“The family Canvas trend is not new but is easily one of my favourites. I prefer it as an ongoing project over a period of time where layers can be built up and added to. Start with a super sized bit of paper, a canvas or even a pin board if you would like to go collage style”
Family activities have long included picnic adventures, helmet donning and leg tiring bike-rides and long never ending games of monopoly. But there are other ways to connect and nurture family relationships and making art together is certainly one of them. I am sure many of you have allowed the children to run freely with the craft box or have trucked yourselves off to the shops to find fresh supplies for the latest blog craze recipe (like unicorn dough) but have you ever created an artwork together? Family art activities are messy in more ways than one but worth the courage. And if you get through this article with enthusiasm but still too much trepidation to try it at home, you can always book into a family session at the Sunflower and Ivy Studio here.
First let’s talk connecting with kids creatively. I often see families in my art therapy practice who report two kinds of challenges. The first and common challenge is that they have a creative child but do not feel confident or artistic enough to join them. The second is that they would like to connect more often as a family but find their children repeat the same requests for food, toys or gaming and that they aren’t into art as much anymore. Whilst there can be much to unpack for both of these struggles, being armed with a little understanding of something called bidding and some ideas for family art activites can be helpful in boosting your resources.
So before I dive into some family art activities, let’s look a little more at communication and connection (if you are itching for the ideas, you can scroll down to find the list). The Gottman Institute coined the term “bid” for when a request for connection is made in a relationship. Being aware of bids helps to strengthen relationships as individuals increase awareness of the ways they connect. In turn, this awareness causes them to turn away from or incidentally miss bids less often (side note, excess screens and scrolling reduce the amount of reciprocal bids in relationship greatly) . Bids are made both verbally and physically from open ended questions to physical touch and affectionate gestures. You can read more about bids through the Gottman Institute here. Now when it comes to bidding for relational connection, children can be different. Sure they may come and squeeze you or open their arms for a hug but how they communicate is significantly different to adults. We know that children have less cognitive and verbal resourcing to communicate. Particularly young children who are still learning to differentiate themselves from other, forming emotional recognition and articulation and have reduced capacity for impulse control and reasoning. Generally speaking children usually communicate through behaviour.
So, if you are seeing repeated requests or behaviours it can be worth reflecting on what might be driving it and being communicated. This is tricky when children aren’t even sure themselves or may just be looking for general attunement and sense of security but below are some thoughts to what some persistent requests may be a bid for:
“Play with me”- Connect with me
“Buy me a toy”- I want to experience something new
“Buy/give me food”(after physical need ruled out)- Nurture and comfort me
“You choose” or “You have to guess what I want”- Know me, understand me
“I want to play video games”- I want to be challenged in a way i can master
“Why” -Learn and explore with me, help me to understand how the world works
When exploring alternative ways to connect or curb repeated patterns of behaviour or habits such as toy requests or gaming it can be useful to consider:
Finding a replacement.
If you are going to shrink down that gaming time for example, brainstorm a list to help your child fill that time with other stimulating activities that are meeting the underlying need. Try puzzles, games, sleuths or construction based art making. For behaviours communicating a need for the novel, try placing some toys away and rotating into the playroom every few months. If it’s more knowing and understanding encourage and engage in activities that build connection and communication like imaginative play and family art activities.
Consider other reasons for behaviours.
Whilst it may be a bid to connect, there are many reasons children may repeat behaviours or verbal requests. They may be pleasure seeking and avoiding tricky or unpleasant feelings. Children may be trying to please others and feel accepted or independent or they may lack the skills to redirect themselves or meet their needs other ways. When it comes to food or other sensory cravings, there may be a physical contributor. Cognitive or general tiredness can also impact behaviour greatly. It can be useful to get assistance from a paediatric specialised therapist in some cases like an OT or even consult a GP or paediatrician. This blog article is purely to pique your curiosity about art and relational connection and many of the introductory concepts here are just that introductory and not in their complex entirety.
Not being perfect.
The Gottman institute states that couples in a healthy, happy long term relationship meet 86% of bids (couples who divorced during the study were only meeting 33%). Yep you read that right 86% not 100%. So as a parent drop the idea of perfection. You won’t always discern your child’s needs or intentions or have the energy to meet them. If you find yourself overloaded with work, caring duties or other such life then scheduling a connection “date” with your child can be useful. You can find a list of ideas on the mum central blog here but it can really be as simple as making the hour before dinner for playtime. A regular crafternoon or family games night can be useful in communicating your attunement and value of your child’s need for connection. Help them to understand why you can’t play with them 24/7 but that you do value your play time together. And of course if your making the time, ensure you are wholly present.
Dropping perfection leads into the other challenge I see regularly reported in art therapy. Your own lack of creativity. With a little gently exploring I usually find that underneath this lack of creativity is a lack of confidence, a shortage of resources and sometimes unpleasant memories of how your own childhood creativity was treated (laughed at, minimised, unseen). Remember that creating with your child is an opportunity for connection not artistic mastery. Making mistakes is part of any creative process and a good learning opportunity for any age. If you particularly struggle choose family art activities that are easy or do not have a visual outcome (are play or sensory based)
Below are 5 family art activities for connection.
- Family Canvas
The family Canvas trend is not new but is easily one of my favourites. I prefer it as an ongoing project over a period of time where layers can be built up and added to. Start with a super sized bit of paper, a canvas or even a pin board if you would like to go collage style. Simply start with a background colour or pattern or picture and build from there. The Art Panty has a great free tutorial if your floundering on what to use or how to do it. It’s best not to overthink. The more layers the better so don’tbe afraid to experiment, you can always layer over the top.
- Recycling Bin Robots
If you follow me on Instagram or have read my blog thoroughly, this isn’t the first time you will have seen this activity. I love this activity because it costs virtually nothing and challenges all family members to get creative. Simply collect the recycling and then plan an afternoon of using it to create robots.
I love stamping and its a great way to bring in 3d elements into your artmaking. You can use a range of any stamps lying around the house and get fancy with lino printing or my favourite is to use potatoes. Cut the potato in half and carve out a shape or symbol on the flat side. You can then layer and stamp your own family artwork. See below on strategies to execute the creating between family members.
- Drawing games
There are lots of different drawing games to produce a giggle. From drawing with eyes closed, to holding the paper on your head whilst you draw, to scribble exchanges and pass the paper type games. You can even get the children to design their own.
- Family Collage
Grab a stash of old magazines and your collage box if you save patterned paper and old cards (if you don’t, I highly recommend you do- it is so handy for lots of art and craft). And decide on a theme. It could be anything from a weird world, our dream holiday, crazy creatures to favourite things. It will be interesting to see what emerges and the theme you choose can lead to some interesting insights.
Below are an additional 4 family art activities for the sensory and process focused:
- Play Dough
This one is perfect for families that love to be in the kitchen. My favourite playdough recipe is here. You can also spend time collecting natural and found materials to press into it, or use it in themed play. Children can love the idea of a playdough bakery where they make playdough food. You can be assistant chef or their eager customer! If you are a little tired of play dough there are plenty of other sensory materials to be made in the kitchen including slime!
- Paint Splatter
If you want messy, sensory, movement art then this is your jam. Large op-shopped white sheets work best for this and can be hung outside on the line. Grab leftover paint, or mix a watery batch and start throwing, dancing and brushing across your sheet. You can also use paint in sauce or spray bottles (I told you it was messy!). Many people refer to this type of artwork as Jackson Pollock painting. If you research him you’ll understand why. To make it more his style try it it with your paper, canvas or sheet flat on the ground.
- Christmas decorations.
Dare I say it in October! Realistically it doesn’t have to be Christmas themed, it could be decorations for anything. Crafting decorations and then figuring out where to hang them definitely accounts for plenty of quality time! There are literally 100’s of blogs on Christmas craft but this one by Homegrown Friends focuses on process and sensory art activities
- Paint Pulling
Paint pulling was something I discovered only in recent years and it is loads of fun. It will also encourage the family to work together, as one person can dip, another set, a further person hold the paper and someone to finally pull the string. Tinkerlab have some brilliant instructions on how to do it here
Now let’s talk a few other strategies and considerations for family art making. Firstly THAT word, the third offput for family art activities is MESS, mess is often a reason parents give me not to make art at home. Preparation definitely helps ease this pain. Choose and prepare an area. Go outside for messy art (even to a park!) or lay down a drop sheet. Have a bucket of water or an easy access route to the shower ready. Wear old clothes (you included) and lastly try and change your perspective of messy. Art related mess is a product of exploration and joy. See it as a sign of quality time and important development rather than a burden. You can also pre-prepare the children to help you clean, get them to choose cleaning jobs and switch it up each time you do an activity. Lastly if it really does put you off, choose activities like collage and drawing games that don’t generate a lot of mess. Your children will grow up absolutely okay if you don’t run daily Instagram worthy sensory tray activities.
The other kind of messy you may encounter is the glorious messiness of human relationships. Making artwork collaboratively can be joyful and connecting but sometimes it can also scratch at family tensions and relational habits. It is not uncommon for a bickering outbreak or tears. Planning some rules as a family can be useful and may include showing each other kindness, and outline how to communicate feelings etc. In a family with dominant personalities it can be useful to delegate a “leader” and take it turns to lead or choose the family art activity. See it is an opportunity to integrate some of the learning and practice that the children and family are embarking on such as communicating and listening, turn taking, sharing etc.
Lastly you can also choose activities that are more collaborative because you work on things together or activities where creation is parallel, meaning you work alongside each other on your own artworks. I love family art activities where everyone works on the same project but this can be daunting or difficult for some. It may take a few goes to find what works best for you (it may also change with the needs and preferences of your child). Some family art activities can also call for role delegation, for example in the potato printing activity one person may design the symbol on paper, the other carves and another person print. You can change roles or take it turns for extra fun and challenge.