Understanding the meaning of your child’s drawings

Your child’s drawings can give you valuable insight into the state of mind of your child. It can also tell you about any kind of physical and sometimes even emotional experience he is going through.

1. First Impression
The very first look at your child’s picture can sometimes reveal what he feel. Look at the picture carefully. Does it look depressing or disturbed? The answer to that question will give you the first clue to your child’s thoughts.

2. Colours
The colours he uses come next. Children, as they grow up, are exposed to a wide range of experiences and emotions – everything they come across is exciting and new! The response of a healthy child to all this information and sensory input would be to use a wide range of colours in their drawings. The more colours your child uses in his drawings, the more happy and excited he is about life! Colours also help to better express emotions than a simple pencil would. Hence the overuse of a particular colour may also indicate the emotional state of the child. This is in line with the findings of colour psychology. In general, a child who uses blues and greens a lot is happy and well-adjusted. Bright and warm colours like oranges and yellows signify cheerfulness, whereas dark colours, especially in drawings that are sad in themselves, could point at a child that needs help.

3. Completeness
If a child leaves his drawings incomplete or draws light hesitant lines, he might be in need of encouragement. Such drawings point towards a hesitant, insecure child. Incomplete drawings might also be an indicator of a casual impulsive personality. However, if the pattern continues over a longer period of time, a parent might consider seeking help. Too many erasures and corrections might indicate a high level of anxiety. Conversely, too much embellishment might be an indicator of a child’s need for attention.

4. Position
Where on the page a child is drawing a picture can also indicate the state of mind of the child, but this would be applicable to older children who have better motor skills. A child drawing on the left side of the page is a shy, introverted child; it could also mean the child is seeking the presence of a caring adult, or a nurturing mother- or father-figure. A child drawing on the right, on the other hand, talks about someone who has a desire to communicate and is an out-going kid.

Common meaning of children’s drawings
Your child will draw pictures in three phases:
  • Scribbling Phase: random scribbling of lines that has no real meaning.
  • Pre-schema Phase:when children try to draw what they see, including simple figures, trees, houses, etc.
  • Schema Phase: when there is a well-identifiable theme to the drawings and the drawings are more realistic.
Through these three phases, your child’s drawings will go from random scribbling to defined pictures with themes and meaning that an adult can understand without asking the child. Through the different phases, your child’s drawing’s meaning will keep evolving. Here are some common themes that you may see in your child’s scribbling, and what each of them means.

1. Scribbling
The first phase of your child – scribbling – may not make sense on paper. But psychologists say that at this stage, it is not the actual drawing but the process that is indicative. A child may put pencil to paper, drag it across, and make noises of an engine revving up. If you asked this child what he had just drawn, he may say ‘daddy going to work’… which means the random scribbling is actually a car on the road. Scribbling makes no sense when you look at it, but the process can give insights.

2. Smiling Sun
A full sun in the centre of the page, with a smiley, is the sign of a well-adjusted, happy, satisfied child.

3. Stick Figures
Stick figure drawings usually depict the family of the child. You can pick up cues about the child’s emotional state by seeing where they place themselves in the picture, who are they standing next to (which indicates the person they feel closest to), which stick figure appears the biggest (which indicates who is the most important person in the family, according to the child), etc.

4. Increasing Number of Details
The more details a child adds to the drawing, the better his cognitive ability is developing. Children will usually add details like spectacles on the ‘father’, or a bindi on the mother. Children with acute observation may even be able to notice and interpret physical appearance differences, and may even be able to see ‘gender’ differently.

5. Hole in the Ground
This is the typical drawing of a child who has recently experienced loss. Usually it is in the form of a death in the family, or it could also be the death of a pet. If the child is alone in the drawing it means the child is feeling very lonely.

6. Monsters
A lot of kids’ stories are full of dark scary beings, so such a drawing could be nothing but the child’s interpretation of the story. On the other hand, it has been indicated by psychologist Dr Christopher Hastings that drawing monsters could be a coping mechanism of a child that is feeling powerless.

7. Clouds and Rain
Showing lots of clouds and rain in the picture could indicate the child is feeling especially anxious or scared. If the child is feeling particularly so, he may draw himself standing beneath a cloud.

8. Houses
The interesting details you can note about a house drawn by a child include the number of windows, whether the door is open or shut if there is a walkway leading to the house, etc. More number of windows is an indication that the child wants people to ‘see what’s going on in the house’. An open door shows a welcoming attitude. A walkway, on the other hand, could indicate a socially well-adjusted child who has healthy social interactions with his peers.

9. Angry People
A child drawing angry people, especially family members, is likely experiencing emotional trauma. Many times, these drawings are also a result of being exposed inadvertently to that kind of media – movies on TV, videos on the Internet, etc. The actions of these people also can give insight: an adult in some kind of danger can indicate a fear of losing the adult or the child’s anger towards the person. On the other hand, an adult hurting the child may indicate abuse at home or fear of the concerned adult.

When Should You Examine Your Child’s Drawings?
According to art therapist and international expert on the analysis of children’s drawings Michal Wimmer, “Parents, educators and mental health professionals do not seek to analyse children’s drawings with the sole purpose of identifying fears and distresses or bring about significant behavioural change. Drawings are an additional, easily available tool for understanding daily behaviour.” In fact, it has been indicated by several studies and researchers that children who draw more are actually more creative and intelligent.

Sometimes children may draw scary things: weapons, fire, angry people, fighting, etc. While the odd drawing is okay, if this is a common trend emerging in your child’s drawings, you may want to consult a child psychologist. Some such situations, where consulting a psychologist may be necessary are when:

  • The child is drawing violent pictures repeatedly.
  • The child draws a person or an object significantly bigger than himself.
  • The child draws disjointed body parts for human figures.
  • He uses too many dark colours and unpleasant images.

It is important to look at a child’s picture in its entirety. Never rely only on your interpretation of your child’s drawings. They can draw some pretty darned ridiculous and crazy and funny things! Remember to ask your child the meaning of what he has drawn.

Do not take every single scribble meaning to the heart!

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