Therapist shares how creating art helped traumatized students feel calmer after Sandy Hook
A simple idea with big impact.
School should feel like a safe space. But after the tragic news of yet another mass shooting, many children are scared to death. As a parent or a teacher, it can be an arduous task helping young minds to unpack such unthinkable monstrosities. Especially when, in all honesty, the adults are also terrified.
Katelyn Campbell, a clinical psychologist in South Carolina, worked with elementary school children in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. She recently shared a simple idea that helped then, in hopes that it might help now.
The psychologist tweeted, “We had our kids draw pictures of scenery that made them feel calm—we then hung them up around the school—to make the ‘other kids who were scared’ have something calm to look at.”
For Teachers/Therapists: I worked in a CT elementary school when Sandy Hook happened.
What helped: We had our kids draw pictures of scenery that made them feel calm—we then hung them up around the school—to make the “other kids who were scared” have something calm to look at.
— Dr. K8 PsyD (@psych_k8) May 25, 2022
“Kids, like adults, want to feel helpful when they feel helpless,” she continued, saying that drawing gave them something useful to do.
It also took some pressure off to focus on making “other kids” feel better. Campbell noted that even if they are scared, it’s “easier to talk about the ‘other kids.’”
Rather than use the word “safe,” which can “be a loaded concept for kids who never feel safe,” Campbell used “calm,” and “peaceful,” which really resonated with the students.
But really, it gave the kids something to “do” that felt useful. Kids, like adults, want to feel helpful when they feel helpless. And they loved the idea that they could help “other kids” feel better (they were the scared ones, but it’s easier to talk about the “other kids”)— Dr. K8 PsyD (@psych_k8) May 25, 2022
Pretty soon, the school was filled with “rainbows, beaches, pretty flowers, playgrounds, and happy scenery,” which stayed up for weeks.
“I’m pretty sure it helped the adults too,” she quipped.
Art therapy can be a valuable tool for any age, but it can be particularly beneficial for children who (hopefully) have not had the complex, hard-to-articulate emotions that come as a result of trauma. As psychologist Cathy Malchiodi explains in her book “The Art Therapy Sourcebook,” “the language of visual art—colors, shapes, lines, and images—speak to us in ways that words cannot.”
Incorporating a sense of helping others and focusing on “calm” images was another brilliant layer Campbell added onto her exercise, and she soon received a flood of support for her suggestion. Overall, people were relieved and inspired.
“Beautiful use of a simple mindfulness practice to foster peace, calm, and altruism-all important in times of crisis. Thanks for sharing,” one person wrote.
“Honestly the idea made me feel like a breath of fresh air. Such a sweet and positive thing, so simple but effective,” wrote another.
The massacre at Robb Elementary in Ulvade, Texas, is the second-deadliest elementary school shooting in the United States, following Sandy Hook in 2012. There’s no way around these statistics. It’s nauseating and horrific. I feel for the parents and teachers trying to fight for change, protect their children and keep up morale all at the same time. Happy doodles might seem trivial during such a dark period for humanity, but as Campbell can attest, they do make a difference.