Telling the Trauma Story through Drawing

Posted on October 23, 2013, in Grief and Trauma, Resilience

This activity is suitable for any age

Activities, like drawing, may tap parts of the brain necessary to process traumatic events. Art expression prompts two important components in trauma recovery — the expression of feelings and encouragement of a trauma narrative or story to emerge. Recall of trauma is through sensory means; the sensory qualities of art and its ability to stimulate language help children to make meaning of their experiences and feelings.

There is a saying that goes something like, Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. Art activities are powerful yet simple ways for children to express themselves and learn skills to help them cope with trauma. Children remember hands-on creative activities better than talking alone; this is because active participation provides the opportunity to learn through a variety of senses — touch, sight, and hearing.

Keep drawing materials simple. Children in distress often benefit from structure because it creates a sense of safety and order. Drawing with pencils or markers are natural storytelling materials for children and helps them to structure their thoughts and feelings through lines, shapes, and symbols.

Ask your child to draw pictures about:

  • What happened.
  • Their biggest worry.

After your child has completed it is important to sit down with your child and ask him or her to explain the drawing. You will most likely be surprised at how much you will learn about what is really on your child's mind. End this activity on a positive note. Let your child know that you love him or her no matter what. Have a cup of hot cocoa together or read a book or take a walk together. DO NOT be judgemental about what your child has drawn. If you are concerned or alarmed about what your child has drawn, don't let your child know. Call TLC toll-free at 1-877-306-5256 and speak to our Trauma Specialist for advice.

Some of the comments you can make in response to your child's drawing and trauma story are:

  • This is interesting.
  • I didn’t know you thought about these things.
  • It's normal to have these feelings and thoughts after what happened to you.
  • I’m glad you can tell me about this.
  • You can tell me anything.
  • That’s really scary (sad). I get scared (sad), sometimes too. It’s okay to be scared (sad).
  • You must have been mad. I get mad too. It’s okay to be mad sometimes.
  • This makes me feel better too. I have some of the same reactions/feelings.
  • It doesn’t matter what you drew. I like looking at your drawings and listening to your stories.
  • Let's talk with a trauma counselor so we can help you feel better.
  • I love you and will do everything I can to keep you safe.

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