3 Ways Art Therapy Can Help Kids With Eczema


By Steve Nelson

Published On: Sep 2, 2022

Last Updated On: Sep 2, 2022

For kids with eczema, working with a licensed art therapist can provide a creative outlet for self-expression, stress relief and therapeutic counseling – all at the same time. But what exactly happens in an art therapy session? We connected with a professional art therapist in Portland, Oregon, who specializes in working with young children, to better understand how art therapy might help kids with eczema.

1. Art keeps your child’s hands busy

As many parents will tell you, itch is one of the most universal symptoms of eczema. Kids feel itchy, so they scratch their skin, starting the itch-scratch cycle, which in turn can lead to rashes, infection and inflammation. Part of the challenge, according to many parents, is keeping their kids’ hands distracted so they don’t itch their skin.

“Any art project could help kids with eczema,” said Jessica Stumpf, a licensed art therapist in Portland, Oregon, explained, “since we use our hands to make art.” 

Jessica explained that for a child with eczema – especially for a child experiencing severe itch – she would customize her approach to the child’s individual needs. “Depending on a child’s tolerance for messy items, building clay or finger painting would be highly tactile and potentially soothing: a good distraction for itchy hands.”

Keeping those hands busy can help a child’s mind stay calm, as well. “Creating mandalas or other geometric shapes can be naturally centering and help to focus a child’s distracted or anxious mind,” Jessica said. “Kids love fidget toys, so you could create a homemade worry stone or stress balls to use when the urge to itch appears.”

If your child is already drawn to artistic activities at home, it’s important to remember that merely “coloring pages” alone is not a form of therapy. 

“In reality, art therapists are trained in applied psychological theory and the creative process,” Jessica said, “along with having the proper training, certification and state licensure.” 

So while your child may enjoy the process of making art at home, it’s important to recognize that working with a licensed therapist will enable you to communicate specific goals related to their behavior and mental health; this may include challenges your child is experiencing at school or other issues related to your child that you’d like to explore with a professional therapist.

2. Art activities can help boost self-esteem

Studies show that children with eczema, in particular atopic dermatitis, have higher rates of anxiety and depression. Eczema can lead to social isolation and it can prevent a child from participating in certain activities that might cause their skin to flare. For some kids with eczema, this can take a negative toll on their self-image.

“For many kids, I work specifically on activities intended to build self-esteem and self-worth,” Jessica said. That could range anywhere from teaching and mastering a new art skill, Jessica explained, to recreating and dialoguing with the bully in art form. “Focusing on building self-esteem can help reinforce the child’s ability to learn and create in other aspects of their lives, giving them a sense of confidence to stand up to the bully. Practicing dialogue or ‘talking back’ to the art bully they’ve made could help them process their feelings.”

3. Art can communicate more than words

Some kids may lack the language or vocabulary to express their feelings. Using their hands, either to paint or mold clay, Jessica explained, may enable a child to express a more complicated concept than their language otherwise allows them to. 

“Making art is a kinesthetic experience that engages the mind and the body in a way that talk therapy cannot,” she said. “I specialize in work with children and often the images they create communicate complex emotions that we never would’ve discovered through talking alone, simply because their brains aren’t yet developed in that way.”

Because bullying and anxiety can happen at any time, at any age, having a support system in place, Jessica explained, can help give kids an opportunity to express themselves and work to engage their parents or caregivers to advocate on their behalf.

After the session, it’s important to stick with it

What is the definition of “success” in the context of art therapy? It depends on every child. 

As eczema manifests differently in every patient, the therapy used to alleviate the stresses of eczema might look different for every child. Jessica explained that she works to identify shared goals with her clients at the beginning of their sessions. “It could be anything from implementing new skills or a reduction in certain behaviors,” she said. “Ideally, a client would create time for their own continued therapeutic practice after our time together.”

For more information about art therapy and eczema, read more about Jessica’s work at Brushfire Studio.

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