A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
Just when I thought that life was really back on track and FBC was gaining more and more distance from our lives, our daughter (a.k.a. Finally Five) dropped a big fat reminder that FBC is still at the forefront of her mind (even though she hasn’t talked about it once).
This weekend, Finally Five joined me in my office for some coloring time while I tried to dig myself out from beneath the piles of clutter (that’s another story). I was pretty F-bomb shocked when she happily presented me with the following drawing.
When I grow up, I don’t want to have cancer.
- Finally Five
After I took a couple of long, deep breaths, I thanked her for the drawing and asked her to explain it to me (see translation above). I asked her if she thinks that she will get cancer. She said, “Well you had it once, so I might have it but I hope I don’t.”
After another long, deep breath, I said that I hoped that she wouldn’t have cancer either. As much as I wanted to tell her that she would not ever have cancer, I did NOT tell her that she wouldn’t ever get it (because if, G-d fobid she does, then I become a liar).
Finally Five’s unconscious world of pictures made itself powerfully clear to me. From my graduate work in Child Development, I reminded myself that drawings often express a tremendous amount of information about what’s going on in a child’s unconsciousness. When the unconscious “speaks” in a drawing, it can express potentially disturbing issues that the conscious mind is either unprepared to face or unable to understand.
When pictures emerge from the unconscious, they present a tremendous amount of information. The key is not to decipher with accuracy what is within the picture as much as it is to ask concise questions as to what the picture may be communicating.
Art Therapy is wonderful because it encompasses both the creative process and self-expression. It is widely recognized for its therapeutic role in helping children cope with stresses (including a cancer diagnosis). When I was doing my pediatric hospice nursing, I frequently used art therapy as a way for children to communicate.
Art is a Silver Lined safe alternative to verbal dialogue, allowing a child to express feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, and achieve self-awareness and personal growth. Art is often a springboard for discussion about a myriad of things related to a diagnosis, treatment and prognostication.
I love this form of creative expression because, through a variety of options including paints, crayons, markers, collage, clay, and so on, it allows children to deal with potentially difficult issues at a safe distance and provides opportunities for making choices and feeling a sense of control.
Here are some tips to guide art experiences:
- Don’t interpret or guess at representations in children’s art. What looks like one thing may actually be something else (though, in this case, Finally Five’s art was pretty doggone clear).
- Limite the use of coloring books, patterns, or kits because they can stifle creativity and disproportionately reinforce product over process. That is why I gave Finally Five only a piece of paper and some markers.
- Show interest in what the child is doing, but refrain from asking unnecessary questions until the artwork is complete.
- Because art is a very personal process, don’t correct or help the child in his or her artwork.
- Don’t expect the child’s art to be aesthetically pleasing. I’m just sayin’…
It is never too late to have a happy childhood.