Following the coronavirus crisis, the daily life of most of the world population has changed radically in the blink of an eye.
If for us adults this “inexperienced” situation, as the Spanish philosopher Emilio Lledó named it in a recent interview, takes us to limits that no one would have suspected two or three months ago, for children, confinement is even more difficult. They are living a very strange situation: they cannot go out, nor have direct social contacts, they cannot enjoy nature, they have been removed from their routine and they are facing an invisible threat.
Homebound, they do not know what to do because their parents, if they do not go out for work and can stay at home, are working from the computer and cannot take care of them, but the children cannot be with the grandparents either because they usually belong to so-called risk or vulnerable groups.
In these moments, artistic expression can play a very important role and help children express their feelings and, above all, being at home to be creative and stay away from the danger that hours and hours spent in front of a screen can cause.
In history of art, for centuries, we can see that art has played a role as a means of non-verbal communication and in recent decades, art therapy is considered very important for various disorders, both psychological and physical.
In recent days we see that through the social media various proposals are offered to use art as an “instrument” for overcoming COVID-19, as a method of alleviating the quarantine “we stay home”, as an alternative to solitary activity, even sometimes with the proposal that the children draw the Coronavirus and their feelings about what is happening.
Reading all this, I am forced to question some of the proposals mentioned above because, although I am very aware of the use of art as a vehicle of expression and communication and also as therapy, I think we have to be very careful in what context we use it and apply it in these critical moments as help for children.
Art can soften the severity and panic that the pandemic can cause in children, but it cannot cure the trauma caused by it. At least not now, nor with the help of parents.
And I’m going to explain my disagreement with such proposals: from my point of view, and with all the knowledge and experience I have in environments where art is used as therapy, I would say that it is not appropriate to encourage children to draw or paint the COVID-19 pandemic. This could be done later and with the help of a specialist who knows how to help children cope with the feelings that may appear in the development of an art therapy activity. A specialist knows how to handle a child in these difficult times. Parents or an older sibling most likely DO NOT. Therefore, that it could become dangerous to provoke a chain of feelings and concerns in the child that no one later knows how to help them overcome.
If for us adults, parents or educators, it is so difficult to talk, listen and above all think about what is happening, if it is difficult for us to distract ourselves from the subject, imagine the need that a child has to literally save himself from the coronavirus but above all to preserve its mental health during the pandemic.
And I agree with those who will say that children are afraid anyway, they are scared and they will surely have feelings and phobias and therefore I believe that art can be used to give them a joy with the result, to occupy their free time by creation, to give them hope, to distract them from the topic of the disease that they will surely be hearing in the conversations of the elderly, they will hear it in the media, they will feel it through isolation and with all the anxiety of the elderly and, I insist, for all this I do not consider it prudent that we should also remind them of this through artistic activities.
Although there is no magic recipe, above all, a recipe that is applicable to all, because children who do not have the same opportunities and means to protect themselves from the spread of the Coronavirus must also be considered, some cannot even follow the advice of the “stayathome” if their financial situation does not offer them housing nor anyone to take care of them.
However, I would like to propose artistic activities for children to distract and to be able to travel through fantasy, away from the bombardment of the news of figures of the infected and the number of deceased.
First of all, I would like to say that children should work freely with different materials available to them. It is essential that children use their imagination and at the same time expresses their feelings without the elders intervening, unless the children ask them to. Children often do not know what to draw or where to start and in this situation some proposals would be useful as a starting point for a creative process.
A good activity could start with the help of reading a story or a fairy tale.
Children can listen to the story and draw or paint one of the scenes, or portray one of the protagonists.
We can also read them the story only up to a point and they can paint the end, as they would like it to be.
They could also make iconographic changes to the story and thus they can create their own story.
Another activity that I would like to propose, and which I have used throughout my work as an art therapist and have been able to see beautiful and exciting results among a wide range of participants of all ages, is the “pictorial letter”. It is about drawing or painting a letter for a person with a message. This activity will serve children as a means of communication with their friends, their grandparents, their relatives or any loved one.
It could be applied every day, and each day it could be addressed to different people or the same people with a different message.
It can also serve us adults, to express ourselves through art and to say the things that we cannot or could not express with words, since artistic activity is a means of expression and non-verbal communication.
In conclusion, I would like to confirm that art could be the way we can choose to walk together towards a healthy and happy future, towards a future where we can help children to exercise their rights without the danger of the coronavirus pandemic. Towards a future where we can accompany children to fulfil their dreams, away from the nightmares we are living now.
Finally, I am wishing the entire OMEP family and all their dear health and strength and I hope we will see each other again soon.
President of OMEP Cyprus