Artful Emotions: Using Art to Develop EQ

Art and creation can be a wonderfully therapeutic experience for a child developing their emotional intelligence and emotional regulation skills.

Today, I wanted to share with you a few artistic tools or materials that would be beneficial in encouraging children to express and experience emotions. These suggestions are based on my own experiences with kids, and my education relating to child psychology.

Using Art to Develop Emotional Intelligence. A psychologist weighs in with her favourite art materials for kids

Homemade Play Dough

Homemade play dough is the first material that I would suggest be included in your emotional art-sinal (ha!); homemade because it lacks the plastic smell of commercial “PlayDohs,” can be used warm or safely rewarmed, is more moldable and less likely to break apart into a million crumby pieces, and can incorporate wonderful, engaging scents. Also, this is a safer material for children with sensitive skin.

Molding the playdough with their hands is incredibly engaging and tension-releasing for children of all ages, and unlike many other hands-on sensory activities, children with sensory processing issues or just highly sensitive senses of touch are not normally bothered by playdough as they are other sensory materials.

Our Recommendation: Homemade — be sure to check out our large collection of unique homemade play doughs.


Clay or Beeswax

Clay is nice and messy, coating the hands and squishing, while beeswax is a bit harder to manipulate and would be good for a child with strong finger muscles.

Both are satisfying in that they allow children to manipulate and focus their energy into a tactile experience, and there is a fluidity to working with clay that can allow a child to fully immerse themselves in the experience.

Our Recommendation: Crayola Clay is affordable and reliable, and these clay tools are well-priced. I always offer a wet sponge with clay invitations.

We’ve only ever used Stockmar Modeling Beeswax, which is a bit pricey.


Block Crayons

Block crayons are a good option for younger (preschool and under) children, as they are less likely to break if being used a bit too harshly, and enable a child to quickly fill up a paper with their movements (and emotions). Some older children might enjoy the regression of this activity, while others might find it too baby-ish.

Our recommendation: DIY out of broken crayons or Stockmar Block Crayons.



Painting is appropriate with children who are not so upset that they are going to get paint everywhere and cause a greater conflict — or, if you have a Buddha Board, which paints with water, as we have in our peace corner.

I encourage painting before I would encourage “stick” markers or crayons, although some play therapists swear by Pip Squeak markers, partially due to the sound and ease of holding.

As with clay, there is a fluidity to the experience that allows the child to experience the paintbrush as an extension of themselves.

Some children would find the mesmerizing process of Waldorf-style wet-on-wet painting to be beneficial, while some children would be further upset by the lack of control that they would have on the finished product.

The nice thing about paint is how easily it can be spread and that several different “brush” mediums can be used to great effect, and also because children can “build on” their paintings after they have dried, repositioning or imagining their subject matter as time passes. (Covering up an image, adding an image, changing a colour, etc.)

Our Recommendation: Depending on the child, I like liquid watercolour paints or washable paints that can double as fingerpaints. Make sure to wear a smock!

If using watercolour paints (and planning to keep the artwork afterward), I recommend also using watercolour paper.



Things to Say After Children Are Done Creating

  • “Wow, what were you feeling when you made this?”
  • “I love the colours that you choose to use, why did you pick those?”

I would encourage parents to focus on the artistic process, not about what the image is (or is about). Older children may attempt to create a specific image, but it is the actual therapeutic process of creation that we want to encourage, not a focus on accomplishing a set image or communication, which can add frustration. Its somewhat akin to writing a journal entry versus writing an essay for publication.

Using Art to Develop Emotional Intelligence.

What materials your children enjoy when they are feeling out of sorts? How do you use art to help them refocus or calm?

For more awesome emotional intelligence-building activities, check out our Inside Out Emotions Sensory Bin or our Peace Corner.

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One Comment

  1. I am lucky to read this post as it is very helpful to fix errors in my parenting. I want to support my son’s emotional developing, thank you.

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