Building a stronger self: A report for parents

Each and every one of us has the capacity to imagine, express and share our creations in a unique way.  The expressive arts workshops encouraged creative self expression through art making, sharing and feedback.  The art experience in a safe and non-judgmental environment provides a platform for self reflection, inquiry, insight and growth.  These in turn contribute to an stronger sense of self and well-being.

Simply put, when we feel good about ourselves and the world around us, we function better.  We have more flexibility to adjust to life’s challenges; more patience to tolerate discomfort and difficulties; more confidence to rely on our own thoughts and ideas to not only understand problems but also to come up with creative solutions to tackle them imaginatively.

It is not a black and white world.  There are plenty of ambiguities and uncertainties.  Learning how to hold that uncertainty is a step towards developing a healthy curiosity to explore our self and our world more deeply.  Seeing that there are multiple ways to look at the same thing, that perspectives though contrasting can be equally valid and significant breeds tolerance and respect for differences.

Participants in the expressive arts workshop were given weekly suggestions and art materials and encouraged to develop and express their original ideas on suggested themes. Themes included layers, patterns, darkness, light and shades in between, and celebrations to name a few.  They were given the time and the space to develop the idea and express it with the help of art materials provided.  Sharing with the facilitator or the rest of the group was encouraged, and participants inquired about and observed each other’s art work.

There were small but dramatic shifts that were witnessed as the group’s process evolved and transformed.
•    A young participant who struggled to conceive and develop his own ideas slowly grew more confident, adding details to his work and revolving his art work to see it from different perspectives.
•    A shy withdrawn young girl in narrating the story of her life witnessed a significantly positive shift that took place once she “accepted things the way they are”. Increased focus on one’s own attitude and behavior indicated a greater capacity for self-reliance and a sense of responsibility for her life.
•    Managing attention and regulating impulses addressed hyperactivity and distractibility in participants. One girl demonstrated a shift not only in her art work but also in her behavior as she increasingly became aware of her energy and patterns of release.  The art making served to soothe anxiety and support physical and emotional relaxation.
•    One young participant developed 3-dimensional art work that demonstrated harmony in love and separateness/nothingness in hatred and wrote “love and hate are part of life”.  The security issues affecting the city are stressful and at times the unpredictability is traumatic for children.  They were encouraged to express their feelings and the art provided a space to recover a sense of safety.
•    The ‘mysteries of me’ theme encouraged participants to explore ambiguities and hold uncertainties. Several participants developed their emotional landscapes, much of which was unknown, uncertain, or yet undiscovered.
•    They were supported and encouraged to develop openness and flexibility in form, content and meaning.

The art making process focused on the following core themes: imagination, development, expression and sharing.  The following are some guidelines for parents to further strengthen the child’s sense of self.

➢    IMAGINATION: Support and encourage children to imagine, both in play and in life, as this is the basis for creativity, proactive action, and development of the self.  Looking at a situation from different angles, asking “what if” questions,  brainstorming, and engaging in fantasy and magical play are some means to support a child’s imagination.

➢    DEVELOPMENT:  Children should be encouraged to share and contribute to decisions and processes that concern them (ie how to spend time in the evenings/weekends, the placement of furniture in their room) to support them to develop a sense of significance and choice. Knowing that they can influence their life is imperative towards developing a sense of responsibility.  Learning and growth entails small successes and many failures.  Demonstrating a consistent attentiveness and affirmative attitude towards a child’s efforts to improve will help the child sustain her own attention and manage her frustrations.

➢    EXPRESSION: A parent’s curiosity, genuine interest, and interested engagement encourages a child to express his/her independent and unique ideas.  The expression of curiosity and sustained interest in a child’s thoughts, feelings and ideas can will help a child remain focused and attentive towards one’s self and task at hand.  This curiosity and interest can be demonstrated by a parent’s questions and observations  (“I wonder if”, “It makes me think of”) without remark or judgement (ie “could be, should be”).  Practice expressing one’s ideas, opinions and experiences supports the development of healthy communication and exchange.  It is the basis for relationships. Expression can be in words, but also action – giving and taking. Recognition and valuing of sameness and differences breeds a sense of respect.

➢    SHARING: Sharing perspectives opens up the doors to feedback and exchange.  Teaching positive social engagement to children begins with modeling that behavior as parents and caregivers. Respect, empathy, openness, and compassion can be learned and developed through consistent experience.

Developing a strong sense of self goes beyond being “confident” or having “self esteem”.  A sense of self is a recognition of one’s inherent value as a human being.  A strong self is self-aware, that is, she recognizes her strengths and also areas of improvement.  A strong self respects and serves the needs of others through mutual sharing, empathy and acts of loving kindness.
Some of the characteristics of a strong self are:
Curiosity, Creativity and Compassion.
➢    curious (open to new ideas, discoveries),
➢    creative (responsible, innovative, flexible)
➢    compassionate (empathic, gentle and loving towards self and others)

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