by Pat Drewry Sanger, Arts-Kids, Inc. Founder
Arts-Kids was created as an instrument for creating hope, joy and a life-long belief in oneself, especially for children and teens who have significant stressors in their lives. Without hope and a belief that life can be more than it is now, a person becomes angry, depressed or very anxious. Desperation leads to acting out in dangerous ways. Arts-Kids creates a safe community of support and the room to express emotions in productive, creative ways.
Carlos was known in school as a “silly boy,” who couldn’t stay focused long. He was likely to get into fights or tease other kids. The teacher suggested his mother talk with her doctor about his behavior. The doctor prescribed a stimulant for “probable ADHD.” Simultaneously, the teacher referred him to Arts-Kids at his school.
During one of the opening circles, Carlos burst out that he wanted to jump out of a window! This explosion scared the other children and the adults. When asked, he wasn’t able to explain his feelings to the facilitator or artist. The artist was a Music Therapist, and Carlos participated fully with the musical activities. Not much was said about Carlos’ behavior, and he seemed to have calmed down.
Then the group reconvened for the closing circle. When it was his turn, Carlos began to cry and disclosed having nightmares of having seen his father taken away by the Police because he had no papers. When Carlos opened up his feelings, other immigrant children shared having the same experiences or fears that it would happen. Arts-Kids is a vital community asset. The Arts-Kids program is a youth development program designed specifically to help children and youth learn to cope with major life issues at home and at school.
Using the Expressive Arts: Expressive arts activities, including visual, movement, drama, music and other creative activities, provide a vehicle through which the youth can take creative risks and express themselves with few boundaries.
The use of group dynamics strategies helps increase unity and provides participants with a positive environment for self-expression which helps them gain self-confidence and self-esteem and teaches them life skills in communication, problem-solving, listening, decision-making and socialization.
One of the most important elements of the Arts-Kids model is the talking circle, which is held at the beginning of the session and as a closing of the session. The participants pass a talking stick, share a “high and low” and state an intention in the opening circle.
Children who have experienced trauma are often misdiagnosed as having ADHD. The teacher talked with his mother and encouraged her to allow him to express his feelings. He stopped the medication, which may have added to his anxiety, and he seemed calmer.
All children need nurturing of their bodies, emotions and intellect to help them to meet their own potential. Healthy adult role models and creative opportunities set the stage for healthy development.
Schools attempt to meet intellectual and physical activity needs, but in our secular society unless children and teens are lucky enough to have caring, nurturing parents or significant others to stop, listen and care how the child is feeling and experiencing his/her life, the emotional nurturing is absent. With the best of intentions, families who experience high stress levels have little time to give their individual children.
We learn about ourselves through our relationships with others. Otherwise feelings are experienced but not understood and turned to helplessness, which turns to anger. Naming feelings can help to defray anger and nurture understanding of self-therefore others-or develop empathy.
Arts-Kids groups are led by trained facilitators and volunteers. A caring community of up to 20 youth is created. The talking stick encourages sharing the time in talking circle as it is passed. The children’s decorations represent members of the group, and the stick is the group as a whole.
Then there is a sense of accomplishment-which is shared in the closing circle. This process strengthens a child’s self-esteem and confidence.