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A picture's worth a thousand words: Children express feelings through COVID art (13 photos)

Children's Experiences of the Pandemic, an art project captured various emotions children are feeling across Canada

A picture of a globe wearing a mask, a child sitting in an empty room with the calendar stuck in 2020, a broken face and heads screaming.

These are some of the emotions children across Canada have been expressing during the pandemic. 

Getting children to express their feelings can be somewhat challenging so early childhood educator Nikki Martyn came up with an idea. 

She launched Children's Experiences of the Pandemic, an online art project for children between two to 18 years of age across Canada which is collecting artwork for the duration of the pandemic. All the children have to do is express how they feel. 

“I wasn’t expecting the feel quite as much as it came out. I mean you feel it when you look at the artwork,” said Martyn, an adjunct professor at the University of Guelph and the program head of early childhood studies at the University of Guelph-Humber.

“What concerns me the most is the idea of being broken.”

Martyn saw themes of sadness, loneliness, worry and lack of motivation in over 150 art pieces. Younger kids drew the pandemic literally with masks and the virus whereas many teenagers depicted feelings through expressions. 

“Some of the kids have expressed feeling failure and disillusionment about the future. Like ‘What’s the point? Why am I doing this? What’s my future going to be anyway?’” said Martyn.

These sentiments are also prevalent in children locally.

“What we’re seeing in younger children is an increase in low mood and anxiety and sadness that we probably didn't pre-pandemic,” said Krista Sibbilin, children's services manager at Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington for individuals between birth to 12 years old. 

“I think as we see adults’ mental health increase, we’re seeing children's mental health also increase and we know that is due to COVID.”

Sibbilin said during the initial stages of the pandemic, the CMHA WW noticed a lot of anxiety in children which was found through play-based therapy. As the pandemic progressed, it started to see more cases of sadness, low mood and childhood depression, something also noticed in adults. 

Martyn said young children are being affected by a number of factors such as taking on different responsibilities at home, not going to childcare and not being able to socialize with their peers.  

“We know that young children need to have that social aspect,” said Martyn.

“We know that some children aren't going to childcare because some parents aren't working, that they're at home and can't afford to go childcare. And being at home with parents that are struggling, they have to be a parent, they have to be a teacher, they have to be a friend. So all of those pieces are impacting young children.”

Sibbilin said while the effects of the pandemic are situational based, there are a lot of resources available to help cope with the current climate. 

“We know that families are struggling. Families are struggling with children. Life has changed,” said Sibbilin.

“There are lots of resources that we encourage parents to look at so I think our Here4Help has great resources for families. The school board also has some great resources on their website.”

The CMHA WW is also currently offering virtual services to families and children 

“We have been providing resources and materials so we will drop those off at the family homes and work with their parents and their children.”

While the pandemic continues, Martyn said art is a great way to help children express themselves to understand how they’re feeling.

“Art is an inward expression. It's an expression of your insides. You can't get away from the pandemic right now,” said Martyn.

“I think it's important that we hear the kids' voices so we can ensure that the world feels safe for them.”