The Psychology Of Children’s Artwork

The Psychology Of Children’s Artwork: What Your Child’s Drawings Can Reveal

Children's ArtworkHave you ever taken a look at your child’s artwork and thought—what were they thinking when they drew this?! Around the time your child turns 6-years old the stick figures depicted in their everyday drawings have some real weight and value.

When kids draw they use a dose of imagination, paired with their real life experiences. Unlike adults, who think too deeply about everything, children do not sensor their artwork based on what people might think of it. Typically, they just draw whatever comes to mind; this is what makes kids’ artwork extremely telling. Since kids love to draw and do so often, art is a method of physiological analysis that is readily available and easy to obtain.

Parents often worry about the content of their kid’s artwork, curious if they should be concerned over certain details. In many cases, concerns are not needed since children are known to draw very odd things from time to time. Here we discuss what your child’s pictures mean, as well as signs you should or should not be concerned about your child’s artwork.

The Most Telling Drawing Of All: The Family Portrait

When a child draws a picture of their family they include a lot of telling information, such as their relationship with their parents, how they feel at home, and more. The way a child interprets their family can be identified in the details of their drawing.

Dr. Roger Mills-Koonce recently led a study in conjunction with Bharathi Zvara at UNC-Chapel Hill in which children were asked to draw a portrait of their family using markers and paper. Most kids completed their creation within 10 minutes are less.

Researchers found children who drew themselves further away from their parents, and much smaller in size, were more likely to live in a chaotic home environment full of noise, crowding, clutter, and an overall lack of structure.

When a home is loaded with chaos, parents have less time to spend with their children and parent child interactions are likely to be interrupted just as a child starts having fun. As a result, children develop a depreciated sense of self, hence why they may draw themselves extremely small and far away from their other family members. Dr. Mills-Koonce is careful not to blame parents for these issues, and instead blames the root of the problem on often-uncontrollable factors, such as poverty.

Child psychologist Dr. Martin T. Stein wrote an article for Parents Magazine detailing his own experiences using children’s drawings of their family to better understand his patients. In one example he cites, an 11-year old patient drew a sketch of her and her mother together, the two were sketched side-by-side, with a string held between both of their hands to connect them. The little girl had grown up with only her mother and struggled to make friends. The drawing was a breakthrough for Dr. Stein, allowing him to show the girl’s mother just how attached she was, so much so it was getting in the way of her other interactions. (Read full story here)

Children that draw every family member with slightly different characteristics are showing signs of advanced intelligence, and an understanding that every person in their family is a unique individual. A common difference children use to signify different family members is size. If one member is vastly larger than the others you can use this as an opportunity to ask if that particular family member is the leader of the family team.

The activities that a child draws a family participating in are also informative in regards to how they interpret everyday life. Children are not professional artists and usually you have to ask them what is going on in a picture to fully understand. Their explanations can be just as telling as the picture itself. If a child explains that their family is working together to complete an activity this is a clear sign that they feel like a team working to accomplish goals with their family members.

What Your Child’s Self-Drawn Portraits May Reveal

When children draw sketches of themselves they include a lot of important details. The way that a child depicts themselves with pen and paper identifies how they feel about their own self and overall image. Insecurity and inner-conflict can often be identified in the details of a self-drawing. The size your child draws themselves as, and shading certain body parts darker than other parts, are both signs your child might have an altered perspective on how they see themselves. Children that routinely draw themselves wearing a sad expression may also be experiencing inner-conflict.

Inappropriate Sketches: Children Drawing Private Parts & Violence

If your 3-year-old creates a drawing of a woman with exaggerated private parts you might feel cause for concern. The thing is, children are curious individuals that may draw what seems inappropriate simply because they are trying to figure things out for themselves. Around 3-years-old children start to become more aware of different body parts, and it is a normal part of childhood development for children to draw images that are sexual in theme from time to time. That is, unless the images depict things they should have no way of knowing about yet.

Many years ago when I was in elementary school, I still remember coming home and telling my mother about a little boy that sat next to me in class who regularly drew violent pictures of guns. Thanks to social media, I have seen this same kid grow up into a fully functional adult that has never used violence to harm anyone. So while I might have freaked my mom out telling her about this gun-loving kid that sat next to me in class, he turned out to not be so violent at all.

It’s not so abnormal for a child to draw something violent. Of course, if you do catch your child drawing violent images it is important to discuss their pictures with them. By talking to them openly about their artwork you can learn the real meaning behind their drawing, and where the inspiration for such a graphic picture came from. Violent drawings might relate to watching too much television or playing too many video games.

Do Drawings ALWAYS Mean Something?

Looking at your child’s drawings might grant you insight to their inner thoughts but it’s important to never over-analyze their work. Sometimes, a drawing might seem like a bad sign, when really it’s nothing to worry about at all.

Talking to your child about their drawings, and asking them about why they included certain details provides insight and can help bat off unnecessary worries. Just make sure to keep your dialogue open-ended so that your child has a chance to explain for themselves what they have drawn and why. Ask them questions such as; “Tell me about what you drew. Who are the people you drew and what are they doing?”

Drawings can be interpreted in many ways; this is where analysis can get thrown off on the wrong track. Some researchers actually aim to avoid this form of analysis.  Kristen Cullen Sharma is a neuropsychologist at the New York University, she explains that many therapists are leery of using drawings to determine much at all about a child because of the ambiguous nature of art. Although, that doesn’t mean Sharma doesn’t agree that art can be rather telling. In fact she says, “My colleague might not interpret drawings the same way as me, so there’s a need to continue to develop evaluations so that we can rely on them.” (NPR Interview)

Signs Your Child’s Artwork Might Be Of Concern

Even the oddest of drawings might mean nothing serious at all, but in some cases drawings are incredibly telling and a way for parents to act on something bothering their child psychologically.

Some signs that your child’s artwork might be indicative of a larger problem:

  • If your child’s overall artwork changes dramatically and suddenly. For instance, if your child has never drawn a violent image in his or her life and then suddenly they start to only draw violent things. It’s not one drawing that should cause concern, but instead patterns within their artwork you should look out for.
  • If your child tends to use mostly red and black ink this is also a sign that therapists have identified as important. Using the color black a lot is often linked with childhood depression, and using the color red in excess can be a sign of anger and aggression. Red and black markers are readily available, and so your child simply using these colors is no cause for concern. Yet, if you notice all of their drawings rely predominately on these colors that’s when you might want to think deeper about their color choices.
  • If your child draws strange versions of your family, such as leaving certain family members out of the picture all together, or continually sketching himself or herself far away from everyone else. Clinical psychologist and behavior consultant Dr. H’vovi Bhagwagar says that family portraits can be the most telling drawings of all, and that “…any upsetting event currently in a child’s life usually shows up in the family drawing.”

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The Wondrous World Within Your Child’s Mind

If you are truly concerned about the content of your child’s drawings it’s important to skip jumping to any conclusions. Instead, you may want to seek professional help from a child therapist in order to determine if your child’s drawings require extra special attention.

Children are creative individuals that draw whatever comes to mind. Sometimes these drawings are laden with meaning, and other times they are just funky creations that interconnect with a child’s development, vast imagination, and overall curiosity about the world.

At ABC Learning we love nurturing little minds, contact us today to learn more about our educational preschool and daycare programs for children ages 12-months to 5-years.

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