The positive benefits of art for children

Mar 25, 20225 minutes read time

Reviewed by: Professor Mark Dadds and Dr Lucy Tully

Key points:

  • Art is key to your child’s development. Not only can art unleash a child’s creativity; it can have a calming effect when they experience big feelings.
  • Art has several benefits for children – from reducing stress to boosting confidence.
  • There are a few simple steps you can take to nurture your child’s artistic streak.

Your child’s art is more than just wallpaper for your fridge. Art can be a powerful tool to unlock their creativity. It can even help kids calm themselves when they feel overwhelmed.

Why is art such an important part of healthy childhood development? And what can you do as a parent to nurture your kid’s creative streak?

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Why art has such a big impact on children

Art can boost your child’s confidence, increase their focus – and when they’re overwhelmed with big feelings, art can play a helpful calming role. Here’s how making art (of any kind!) positively impacts your child:

  • Art is like a reset for the brain.
    It’s more difficult for children to regulate their emotions than it is for adults. (Some of us adults are still working on it too). It’s not uncommon for kids to have big feelings that are, to put it simply, bigger than their brain’s ability to process at this point in their development.

    There’s a reason for this. The prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for regulating emotions (among other things), is not fully developed until your early-to mid-twenties. When kids are stuck in a ‘feeling state’, making art with their hands (sorry, no screens here) can act as a sort of ‘reset’ for the brain.
  • Art can help kids process big feelings.
    Some kids find it easier to express their feelings through art than by trying to find the right words. One possible reason is that it allows kids to look at their emotions or anxieties as separate from themselves. By encouraging your kids to ‘draw their feelings,’ they may be able to share what they’re feeling but can’t put into words.
  • Art can reduce stress, calm the body and brain and improve your child’s mood.
    Centering art activities (for example, coloring geometric patterns) have been used in art therapy for years. Making art has an inherently claiming effect, encouraging your body to produce serotonin, a hormone that helps to stabilize mood.

    If your little one loses themselves in an art project, that’s a good thing. Encourage them to keep at it, and keep enjoying those calming benefits.
  • Art can be a confidence booster.
    Making art gives your child something to be in control of, which is especially helpful when so much of life feels out of their control. They’re empowered to make decisions and see the results of those decisions as they go. Art gives kids a way to express themselves on their own terms.

It’s good to remember that art is not a magic cure for big feelings. It won’t be the solution to every tantrum or outburst, or every time your child displays strong emotions. It’s also perfectly ok for your child to enjoy making art ‘just because.’ It doesn’t have to have some bigger meaning attached to it in order to be beneficial.

Child's hands covered in blue paint during art time

5 tips to encourage your child’s inner artist

  1. Have them explore different kinds of art – the more tactile, the better.
    The benefits of art aren’t limited to any one particular kind. Encourage your kid to explore different types. Eventually they may settle on a few favorite activities, but give them space to try as many as possible – for example:

    - Drawing and painting (mandalas are a great option for calming art) - Writing (correct spelling optional) - Music (piano, violin, and flute are all good instruments for kids – but we didn’t say for your eardrums!) - Dance (it doubles as a great physical activity for your little one) - Cooking or baking (haven’t you always wanted a pint-sized sous chef in the kitchen?)

    Pinterest is always a good resource for more arts and craft ideas.
  2. Keep it simple.
    Your child doesn’t have to be an art prodigy. This isn’t about them making the next great masterpiece. Keep the stakes low to ensure your child gets the most benefit out of making art:

    - Don’t try too many things at once. Especially if there’s a bigger commitment at stake, such as learning an instrument or signing up for dance class. Choose one thing at a time. Taking on too much at once can be overwhelming for your child. - Don’t make it about how much time they spend. Even 15 minutes of coloring can help your child feel calmer and more confident.
  3. Stock up on art supplies.
    There’s no end to the amount of art supplies you could cram into your home, but here are a few basics you’ll want to keep on hand:

    - Crayons (because obviously) - Permanent markers (if you dare) - Pencils - Erasers - Sharpener - Safety scissors - Tape - Washable paint - Paint brushes - Construction paper - Glue (go with glue sticks for a mess-free option) - Stickers - Clay (preferably the kind that won’t dry out)

    Pro tip: keep a few extra crayons, pens and paper in your bag, backpack or car for when you’re on the go. You never know when a momentary art distraction is exactly what your child might need.
  4. Respond to their art with curiosity, not critique.
    It’s not about the end result. It’s about the process. You don’t have to pretend your child’s art is a masterpiece. Just show a genuine interest. Ask questions to get them talking about what they made and why.

    Be sure to ask questions without trying to direct your child’s work. For creativity to have the maximum calming benefit, it needs to be child-led rather than parent led.

    What about if they get frustrated? If your child is unhappy with how their art turned out, use that as an opportunity to help them process what they’re feeling. You can ask what they might like to try differently next time. Just be sure to encourage rather than criticize.
  5. Make something together.
    Remember, art can also be an opportunity for you and your child to strengthen your bond.

    Take a 15-minute break from whatever you’re doing and color or draw a picture together. Or bake some cookies. If your child uses art to ‘draw their emotions,’ try turning it into an opportunity to talk about what they’re feeling.
Child drawing during art and craft time

Art is more than something to keep kids occupied. It can unleash their creativity and calm their anxiety. But maybe best of all, art can be an opportunity for you to connect and make something beautiful (or at least refrigerator door-worthy) together.

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