Children thrive on the world of curiosity and imagination, because if they are in the right setting their imagination is limitless. Give them a few markers, clay, sticks, pipe cleaners and there is no telling where it might take them. One thing I do know, is that it takes them to a world where words are not necessary; it takes them to a world where creativity, feelings and thoughts live. Young children's brains are still developing cognitive abilities and accessing thoughts and feelings with language is many times difficult, especially feelings that are painful. Here is where art comes in.
As an art therapist, I have worked with many children helping them express themselves through play and art. The art becomes the vehicle for them to put feelings down on paper, with clay or through play. Through the process of art and play, I might ask a child to tell me about their art, is there a story to their art piece, who a figure is in their artwork as I remain curious. I would not ask, what is it? why did you draw that? I might role-play with them using their art as a guide.
Children most times do not even need a directive. If the materials are in front of them, they will begin to explore them and begin creating something, especially if I have a few different art supplies out.
Art is a place for them to put nightmares down and let the art hold and contain the images of the nightmare. The picture on the top right is just one example of a child's drawing of a nightmare. He was only 6 at the time of the drawing. There appears to be a sense of control when the child can create images of their feelings and put them into art form. Here, children have the option of adding to it, changing it or leaving it just the way it is.