The Influence of Art on Children’s Social and Emotional Development

After analyzing nearly 20 peer-reviewed studies on the benefits of art on children’s social and emotional development, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) drafted a report detailing the importance of art in children’s lives. Here, the child development and educational specialists at Hot Spots Extended Care Program detail the findings of the report, and discuss ways to help children increase their exposure to the arts.

While the positive impacts of art on children’s development had always been assumed, a comprehensive analysis of multiple studies citing the specific benefits of art for children had not been established until the NEA’s Interagency Task Force on the Arts and Human Development released their report, “The Arts in Early Childhood: Social and Emotional Benefits of Arts Participation.” Focusing on empirical data developed between 2000 and 2015, the report compiled the findings of a wide variety of studies that focused on how art—either music, dance, theatrical arts or visual arts/crafts—positively impacted the social and emotional development of children from birth to eight years of age.

Although a wide range of studies were analyzed, researchers were able to glean two important findings from the body of work studied. The first was that music-based activities strengthened “pro-social behaviors” in young children, including helping, caring, sharing and empathizing with their peers. Parents who reported singing to their children at least three times a week were more likely to report that their children had strong and sophisticated social skills compared to parents who did not report singing to their children at least three times a week. Another study showed similar results, with toddlers who were enrolled in a classroom-based music program showing more cooperation, interaction with peers and independence, based on teacher observations. Similarly, children enrolled in a dance group that met twice a week showed reduced shyness and anxiety, as well as a reduction in aggression.

Another key finding was that art activities seemed to help children learn to better regulate their emotions. Toddlers enrolled in an arts integration program that allowed for daily dance, music and visual art engagement were better able to independently regulate both their positive and negative emotions as compared to a control group that did not participate in the arts integration program. A study where children were asked to draw a house after being told to think of a past event that upset or disappointed them showed that the children were better able to improve their mood after drawing. This was in comparison to children who were asked to draw the negative event, or asked to copy another drawing—they had more difficulty in soothing and calming themselves. This may show that the ability for children to think creatively is positively correlated with better behavioral and emotional regulation.

The important takeaway from this analysis? Arts, music and dance should be integrated into children’s everyday lives. This should include engagement both with parents and at school, as children’s development occurs across their various environments and relational groups. Whether through classes, extracurricular activities, trips to museums, galleries, concerts or dance performances or personal hobbies, it seems that an increase in arts participation and consumption has positive and long-lasting effects on children’s social and emotional abilities. Together, we can help our children to become creative, thoughtful and socially and emotionally adept individuals.

Our Hot Spots Extended Care Programs strive to provide educational enrichment that focuses on science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics (STEAM) subjects. It is our belief that all children deserve quality afterschool activities that integrate the arts and sciences that help them to learn in fun and engaging ways, and development their emotional and social skills in a positive and nurturing environment. To learn more about our programs, contact us today!