Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Discussion With Susan Baxter, Childhood Ed Specialist: Kidmunication, Art, And When To Take Shhhh As An Answer

Susan talks about letting our kids express their feelings through art. This afternoon, we received this beautiful expression on our doorstep. It arrived with a basket of organic strawberries. We send a missile of gratitude out to our strawberry fairy! If you want to ID yerself, drop a comment!

Jeff has asked me to contribute my thoughts to this fantastic pablog and I am happy to do so.

I was talking to Jeff yesterday about the last week's journey and the road ahead. While we were talking, I was watching Pablo hop around on the couch with Fred, living in the moment. That is what 5 year olds do. This is not to say that Pablo is not tuned in to the shift in mood, experiences and his health over the last week. What he is not doing is worrying about the next few months; 5 year olds do not do that. They are still sorting out the ideas of how today, yesterday tomorrow and in a minute works. The other part of communicating with a 5 year old is they are really smart and can memorize and repeat everything we say (even the don't- repeat -that -in –front- of- my- mother-in-law stuff). Just because children can repeat what we tell them, it doesn't mean they understand what we mean.

In child development one of the ways we gain better insight into what a child understands is by examining the child's art for direction and understanding of what he or she is really thinking. When children are going through challenges of any kind their art can often guide you to understanding their perception of something. Their art often reveals their fears, their wishes and the most important things in their lives. I remember when we had a kitten die at birth; my son was 5 at the time. The next day, he drew a picture with the mother cat, the live kitten and the dead kitten in the picture. The mother cat and living kitten were walking along the ground catching a bug. The dead kitten was with them only was in the air with a halo and wings flying above the mother cat, catching a bug. This told me what he understood that the dead kitten was an angel but still did things like the living kitten and was part of the family. Another way we have used drawing is when 2 of my children were having nightmares around the age of 4 and 7. I asked them if they would like to show me what the monsters looked like by drawing me a picture of the scariest part of their nightmares and they both drew these hideous monsters. We took the pictures and told them we didn't want them in our dreams any more and threw the pictures into the fire. The nightmares stopped. The children felt powerful.

There are other ways that we can tap into young children's thinking process but, their paintings and drawings are easy to accommodate and you can take the supplies anywhere. I recommend that children come to the art as they wish. There is nothing wrong with inquiring if they would like to draw pictures with you or say for example "let's draw a picture of a time in the hospital." If the child does not want to, then just leave it alone. When a child does do a picture and you want to find out more information it is typical to use phrases such as, "tell me about your picture" or maybe "I see you have lots of red and blue can you tell me more about that." Stay away from the standard question "What is it?" That is just irritating! I know it sounds like this stuff is right out of a parenting manual but the deal is you need to make it your own and not like you are giving your child a teaspoon of medication. This is about building a relationship through seeing your child from their point of view, not about a clinical diagnosis. Whatever they draw or paint is their truth and their reality. It is their perspective and needs to be honored as such.

And so that is my little bit of whatever it is in support of Pablo's healing.

Peace, Susan

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