She's got it 11:34 18 Jul 2023

Solution for mothers: art therapy for kids and psychological support for mothers help alleviate war stress

An hour of useful communication is an option that is often unavailable to mothers. The child's development, comfort, and safety often come first. As it turned out, it is possible to combine leisure time for mothers and children. Rubryka investigated such an experience.

What is the problem?

Unfortunately, mother and child have a small selection of activities that can be attended simultaneously. If the mother takes the child to some club or sports activity, she must wait somewhere while the child exercises. If the mother wants to attend an event, she must find someone to leave the child with. Of course, now, some public events offer babysitting services. However, it is an extremely rare practice for both mother and child to be busy with something useful simultaneously.

What is the solution?

In the Kyiv Children's Library No. 115, located in the Desnianskyi District, pair classes are held: for parents and children. Parents can have a session with the psychologist while the children work with the art therapist.

Educational project psychologist Olha Belenok has been working with children and parents for a long time. The specialist has acquired the profession of a rehabilitation specialist, speech pathologist, sociologist, and psychologist and has experience working with children with speech disabilities. Now Belenok works in a private gymnasium, runs a private practice, and holds meetings with parents and teenagers. Since 2014, she has been working with military personnel and their families.

When the first wave of shock from the full-scale invasion passed and the Kyiv region was freed from the Russian occupiers, Belenok felt the strength to help people.

Ольга Беленок

Olha Belenok is a rehabilitation specialist, speech pathologist, sociologist, and psychologist 

"I wanted to be helpful. I understood that I have free time that can be used to help people," the psychologist recalls. "I started writing letters to authorities to find out how to help. Hanna Starostenko's assistant responded." This is how they started organizing meetings with adults in library #115.

Art therapist Olena Lutsenko also joined the initiative in time. "I saw an announcement on Facebook that there were meetings for mothers and offered my help for the children," she says.

Олена Луценко

Olena Lutsenko has been working with art therapy since 2014

Olena Lutsenko is a psychologist, art therapist, a member of the National Psychological Association, and a member of the board of the Art Therapy Association. She came to art therapy in 2014 and has been studying constantly.

The psychologist and art therapist's desire to help was transformed into a free project for children and adults. Belenok and Lutseko did not know each other before this. Now they have a powerful but not interpenetrating cooperation. They only agree on the class time and the emotion they want to work on. Meetings are held once every two weeks.

How does it work?

Lutsenko goes to class with a pile of materials. She always brings plasticine, colored paper, pencils, or felt-tip pens. Older preschoolers and elementary school students mainly attend classes. Each lesson begins with doing some exercises, and then the children and the art therapist create a picture, for example, a plasticine landscape.

"Art therapy is often perceived as entertainment. It's as if an animator has come and entertained the children. However, each lesson has a purpose: we work through a certain emotion," says Lutsenko.

According to her, a classic art therapy class lasts one and a half hours. Since they work here with young children who have difficulty keeping their attention for a long time, lessons last 35-40 minutes.

арттерапія у Києві для дітей

Each class begins with exercises

Children can walk around the table and move as they like. Since there may not be enough materials for everyone, another important thing is activated here — communication between children. If you need a certain color of plasticine or a felt-tip pen, and your neighbor has it, you must know how to turn and ask. This is how the interaction begins.

According to the specialist, the fewer instructions, the better. After all, the main thing in art therapy is not the result but the process. Children sculpt or draw as they like, guided only by general instructions about the season, traditional holiday, or other subjects of the class. Then they tell what they wanted to say with their creativity.

"Once the girl drew two mountains together and one separately," Lutsenko recalls. "Then she said that together it is her and mother, and a separate mountain was a girl's father, who is at war, and whom they miss very much. I offered to model the landscape, and the child told me what was bothering her."

арттерапія для дітей

Belenok tries to make her classes with mothers as practical as possible

"My main mission is psychoeducation, giving people the necessary information about mental health," says the psychologist. "There are always many questions for a psychologist, so I try to work in a question-answer format and give practical recommendations. Our topics vary — how to deal with panic, talk with children about money, and mental hygiene."

Both moms and dads come to Belenok for the meeting. They can learn something new in an informal atmosphere and not worry about their child.

"Such meetings are vital. When mothers are with their children 24/7, and everyone around them tries to tell that their child sat up at five months and spoke at seven months, then all the mother's resources are directed to not being worse, not to feel that her baby is somehow different. Here, moms can breathe without getting bogged down in the children's topic."

Psychological education is important, especially in times of war.

"People need to be taught not to do secondary traumatization. There is a girl in my daughter's class and, as always, the children shout at the end of the lesson: 'Your mother has come.' And the girl answers: 'It's not my mom; my mom was killed in Kramatorsk. This is my aunt','" the specialist shares.

The most familiar word, "mother," became traumatic in this situation. Belenok is sure that for such situations not to be repeated, people need to engage in self-education, read books, listen to podcasts, communicate with specialists, and become more empathetic.

Does it really work?

One of the topics that the parents discussed with Belenok was what to do with nervous exhaustion. In war conditions, many people feel not just fatigue but exhaustion. The specialist shares that crying from time to time may be helpful. Parents should first pay attention to their condition to find a point when they understand that it is impossible to continue like this and that changes are necessary. When you realize this and accept it, it is easier to move from a dead point and not go around in circles.

She also says that you must pay attention to the child's behavior.

"I want to reduce the number of situations where parental ignorance leads to injury. Certain manifestations are not the norm. The main thing is to pay attention to it in time and ask for help," Belenok told Rubryka.

дитяча арттерапія

Parents who attend these meetings say they add a resource.

Olena Dobrovolska has already come to meet with Belenok several times.

"We once came with my friend to see and listen, leaving with very positive emotions. The specialists give many tips I sometimes use to raise my teenage daughter. Such a format is essential when children are busy, and parents can discuss their interests," Dobrovolska shared.

Alyona Kukharenko and Alina Boyetska have attended meetings since the summer of 2022.

"This is a reboot for moms," says Boyetska. "It's cool that it's held on the basis of the library, and children can also flip through books, take something to read."

Kukharenko says she is picky about herself: "I constantly wonder if I spend enough time with my child or if I am doing it right. When Belenok tells some examples or mothers share their experiences, I think — I'm all right; I'm not alone. At such meetings, you begin to analyze and draw conclusions."

The main risk when conducting shared classes is making them interesting and useful for adults and children. In this case, Belenok and Lutsenko seem to satisfy the needs of both age groups.


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