Helping Dyslexic Children Illustrate Their Feelings (Comics as a Coping Skill Part 2)

In my last blog post (Comics as a Coping Skill: Part 1), I shared the work of Edith Zimmerman, a cartoonist and blogger who uses her art to express and process her feelings, and to help kindred souls do the same. Her work and her process really got me to thinking about how the same method could help new homeschoolers this year, especially those with dyslexia and other learning challenges. By helping dyslexic children illustrate their feelings, you can learn valuable clues about how to provide what they really need to help them learn.

Families are really struggling right now. It doesn’t take much investigation to discover that parents and kids alike are at the very least uncomfortable with all the unknowns of distance learning, and at worst, floundering desperately to find their way. Emotions are running high, and as a result, very little learning takes place.

An angry little girl with curled red hair in pigtails faces the viewer with her arms crossed. Behind her is a chalkboard with a frowny face drawn upon it. Drawing is a way of helping dyslexic children illustrate their feelings when they are stressed, especially about the uncertainty of new circumstances and learning at home.

As my friend Lois Letchford says, “Children don’t learn when they’re in pain.” I certainly lived the truth of that statement in my youth. Schoolchildren today are in great pain resulting from the uncertainty due to the pandemic, and as a consequence, they are most likely not learning as well as they would under ordinary circumstances. So how do we help kids move from a place of pain, frustration, anger, or uncertainty to one of safety and love where learning can take place?

I suggest taking a cue from Edith Zimmerman and encouraging kids to draw how they’re feeling. When you see your child getting frustrated, checking out, stalling, making excuses, or getting defiant, it’s an opportunity to hit the “PAUSE” button on schoolwork and get them to draw you a comic or cartoon about how they’re feeling. By helping dyslexic children illustrate their feelings, you will enable them to express those feelings through art, not through acting out.

Hate your math work? Draw a picture of how it makes you feel. Missing your friends? Draw a picture of what you’d like to be doing with them. Frustrated about too many essay questions? Draw a cartoon about how you feel about them. Hate being stuck at home? I’d love to see a cartoon about it.

A cartoon drawing of a worried face. Drawing is a way of helping dyslexic children illustrate their feelings when they are stressed, especially about the uncertainty of new circumstances and learning at home.

Whether your child scratches heavy black lines with crayon, draws a picture with no sunshine anywhere to be seen, or sketches a self-portrait full of tears or gritted teeth, the point is that a picture will give voice to feelings they may not have words to express. That artwork will give you, the parent, insight into what your child really needs most from you right now.

Their drawings might reveal that they are feeling:

  • powerless
  • unheard
  • scolded
  • uncared for
  • afraid
  • angry
  • lonely or isolated
  • afraid to be honest
  • unsafe
  • unloved
  • like something is unfair
  • frustrated
  • hopeless
  • forgotten
  • trapped
  • like they can’t go on

Parents, none of these things are easy to see or easy to contemplate, but your child may be feeling them, nonetheless. As you read through that list, notice that the antidote to none of these is “just quit stalling and go do your homework.” Instead, this is a time for patience. This is a time for kindness. This is a time to remember that everyone is struggling to find their way.

A child's drawing shows an angry father pointing at an angry little girl. Drawing is a way of helping dyslexic children illustrate their feelings when they are stressed, especially about the uncertainty of new circumstances and learning at home.

Really look at the drawings your child does for you. Listen to their messages. Have a hug. Spend some time outside together. Talk kindly to your child. Comfort them. If you don’t have all the answers right now, that’s okay. When your child looks back on this time in their lives, they won’t remember how much math they learned. They’ll remember how they felt when they spent time with you. They’ll remember that when they felt afraid and alone, you listened. You showed them they were safe and loved.

Cardboard Box Adventures picture books are great for shared reading and can help parents establish a strong preliteracy foundation for their children. Check out the CBA Catalog for a full list of award-winning picture books, chapter books, and resources for parents and educators. Visit my Amazon author page for more information.