Discussion Packet

Canvas (2020) – Discussion Guide

Discussion Guide:

  1. When we first see the man getting up and going about his day, how do you think he’s feeling? How can we tell?
    Caregiver Note: Recognizing and naming emotions are skills that children from a background of trauma often struggle with. While this question may seem obvious to us as adults (the man is unhappy because his eyes look sad, he moves slowly, looks down, etc.) it’s good practice to have kids try to guess how a character is feeling and talk about why they think so- pay attention to body language, facial expression, etc.
  2. How do things change when the little girl arrives?
    Caregiver Note: This one goes along with the previous question, but we see his face light up when he interacts with the little girl and so you can discuss as a compare and contrast of how he looked/acted when he was sad vs. happy.
  3. How do the man’s daughter and granddaughter show they care about him?
    Caregiver Note: Because children from trauma haven’t had as much experience with healthy, loving, relationships sometimes they have difficulty in understanding the right and wrong ways to show someone they care. We see the granddaughter hug her grandfather, and give him a drawing. The daughter kneels down, touches his arm, gives him a kiss on the cheek. While these are all appropriate gestures given that these characters are related, sometimes our kiddos don’t know how to draw these appropriate boundaries so this can be a time to also remind them of those boundaries in terms of hugging or touching others and even checking in with them about their preferences in that regard as they might not like being touched.
  4. Why do you think the grandfather spends so much time looking at his easel but not painting?
    Caregiver Note: We see the grandfather daily go out and sit by his easel but not paint. He won’t even color with his granddaughter. While it doesn’t become clear until later in the film, the grandfather used to be a painter but since his wife passed away he doesn’t like art anymore. It seems like he wants to paint but struggles with the memories so she‘s unable to. This might also help kids make connections about activities or places they might avoid due to triggering memories.
  5. Do you think he wants to paint again?
    Caregiver Note: This is a follow-up to the last question. We see him approach the easel daily, even though he doesn’t paint. This likely signifies that he has a desire to paint but just doesn’t know how to work through his feelings and get back into it. At the end we see him finally able to do so with the support of his family, but it’s clear before that point that he’s trying and that it’s important to him. This can be an opportunity to talk to kids about how sometimes, even though they might really want to do something, it might be emotionally difficult for them to do so. And that’s where asking for help or support from a caregiver might help.
  6. Why does the grandfather get angry when he finds the little girl in the art room?
    Caregiver Note: The room seems to have a lot of paintings of his wife and he is worried that seeing them will make him sad so he keeps the room shut and locked away so he doesn’t have to think about it. His anger here isn’t really at his granddaughter, but a reflection of his own grief being triggered. This can be a way to have a discussion with kiddos about trauma reactions and how sadness can sometimes come across as anger.
  7. What makes the grandfather feel better when he is sad?
    Caregiver Note: Several times in the short we see the grandfather look very sad but then start to cheer up- always when his granddaughter is present- giving him a hug, a smile, or a touch on the arm.  This is a good lead-in to the next question which asks the youth about what helps them when they’re upset.
  8. What makes YOU feel better when you are sad? How can I help you when you have big feelings?
    Caregiver Note: Every child is different- for some they might like a reassuring touch or hug when they’re feeling sad or anxious. But some kids, especially those with a background of trauma, don’t feel the same reassurance from touch as others and it might actually exacerbate their emotions. So this is a good time to talk with them about what types of reassurance helps them the most- maybe having you just sit near them and talk or having a favorite stuffed animal or blanket. Having this conversation also helps to give them some control back- they are having a chance to tell you what they like or want from a caregiver- so it’s a win-win for both of you!
  9. What helps the grandfather be able to start painting again?
    Caregiver Note: AT the end of the short we see the grandfather at the easel getting ready to paint again but he’s having trouble getting started and seems anxious. His daughter and granddaughter both come and stand next to him and put a hand on his shoulder, a reminder that they’re with him and he isn’t alone. This support allows him to do the thing he was afraid of. Use this as a reminder to the kids in your care that you’re there and they aren’t alone- if they have something hard to do you’ll be there with them to support, just like this daughter and granddaughter did for their grandfather.
  10. ACTIVITY: Family Portraits
    Caregiver Note: In the film, painting is important to the grandfather and something he wants to find his way back to, even though it’s hard for him. We also see some art his granddaughter makes- including a picture of her family. For a follow-up activity make family portraits! The film is about painting but kids can choose whatever medium they feel comfortable in- painting, drawing, collage, photography. Make sure they include whoever they view as part of their family- this might be foster/adoptive parents and siblings, biological family members, extended family and even close friends. Have them think about how they’d like to represent each member and talk about why they chose the representations they did. This can also be a great way to start conversations about who a child feels close/connected to and how they view those relationships.

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About the Author: Jenn Ehlers

Jenn is a central Virginia native who received her BA in Psychology from the University of Virginia in 2012. Since then she has worked for a local mental health agency and the Department of Social Services in various capacities and has been involved in her community’s efforts to create a Trauma Informed Network. Currently Jenn works in vocational rehab and mentors youth in foster care. When she isn’t working, Jenn enjoys writing stories, anything and everything Harry Potter, and spending time with her niece and nephew.

**Transfiguring Adoption is a nonprofit organization seeking to nurture growth in foster and adoptive families by giving a HOOT about their families. Transfiguring Adoption does not intend for its reviewers nor its review to be professional, medical or legal advice. These reviews and discussion guides are intended to help parents to better be able to connect and understand their children who come from traumatic backgrounds.

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