Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Helping Foster Kids Understand Change and the Foster Process Through Art

By Diane and John

Foster children deal with changes constantly, and not usually under the best circumstances. Often traumatic and unwanted, with a history of past abuse and other confusing events, interacting with (new especially) foster kids can be difficult as trust and a mutual understanding must be developed.

First, however, helping a foster child understand that coming to your home, even for a short period of time, even though it is disruptive and difficult, can be an opportunity for growth, friendship and some happiness.

Children communicate well through art, and art therapy (or using art as a therapeutic tool) is highly effective in helping explain concepts like accepting change, trust and friendship to young minds that may not have any frame of reference.

Below is a process that can be used with children as a tool, partnered with gentle discussion, to help explain that although change may be difficult, it can lead to better things. This tower building exercise helps illustrate reasons a child cannot go home and explains the concept of working towards goals and a stronger family foundation.

Build a Tower

(Age 4- and up)

You’ll need: Lego’s or building blocks, a timer.   Divide legos up by colors

· Have a pile of 30 Red legos on the table

· Ask the child to build a tower with the red legos in 7 minutes.  Start the timer.

· When the timer goes off, you look at his structure and talk about it. Say, “This is a nice tower, nice and strong and solid.” 

· Then for the next round, tell the child he can use any colors he wants to make the tower.  He will choose 30 pieces.  Play the game again.

· Now, start talking about the red tower. The red tower represents the child’s family. Start talking about the family members and as you do, start taking Lego's off of the bottom of the tower in an uneven way.  For example say: “This red tower reminds me of your family. (Pull a brick off the bottom,) It's strong and solid, it was difficult at times, but you are a part of it. This brick is your Mom. She has problems that she needs help with, so she isn’t home right now to take care of you right?”  Pull another brick off “and this is your brother, and he is needing help too right?”  Hand the tower to the child. “Can you make the tower stand like it is now? (With the bricks from the base missing)  No?  Right? Because you need all those pieces there to make it strong and safe? If the tower falls over, it’s not safe for you right?”

· Then, start talking about the multicolored tower.  Something like this:  “This tower reminds me of your foster family and all your counselors. (Put the red brick on it)  You are here too.  (Start pointing to the different colored bricks) This would be your counselors, who are going to help you and your parents, and this is your foster brother who is going to watch out for you at school,” “and we are going to help your mom and dad too, “ (Start putting the red tower back together) so that it is safe for you to go home again.”

· If the child has questions about why he can’t go home yet, refer back to the red tower and pull bricks out from the bottom again, unevenly, as you refer to the problems that were going on in the home.  Again, ask him to stand the tower up, and again, show him how the tower does not stand and would be unsafe.  Give each brick a name, or title it with a problem or issue to help illustrate the things that need to be accomplished before the child can return to his “solid foundation.”

Allow the child ample time to discuss the changes in his life and the things that will be accomplished during his foster care stay.  Leave the towers in place as a visual reminder and refer back to them if necessary later to help explain progress and setbacks along the way. 

AttributionNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by Shyn Darkly

Diane Steinbach is an art therapist and the author of: Art As Therapy: Innovations, Inspiration and Ideas:, Art Activities for Groups: Providing Therapy, Fun and Function and A Practical Guide to Art Therapy Groups

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