requires practice and a high level of concentration [9].

Nurturing your child in his/her artistic endeavors and also enjoying participating in the Arts yourself, mindful of their benefits or even just for their own sake, is definitely worth your time. Not only will they enrich your lives, but they will make your child and you better human beings in every way possible.

REFERENCES:

  1. Arslan, A. A. (2014). A Study into the Effects of Art Education on Children at the Socialisation Process. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 116, 4114-4118. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.01.900
  2. Brown, E. D., & Sax, K. L. (2013). Arts enrichment and preschool emotions for low-income children at risk. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(2), 337-346. doi:10.1016/j.ecresq.2012.08.002
  3. Extension (August 31, 2015). Creative Art Helps Children Develop across Many Domains.
  4. Klein, O., Biedinger, N., & Becker, B. (2014). The effect of reading aloud daily—Differential effects of reading to native-born German and Turkish-origin immigrant children. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 38, 43-56. doi:10.1016/j.rssm.2014.06.001
  5. National Endowment for the Arts (2015). The Arts in Early Childhood: Social and Emotional Benefits of Arts Participation.
  6. PennState Extension (February 6, 2014). Art – An opportunity to develop children’s skills.
  7. Schweizer, C., Knorth, E. J., & Spreen, M. (2014). Art therapy with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A review of clinical case descriptions on ‘what works’. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 41(5), 577-593. doi:10.1016/j.aip.2014.10.009
  8. Sowden, P. T., Clements, L., Redlich, C., & Lewis, C. (2015). Improvisation facilitates divergent thinking and creativity: Realizing a benefit of primary school arts education. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 9(2), 128-138. doi:10.1037/aca0000018
  9. Strauss, V. (January 22, 2013). Top 10 skills children can learn from the arts.

By Anja Anđelković

4 SOCIAL/EMOTIONAL SKILLS YOU CAN EASILY PRACTICE WITH TEENS

Whether you are a parent or work directly with teens, here you can read about some concrete social/emotional skills and useful activities that can help teens practice them. We will cover basic information about Listening skills, Assertiveness, Emotional awareness, and Nonverbal communication.

Why practice social/emotional skills?

Whether we call them soft skills, social/emotional skills, social/emotional intelligence or growth mindset, there is a consensus among researchers and practitioners that we need certain abilities to achieve our fullest potential at school, in our professional careers, and in our private lives. These abilities help us recognize and manage our emotions, cope with obstacles and life challenges, and enhance communication skills and good interpersonal relations (including empathy).

According to an analysis of longitudinal studies in nine OECD countries published in Skills for Social Progress: The Power of Social and Emotional Skills by OECD in 2015:

“Children’s capacity to achieve goals, work effectively with others and manage emotions will be essential to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

Besides acknowledging the importance of social/emotional skills such as perseverance, sociability, and self-esteem, the report discusses how policy-makers, schools, and families facilitate the development of social/emotional skills through intervention programs, teaching, and parenting practices.

All these abilities are interrelated and their development starts at home and continues throughout the school years. If parents and important adults show a high level of social/emotional maturity, it will be easier for kids to acquire these abilities simply by modeling their behavior.

However, it is always useful when children and teens have a chance to practice social/emotional skills under the guidance of experienced adults. The best case scenario is when programs for enhancing social/emotional skills are an integral part of an educational system and a local community’s initiatives.

Below, we will look at some important social/emotional skills and suggest simple activities for practicing them, adjusted to teens.

1. Social communication skill – Listening

Being able to hear what people are really saying is a valuable communication skill that has a major impact on the quality of our relations with others. You’ve probably already heard about Active Listening, a skill that allows us to hear not only the words people are saying but also the emotions they are reflecting through their nonverbal behavior. Both are important in understanding the whole message being communicated.

This is a complex skill that can be practiced. In the following activity, the focus is on practicing concentration; listening to the verbal message with undivided attention. You can practice this activity with a group of teens in your home, in the classroom or in a workshop.

Instruction

Firstly, ask all the participants to sit in a circle. The first person starts to tell a story (whatever he/she wants). After 3-5 sentences, say “stop” and randomly choose another participant to continue. This person now has to repeat the last sentence said and then continue making up the story. If he cannot correctly repeat the last sentence after five seconds, he is disqualified. The game continues with the same rules and the winner is the last person remaining after everybody else is disqualified.

This is the competitive version of the game. However, you can make up your own version, without disqualifications or adding new elements that you find useful.

Have a discussion

Ask participants to reflect on the game. When and how was their attention distracted? What helped them concentrate and remember the previous sentence? Check out our forthcoming online training Let’s Make a Deal – active listening is one of the objectives!

2. Social communication skill – Assertiveness

Assertiveness, as a style of communication, is characterized by the ability to directly and confidently express our genuine opinion, feelings, or attitudes, such that the rights of others and social circumstances are respected.

It is proven that assertiveness affects our self-esteem and self-confidence, so there’s no doubt that practicing assertiveness is useful for teens. It is a complex skill that can be acquired through a training program led by a trained coach/therapist. However, some aspects of assertiveness can be practiced through simple exercises at home and in a school setting.

Maybe the most important point is to assure teens that it’s okay to claim their rights and to ask, to initiate, to express their opinions and feelings. That it’s okay to say NO to other people in a respectful way.

In this exercise, the focus will be on encouraging teens to initiate a conversation in which they will ask something of others and express their opinion or feelings. It can be practiced as social challenges given to teens either by their parents or teachers.

Instruction

Firstly, a list of social challenges is created, taking into consideration a teen’s age or social needs. Challenges can be written down/printed on separate cards. If given consent to take part in the challenge, a teen takes a random card and his task is to do what is required on the card in the next 24 hours or over several days, as you jointly arrange.

Challenges can be practiced once a week or according to whatever schedule you agree upon.

Examples of social challenges:

  • Give an honest compliment to someone.
  • Learn two new things about somebody from your class.
  • Share with a friend what’s been on your mind lately.
  • Call customer service at your favorite store and ask for information about some product you like.
  • Tell your best friend what you like about him/her.
  • Ask a teacher (or a coach) for clarification of a task you didn’t understand completely.

Have a discussion

After the task is accomplished, it’s important to discuss with the teen how the particular challenge made him feel. Did he find it easy, hard, awkward, or something else? What could be alternative ways to ask, to express? How did others react?
The inspiration for this activity is taken and adjusted from the Speech Bubble SLP.

3. Emotional skill – Emotional self-awareness

We have already written about self-awareness as the basic ability to understand our own inner processes and to relate adequately with others. Emotional awareness, in this context the ability to recognize our own feelings, is the foundation of emotional intelligence.

Besides helping us be aware of our emotions, these skills are important for developing emotional intelligence, according to Daniel Goleman and his bestselling book Emotional Intelligence. Understanding why we feel a certain way and knowing how to handle these feelings, including self-motivation; the ability to recognize the feelings of others (empathy) and to motivate them – these skills are crucial to success and happiness in every aspect of our lives and in our relationships with others.

In the following activity, the focus is on getting in touch with eight emotions a teen chooses, raising awareness of how a particular emotion manifests itself, and how it affects the teen’s life. It is based on art therapy principles and is performed individually. However, it can be practiced in groups, too. You need a white paper and colored markers.

Instruction

Firstly, ask a teen to draw a circle and divide it into eight pies. Then, ask him/her to dedicate each pie to one emotion and fill in each pie with a corresponding color or images that match his/her idea of what the emotion means to him/her. It may be that a teen has a problem coming up with eight emotions. You can assist him but never choose instead of him. Don’t push if he can’t come up with eight. Work with whatever he manages to present.

Have a discussion

After the teen is done with the drawing, initiate a dialogue. You may find these questions useful: What does each image mean to you? What made you choose those particular colors? When in your life do you experience this emotion? What emotion is dominant for you nowadays? What emotion is the hardest to handle? And so on.

If a teen has a problem in coming up with emotions, you can use Plutchik’s wheel of emotion to help him recognize emotions he would like to work on.

emotions in teens

 

This exercise is taken and adjusted from the Art therapy directives BlogSpot.

4. Social/emotional skills – Understanding nonverbal communication

Good understanding of nonverbal communication is a sign of social and emotional intelligence.

The ability to observe and understand nonverbal signs during communication, or any other interaction between people, gives us tremendous information about the real message being communicated. It is especially important when we notice that the verbal message and nonverbal behavior are not harmonized. It also gives us a clue about the motives of the person we are communicating with or their emotional state.

Besides what is said, it is always important to follow HOW it is said. Basic nonverbal aspects of human behavior to be aware of include eye contact, the tone of voice, facial expression, gestures, personal distance, body language, and posture.

The following activity, based on acting and improvisation methodology, focuses on recognizing the emotional state of participants exposed to simulated social situations, through observing only their nonverbal behavior. A group is needed for this activity.

Instruction

Ask a volunteer from the group to leave the room. Separate instructions are given to him/her and to the group, who stays in the room in order to prepare for the final scene. While the volunteer is outside, each individual in the group has to choose one emotion and must express this emotion only through nonverbal behavior (acting). Remind them of the different aspects of nonverbal communication.

Meanwhile, the volunteer outside is given the task of coming up with several social situations familiar to teens such as: in class; during family dinner; on a date; at a birthday party; working on homework, etc.

Finally, when the volunteer is back to the room, he sets the scene: You’re in class (for example). All members of the group act as if they are in the classroom, including expressing their chosen emotional state nonverbally. They can use their voice but only in the form of inarticulate sounds. The volunteer observes their behavior and tries to guess how they feel. If he is confused, he can put them in another social situation (or only for fun:). The game can be repeated several times with different volunteers, emotions to guess, and social situations.

Have a discussion

After it is revealed which emotion has been presented by each member of the group, a discussion follows. You may find these questions useful: What are the main nonverbal indicators of this emotion? How did you feel while acting? Did anybody have difficulties acting in the scenes (why)? What do you usually do when you feel (this particular emotion)? What do you usually do when you recognize somebody acting like this? Was there something confusing and what? – A question to the volunteer.

Depending on available time and the goal of your group work you can go even deeper into a conversation about particular emotions. If you are interested in activities useful for teen’s emotional development, you may like this article.

If you need any kind of advice related to the social/emotional development of your teen children, you’ve come to the right place! Schedule an appointment with our coach.

by Milena Ćuk,

Assertiveness Coach and Integrative Art Therapist-in-training