Practical tools to Deal with Kids’ Frustration While Creating Art

By Yana Stup


Imagine this: you try to create art with your child, but instead of relaxing and enjoying the activity, the child declares that he did not do well or asks you to do the work for him. Or, in extreme cases, he leaves angry or tears the page and cries, claiming it is not good enough.

The reason that the child cannot enjoy the creative process is the wish for the artwork to be perfect (and if at all possible, then not having to work too hard to make it). The frustration comes from the gap between what the child wants to create and what he is actually able to produce at this given moment.

Around the age of four, children develop a need to express themselves through realistic drawing--as true to reality as possible. They would be interested in abstract art again only around the age of 10 years old.  Until then, their brain maturity is not ready for that, and it may confuse them. So, let them try realistic painting, and don't try to persuade abstract painting.

This means that we would need to find ways to deal with frustration of less than perfect performance while trying to draw or paint realistically. 

First, take a deep breath. Inhale through the nose to the stomach and exhale through the mouth. You can also turn your face up for three seconds. 

When dealing with our child/ student’s frustration, we need to stay strong, calm, and stable. This would show the child that we can contain his difficult emotions. The last thing a child needs is for the adults to ask, “Why did you do that?” He would not be able to answer, and this question would only annoy him and keep him distant. 

Once we breathe and made sure that we can provide a stable support to our child, we can use one of the following methods:

Acknowledgment & Solidarity: "I see you are frustrated; it seems very unpleasant to feel that way, I know the feeling." This response demonstrates to the child that you accept his feelings and don’t judge them. 

Leading Question: Please explain to me what would you like to change / add / subtract here? Often kids will answer “Everything!” Do not accept a general answer, and direct the child to something more specific: “Please show me one or two elements that bother you.”

In the first few times of practicing this method, it may take a while longer for the child to learn how to provide a specific answer, and you will need to repeat the question several times. It is important for the child to see that you are not discouraged. Do not give up!

You can help the child to understand the message through examples and stories: “If I ride my bike, fall and bruise my leg, does that mean that I should never ride again? Or maybe I could disinfect the wound and continue to ride and even be really good at it?” It’s best to come up with examples that are relevant to your child’s world: dancing, singing, sports, drama, cooking, etc. 

Our job is to help the child separate the problem he has with the painting from the perception of himself as a whole person. We need to help them change their mindset from the mindset that “Everything I create is ugly” to “I am learning to paint and as a beginner, and I know how to deal with challenge." We want to constantly lead him focus on what specifically bothers him in his work and stay away from implying a general assumption that he is not capable of anything.

Once the child tells us what exactly bothers him, we move on to the next question that would lead him to find a solution and overcome the frustration. For example, the child says, “The head of the teddy bear I drew is too small.” Your response should be: “Okay, if this bothers you, how do you think to change it?” do not rush to provide solutions. Let the child think for himself. In most cases he will come up with creative and better solutions than the ones us adults could provide. When you allow the child to solve his own problems, you empower him and give him a sense of control and independence. 

If the child does not come up with solutions you can offer two options: “You could put a blank paper on top of your drawing and copy everything except for the head, which you can draw bigger. Or you can draw a bigger head on the existing drawing and erase the initial version. Which option works better for you?”

Once the child chooses a course of action, praise him for his ability to overcome frustration. For instance, “I noticed how challenging this was for you, you were frustrated (it’s important to name his feelings), but you didn’t give up and kept trying. This is how famous and successful artists like Michael Angelo and De Vinci responded to challenges; they didn’t give up either." Do not praise him for his talent! 

I wish you all an enjoyable and empowering creative process. 

Yana


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