Activities to Help Your Kids Open Up

This World Mental Health Day, we’re talking about the ways families can express their emotions in a healthy and helpful way through art. To learn more about how Harbor and The Cullen Center at ProMedica Toledo Children’s Hospital use art in therapy, read our latest article.

“How was school today?”


Sound familiar? It’s a question often met with a sigh, an eye roll, or just a shrug. When it’s difficult to get children to open up about their day, Aaron Cromly, Clinical Counselor at The Cullen Center, says the first step is connecting with what makes your child unique.

“A lot of the conversations parents have are, ‘How are you doing?’ ‘Is your homework done?’ ‘We’re going to grandma’s house this weekend.’ Instead of being in ‘adult planning mode,’ sit down and look around their room. How is your kid expressing themselves? What’s on the wall? Is it football players? Are they dancers? Are they movie stars? That’s where their whole world is.”

Children and adults express themselves through the music they listen to, the movies they watch and the clothes they wear. Cromly suggests taking an active interest in what your kids are interested in and asking them why. Getting to know your child on an emotional level through their interests can open up a healthy parent-child dialogue.

Cromly says another way to connect with your children is allowing art to be front and center in your home.

“Have your markers and crayons out on the table and allow them to be used. They say ‘Out of sight, out of mind.’ We come home, we’re cleaning up, we’re getting dinner ready, and that’s when we’re staying in the realm of doing and not expressing. But if you come home and say, ‘Let’s just draw out our feelings,’ you’re sitting together for a few minutes and you’re connecting with what you’re drawing.’ You then go into the verbal. It’s a lot easier for kids and adults to express how they’re feeling,” says Cromly. He and others at The Cullen Center use creative techniques like drawing and play to open up dialogue with children and families seeking healing in difficult times.

If questions and attempts to engage in conversation are still met with little or no communication, it’s important to be patient. Cromly reminds us that when it comes to children and adults, experience makes all the difference.

“We as adults can talk on the phone because we have been for 30, 40, 50 years. If you have a 10-year-old, they just learned language, they’ve only been doing it for eight years. They have all the same emotions as us, but the world is so vast to them, and sometimes it’s just taking the time to sit down with them. Don’t get discouraged if it seems like you’re not connecting. Keep searching for what works. Your child has a way; just keep listening and don’t give up on it. They know you’re trying. They know that you care.”

If you’d like to complete an art activity with your child, download our coloring page here.