It’s December, the final month of 2020. What a year it has been. Collectively it feels like we are in the final leg of a marathon – we can see the finish line and we are limping towards it with the single goal of 2020 finally ending.
The year started off with devastating forest fires, followed closely by a global pandemic that literally shut down the world as we knew it. Many disturbing and distressing aspects of that known world were brought to light, including systemic racism, violence, flawed justice systems, transphobia, homophobia, climate change, natural disasters, and an unstable uncertain economy.
We are STILL in the midst of the collective trauma from it all. While the year is almost over, many of these situations have not really shifted. And this incomplete list is just the global overview – never mind the individual, particular, personal experiences this year has held for each of us.
There has been anxiety, loss, and change this year on a larger scale than what most of us typically experience. And that has an impact. It impacts our mental health, our physical well being, and our general ability to “manage things.” The collective experiences we have shared this year have made our individual challenges even more challenging.
My most repeated phrase in 2020 has been “It’s a LOT.”
It’s a lot to feel, to experience, and to process.
I spent a long time thinking about what I could share with you in this final month of 2020. I wanted to offer something helpful, maybe even something hopeful. I like happy endings. But happy is just not how many of us are feeling.
So instead, I’m offering a way for us to acknowledge and reflect on what we have experienced.
The holidays are typically a busy time, and many of us are usually swept up in the bustle of the season right about now. But if we know one thing for sure, this year will be different. We will have fewer plans, parties, and places to go. We will spend more time at home.
Often when we pause, that’s when the feelings and memories flood in. As our brains and bodies rest, we process what we have experienced. This is totally normal.
But since we know that this year has been A LOT for all of us, you will probably notice A LOT of feelings and memories coming up for you and your kiddos over the holidays.
If we know this, we can prepare. We can expect feelings and memories to come visit. We can trust that they are showing up as a way to help us process our experiences and integrate them so we can move on.
In my work as an art therapist, I’ve learned that when we ignore our feelings and memories, or try to shut them out, they will just keep on showing up until they receive acknowledgement.
What if, instead of bracing against our internal experience, we could get some space ready? Instead of being blindsided, overwhelmed, or exhausted by our feelings and memories, we could actually WELCOME them?
I’ve created an art activity with a free printable to help you and your kiddo do just that.
The printable is a little house template, with “finish the sentence” prompts written on flaps that open up to reveal space for your feelings and memories underneath. The interactive flaps were inspired by advent calendars, a tradition many of us follow to count down and prepare for what lies ahead. The house motif reflects how we have spent so much time at home this past year.
This activity is meant for you to do WITH your children. They will most likely need some technical help from you (with printing, cutting, and gluing), but more importantly they will need your emotional guidance.
It’s incredibly important that we reflect on and process our experiences from this past year. And it will most likely require more time and space than a single art activity. But this is a concrete starting point. By inviting your child into this process with you, you are teaching them about the importance of reflection, you are offering permission to make art about these topics, and you are starting the conversation. You are providing a home for THEIR feelings and memories.
Let’s make a home for our 2020 feelings and memories.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- 20 – 30 minutes to sit down and focus on art time with your child
- Free Resourceful Me Art Therapy 2020 House Template
- Scissors or exacto knife (and adult assistance/ supervision!)
- Self-healing cutting mat or cutting board if you are using an exacto knife
- A blank piece of paper
- Drawing materials (markers, pencil crayons, pencils, crayons)
- Glue stick
- Stickers, washi tape, decorations, embellishments (optional)
Here’s what you do:
Print a few copies of the house template (one for you and one for your child).
Invite your child to join you for some special art making time together. Introduce the activity as a way to acknowledge and reflect on the past year.
Spend a few minutes talking about what this year has been like for you. You have spent more time at home than you usually do. What else has been different this year? What stands out when you think about 2020? Are there any feelings or memories that come to mind?
Explain that this little house is a place to keep your feelings and memories safe. It’s a home for just a few of the many experiences you have shared in 2020. The prompts on the paper are a guide to help you think about and reflect on the past year.
Tell your child that when we make art and talk about our feelings and memories, it helps us to learn and grow, even if those feelings and memories feel challenging.
Decorate your house! You can make it look like your actual house, or turn it into your dream house. Be as playful and imaginative as you like! You can add stickers, washi tape, holiday decorations – there are literally no rules or limitations. While you are decorating your house, you can think about the reflection prompts.
Once the outside of the house is decorated, carefully cut along the dotted lines ONLY. Adult supervision and / or assistance is required for this part. I find that it’s easiest to use an exacto knife, but you can also fold the paper and use scissors to cut along the dotted lines.
After you have cut along the dotted lines, fold back the flaps to open the windows and doors.
This next part is tricky and offers an opportunity to practice fine motor skills, frustration tolerance, and self control. On the back of the paper, add glue to all the parts of the paper that do not fold out. Then, quickly attach the house template to a blank piece of paper or cardstock.
Open the windows and doors, and write or draw your responses to the reflection prompts underneath the flaps.
Here are the reflection prompts:
- I’m letting go of…
- I really missed…
- I feel sad about…
- I learned that I can…
- I feel grateful for…
- I realized how much I care about…
- The funniest moment was…
- It bugged me when…
- I felt loved when…
- Next year I hope…
Share your artwork with each other! Acknowledge the full range of emotions that come up. It’s okay, and totally normal, to feel happy and silly and laugh about some of your memories, while at the same time you feel sad and frustrated and upset about other aspects of 2020. There’s space for all of it.
And while 2020 might feel worse or more intense or stranger or unprecedented, the truth is that EVERY year includes successes and failures, joys and challenges.
By reflecting on feelings and memories, we create space for them, which actually helps us to integrate them and move forward rather than getting stuck in the hard stuff.
Here’s a video “house tour” of my reflections on 2020:
- Print the template onto cardstock to create a sturdier house. Attach the house to a blank piece of cardstock, and write or draw your reflections on cardstock too.
- Instead of cutting out the windows and doors, hold the paper up to a window and trace the windows and doors onto the back of the paper. Write or draw your reflections on the back of the paper instead.
- For younger kiddos with still developing fine motor skills, you can use this same idea but make it bigger and simpler. Draw your own simple house shape onto a large piece of paper. Then, focus on a small number of reflection prompts. For example, draw 4 windows and invite your child to draw a time that they felt happy, sad, mad, and scared this year.
Rationale (here’s why I love this activity):
- This activity is playful but the message is powerful: 2020 has been an intense year and there have been many emotions and experiences that need acknowledgement. It’s okay to feel all the feelings. They are all normal, and understandable, and welcome. We can create a safe space for them.
- The reflections are contained on one page, in separate sections, and it’s a limited amount of space. Sometimes big life events or feelings feel more manageable when we explore them in contained, clearly defined spaces. This allows us to acknowledge our big feelings and let them out, without becoming overwhelmed or worrying that we will lose control.
- Putting feelings and memories down onto paper is the first step in feeling less alone with them. By doing this activity alongside your child, you are normalizing that there have been ups and downs and big feelings this year, for ALL of us. You are literally opening the door to show your child that they are not alone in what they may be feeling and experiencing.
- When we share our experiences and emotions with each other, we practice perspective taking, we build empathy, we teach children that all feelings are welcome, and we learn more about each others’ inner world, which helps us to build emotional connection.
- This activity fits with the metaphor of feelings as visitors that come and go (inspired by “The Guest House” by Rumi, and “When Sadness is At Your Door” by Eva Eland). Feelings are temporary, which makes them more manageable and less frightening.
Some things you might talk about:
- The reflection prompts can each be an invitation into a conversation. This is something you can come back to later. If it feels like too much to talk about all of these prompts at once, invite your child to share about their favourite window or door in their house. Then, display your artwork on the fridge or in another place where you will both see it. Ask your child about some of the other prompts as opportunities arise. Children often like to talk at bedtime when they have your undivided attention. You can use the prompts as a way to start conversations and help kiddos to share and process their experiences.
- Often our memories and emotions just need to be acknowledged – they want to know that they are welcome. We don’t need to “fix” or “change” them. We can simply give them space. When we do this, we might notice that they actually shift, fade away, or move on. This message is reassuring and empowering for children.
- If your child feels comfortable and wants to share their artwork, this can be a tangible way to connect with family members such as grandparents. You could send them photos or a video “tour” of the house, and invite them to share some of their memories and reflections in response. The more we model this process of acknowledging and reflecting on our experiences, the more natural it will become for our children. This kind of an activity sends the message that there are caring people in your child’s life who are open and available to talk about feelings and memories.
If you would like to share your house artwork with me, I would LOVE to see it! We can connect on Instagram @resourcefulmearttherapy, or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you or your child could use some additional support with processing the feelings and experiences of 2020, please reach out to learn more about in-person or virtual art therapy services.
Wishing you a safe holiday season!
Written by Rubi Garyfalakis, DTATI, RP, RCAT