Enabling children to express themselves has never been more important than right now during the uncertainty of a global pandemic. At a time when the pandemic is leading to disrupted schooling, reduced socialising, and increased family tensions. This article explores ways of supporting and helping young people to develop skills in self-expression.  

What is Self-Expression? 

We are born curious, eager to discover and explore our environment and we do this naturally through self-expression; the act of bringing something deep within us into observable form. Self-expression can take many forms from communicating verbally, art, dance, sport pursuits, how we dress or act. Consider that with every action and every choice you make, you are expressing some part of yourself. 

As we get older, and with external influences and experiences, self-expression can become more difficult. The fear of judgement, rejection, ridicule, or shame means that we have trained ourselves to conform to what we believe others want us to be and in doing so, we have deprived ourselves the opportunity to show the world who we really are.  

For a young person, self-expression is crucial for the development of their identity, self-confidence, and sense of belonging in the world. The ability to express themselves helps young people communicate their feelings in positive, meaningful ways. However, not all self-expression may be apparent and it is important that we look for non-verbal cues such as body language and other subtle ways in which a young person may try to communicate and express themselves.  

Self-expression allows us to show others our personality and our authentic self. Whilst this vulnerability can be quite a daunting prospect for some, by contrast for others, it can be liberating and help us to grow as individuals.  

Self-expression forms the building blocks of our physical, social, and emotional wellbeing, which we can harness and develop throughout our lives. What we have learned as young children helps to support us on our journey through adolescence and adulthood. It is crucial to know that it is never too late to develop and mould our own individual ways of self-expression.  

Sowhat does this mean in action? 

Some adolescents and adults may find it easier than others to express themselves. They may have had the opportunity as young children to find their individual ways of communicating themselves to the world in a safe, open, and supportive way. Self-expression can come in many forms and it’s important to find out what works for you as an individual.  

For those people who may find expressing themselves more challenging, finding ‘safer’ ways of beginning self-expression may be helpful.  

It could be that paper based activities such as ‘all about me’ or ‘self-expression’ worksheets, all of which give prompts on self-discovery or using structured journals. These are a good starting point as they offer space and time for private thinking. Sometimes, you start writing not knowing where your words or story will take you and that’s okay.  

If being creative is something that interests you, you could think about adult colouring books or paint by numbers as a way of introducing self-expression. In fact, having a distraction can be helpful; doodle when on the phone or listen to some music whilst allowing a pencil to move freely on a blank page.  

Inside/outside boxes are a useful way of developing self-awareness and help with self-expression. For this, decorate a box with images and words on the outside to represent the qualities you show to the world. Then decorate the inside of the box with images and words that represent the inner qualities that are hidden to most people. Once you are aware of what qualities you hide, you can focus on how you can begin to express them.  

Once you are aware of what qualities you hide, you can focus on how you can begin to express them.   

Lynsey Christian, Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist, Isle Listen

If music is important to you, if it relaxes you and inspires ideas, words, and images, use it as a trigger to create poetry or pictures. Find the perfect journal, a large book with plain or lined pages. This is your private space a bit like the inside/outside box. No one is there to judge you and it is not an exam.  

You can also listen to some music specifically about self-expression such as Roar by Katie Perry, Born this Way by Lady Gaga or We Weren’t Born to Follow by Bon Jovi. There are also books about self-expression which you may find as a good starting point.  

If you prefer physical pursuits but lack the confidence to take the next step, you can think about joining a virtual challenge. Here you meet like-minded people online but without having to meet in person as a starting point. This might prompt you to think about joining classes and clubs within your local area and taking your self-expression that one step further.  

Finally, we can’t forget nurturing yourself while expressing yourself. So, if you enjoy cooking or baking, (think about starting small) use recipes as a means of self-expression, in a more contained way, until you feel more comfortable. Once you feel more at ease, the possibilities for self-expression are endless!  

Now what? 

What have you been thinking as you’ve read these words?  

Take some time to think about how you express yourself in the world:

We all have our own unique quirks and traits, and we all have our own preferences and style for sharing pieces of ourselves with those around us. 

Initially, it may not be obvious how you express yourself, especially if this is something out of your comfort zone. For others, self-expression might be more apparent and come more easily.  

It may be useful to write down some things that you are interested in; things that spark your passion or are important to you. Take time to really think about who you are and what makes you tick.  

Set goals but make sure they are realistic and achievable. Make time and engage in activities that feel right for you and keep yourself open to new experiences, talents, interests, passions, and opportunities.  

When you stop analysing how things may turn out, and learn to ‘go with the flow’, you will start to trust in the process and allow yourself to be you.  

Remember, self-expression is a journey of discovery. 

“…the self is not something that one finds. It is something that one creates”

Thomas Szasz, 1973

Some useful resources  

99 Things That Bring Me Joy (a guided journal) by Abrams Noterie (2016) published by Abrams.  

The Anti-Colouring Book by Susan Striker and Edward Kimmel (2001) published Henry Holt and Co Inc.  

For lots of ideas for young people visit www.mind.org.uk/HowCanILookAfterMyWellbeing

Virtual sports activities www.youthsporttrust.org/60-second-physical-activity-challenges some great and potty ideas to get moving. For example, Hopscotch in a Hurry Challenge, Socks in a Box, Burpees Challenge etc.