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Coloring: A Therapeutic Practice for Kids & Adults

Updated: May 8, 2023

While it might seem simple, coloring is such a powerful therapeutic technique that has infinite possibilities.

It is a tool that can be used for all ages for so many different purposes. For children, coloring allows them to make their own decisions about what colors to choose and whether or not they’d like to follow the “color inside the lines” rule. Children get to own their artwork and can show it off as something they stuck with, followed through on, and are proud of.

As a therapist who works with children, coloring is typically where I begin my work with a child. Step one of forming a connection with a kiddo happens when we plop down on the floor together, pick from a few coloring sheets or blank paper, and dump a big box of pens, pencils, crayons, and markers out to begin our conversation and creation. Coloring helps us learn a lot about each other—I get to learn about how their brain operates when given lots of choices and they get to learn that they’re allowed to make a mess, make decisions on their own, and be their truest selves. Coloring is a great ice-breaker activity for children and adults alike because it helps create a safe and healthy barrier. When we both have something to look at, do, and talk about, instead of zoning in just on each other, it helps cultivate an environment of low pressure, safety, and positive regard for each other.

For adults, especially those who don’t deem themselves as “creative” or have a hard time getting started on projects due to procrastination or perfectionism, coloring can be great practice. Coloring pre-drawn pictures, printouts, or pages from a coloring book can be such a helpful way to combat the sense of anxiety and overwhelm that sometimes comes along with staring at a blank piece of white paper. When we have lines drawn on a page to guide us, the creative process becomes choosing colors that look nice together or symbolize different things, as opposed to stressing over drawing something that looks “good.”

Coloring can be a fun and healthy way to tap into your creativity and take a few moments to focus on mental health and wellness. Grab your favorite coloring tools like gel pens, crayons, colored pencils, and markers, and plop down on the floor by yourself or with your family. Here are a few practices to try as you and your children color:

The Colors of Me

Look at your coloring tools and decide which colors represent:

  • My personality

  • My friends

  • My favorite memories

  • My family

  • My faith or values

  • My best subject/greatest strength

  • How I feel right now

  • What I am most proud of

Color your page using these colors and think about how all of these things blend together and interact to create something beautiful. This page represents all of the pieces of you that come together to form who you are. All of the Colors of You create a masterpiece—something unique, treasured, and celebrated.

Photo via Instagram / @trainingsbyromy

Spectrum of Emotions

Sometimes we get stuck in a rut of emotions and just feel overall “bad” or “good.” We forget that there are so many more emotions to choose from! Just like how there is a spectrum of infinite colors, there are almost as many emotions we can feel. Look at the Wheel of Emotions (above) and remind yourself and your children that there are limitless ways to describe what we are feeling! Look at the inner circle and choose one that describes how you are feeling now. Choose an emotion in the center and move outward in the circle to see if you can describe your feeling in more detail. Select that color pencil or crayon and use it in your coloring sheet. Color lightly if you are only feeling a little bit of that emotion. Press down hard and darken the color if you feel it very intensely.

Gratitude Coloring

Select certain colors to represent the things in your life that you are grateful for. For the people in your life, maybe pick their favorite color to represent them. Each time you pick up that color to use in your project, think about that person and give thanks for them. Do the same with the possessions, opportunities, memories, learning moments, and fun moments in your life. In the field of mental health, we know that gratitude is incredibly helpful in decreasing anxiety and depression. Practicing gratitude every day can promote overall wellness and can help connect you with the present moment.

While coloring is often thought of as an old-school, basic, elementary activity, it can be used as a powerful therapeutic tool. It can be used solo as a DIY form of self-care, gratitude, and reflection or can simply be a fun surface-level activity for folks of all ages.


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