Eight Creative Activities for Students Suffering From Trauma
Children who’ve experienced trauma can sometimes feel this way when asked to talk about bad experiences. Words are hard to come by when something terrible has happened. Instead, children may prefer expressing themselves with creative activities.
Below are eight ideas to help a student process and express their trauma. For each, let the child lead and take things slowly. Look for patterns, and watch as emotions and details come to the surface. Consider leading up to more direct questions later on.
These activities may, over time, help the child heal and focus better in class. Each is recommended by scholarly articles and experts we interviewed.
1. Character Storytelling (Ideal ages: 4 to 7)
The protection of make-believe characters can offer some much-needed emotional space to
express feelings and process events. Gather a few age-appropriate dolls or action figures and ask the student to tell a story with them. For example: “Use these to tell a story about your family.”
2. Story Writing (Ideal ages: 8 to 18)
For older children, writing their stories can help them gain back some remnant of control and process what happened. Ask if they would like to try this, maybe in a journal. Guide them to share just one detail per day to avoid overloading their heart. “As a child articulates what they have seen and been through, healing occurs. As healing occurs, they can focus,” says Stuart Meyer, a speech therapist specializing in child trauma.
3. Three Wishes (Ideal ages: 4 to 9)
Ask the child to make three wishes, maybe using three stones to represent each wish. The
selections may reveal areas of the student’s life they feel are lacking. Ask the child why they chose their selections. Children who favor make-believe options may yearn to escape reality.
4. Painting or Drawing (Ideal ages: 3 to 15)
According to their age, ask the child to draw pictures or look for patterns to uncover clues about their thoughts and feelings. You may wish to give them some general ideas, such as “Draw a picture of something you did recently.”
5. Clay or Play-Doh (Ideal: Ages 3 to 8)
This activity has similar benefits to painting or drawing but is especially helpful for students
who are younger, more active, or more tactile. Ask them to make characters and tell a story with them, watching for patterns and feelings that come to light.
6. Circle of Perspective (Ideal ages: 10 to 18)
Ask your student to draw a large circle. Inside it, ask them to jot down memories of their trauma, such as what they worry about and what they see, hear, and smell.
Then ask them to flip the paper over and draw another circle. This time, they should draw just one label inside the circle representing the trauma. Then guide them to draw many other labels representing good things in their life, such as happy memories and positive character traits they possess. This ensures the trauma is not ignored but guides the student’s eyes to a bigger picture.
7. Life Goals (Ideal ages: 6 to 18)
Ask your student to make a list of 5-10 things they can realistically do in their lifetimes, such as places to see, people to meet, and ways they want to make a difference. This will provide plenty of opportunity for you to encourage them. It will also help them see that their trauma doesn’t dictate their future or who they become.
8. Memorizing (Ideal ages: All)
Most importantly, help your student memorize a famous quote or verse, reminding them they are not alone. “Understanding God’s presence being with them addresses abandonment, which is a key negative emotion for anyone who has walked through trauma,.” Meyer says.
Whatever method you use, remember the best thing you can do is offer a safe place for them to debrief, be a listening ear, and point them to hope. For more information on helping kids process trauma check out Helping Students Cope with the Traumas of War.
Lauren Craft loves writing. She enjoys sharing her joy with refugees from around the world, who have blessed her in return with heartfelt friendship and stories that inspire her heart. Her inspiring writing has appeared in more than 20 book compilations and magazines.