By Sophie Lucido Johnson
Emotional and Behavioral Disturbances can take myriad forms. Some students act out in the classroom, while others turn inward and demonstrate quietly self-destructive behavior. The tips below are guidelines for using visual arts as a tool to help students establish their own self-worth as they move forward in multiple school settings.
- Celebrate small successes. Just picking up a paintbrush and creating a simple line can be an accomplishment for some students. Be sure to mention and honor students’ willingness to engage in basic artistic tasks, and don’t push too hard toward form or function at first.
- Know that progress does not travel in a straight line. It’s normal to see bursts of success and then periods of emotional unrest. If a student has a meltdown, it doesn’t mean she isn’t growing. Expect hills and peaks, and normalize relapses.
- Use abstract art. Shapes and lines that don’t have to resemble something specific offer the kind of freedom that can be tremendously liberating for students with emotional disturbances.
- Allow variant workspaces. Sometimes students like to work under tables or in corners; many children work best outside or in particular rooms. Experiment with spaces to find the ones that make your students feel safest and most creative.
- Don’t punish. Many children with EBD are used to being punished for “doing things wrong,” which can be a trigger for meltdowns and behavioral disruptions. Let art be the one class where students can’t get things wrong. Use neutral language when students don’t follow directions.
Sophie Lucido Johnson is a writer, comedian, educator, and artist. Her article “Emotional Intelligence Through Art: Strategies for Children with Emotional Behavioral Disturbances” is published in 2013 VSA Intersections: Arts and Special Education Exemplary Programs and Approaches.