Analysing your Child’s Drawings

Child's Drawings and Psychology

Drawings are a commonly used tool to engage in therapy when working with younger children, particularly primary school aged and below. Traditional theoretical approaches suggest that children's drawings primarily reflect their state of conceptual and intellectual development. Through the process of observing and analysing the drawings of young children, Psychologists can gain insight into the socio-emotional, physical, and intellectual development of each child.

Drawing allows children to express themselves, whether it be to convey strong messages, positive or negative, and also to draw random and inconsequential things, and as such, it is important not to jump to conclusions! Drawings can be interpreted in many ways, and this is also where analysis can be inaccurate. Some contemporary research discourages this form of analysis. Children’s drawings can be highly variable and considering the ambiguous nature of art, this can be easily misinterpreted.

It is also important to note is that children are curious and may draw what seems inappropriate, but only because they are trying to understand the world around them better. For example, around 3 years old, children start to become more aware of different body parts, and it is a normal part of childhood development for them to draw images that are sexual from time to time. The concern would lie only if they are drawing images depicting things they should have no way of knowing about yet.

On the other hand, there are clear signs that parents should notice about their child’s artwork, that is, if the child continually refuses to draw, as this could be a reflection of trauma.

It is also not so abnormal for a child to draw something violent. Have an open talk with your child if you notice them drawing violent images and 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 may relate to watching too much television or playing too many video games. If your child’s overall artwork changes dramatically and suddenly. For example, if your child has never drawn a violent image before 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.

Keeping the conversation open-ended allows the child to explain for themselves what they have drawn and why. Asking questions such as; “Tell me about what you drew. Who are the people you drew and what are they doing?” promotes their communication. It is also helpful not to be confrontational or authoritative and avoid “why” questions.

A Means of Enhancing Communication

While children may dislike answering questions, drawings can be completed quickly, easily and in an enjoyable way. Drawing is in the same field of expression as play and speech. Most children enjoy drawing and would do so without pressure of being judged. This way, children may express their fears, joys, dreams and pain through drawings, and can give insight into their relationships to people and the world. Drawing is an outlet for communication and a child’s artwork represents a view of their personality.

When children 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. As parents, it is important to be encouraging and open to whatever your child is drawing. Talking to your child about their drawing, and asking them about why they included certain details provides insight and can help alleviate unnecessary worries. One other tip is that parents can also draw alongside their child and share a little bit of their drawings too!

Tips for Analysing Child's Drawings

The progression of drawings that a child makes over a period of time can show significant growth and development, as well as determine academic capabilities and skills characteristic of their developmental level. Any analysis of drawings should be done over time. Analysis is done through repetition of elements like colour, shapes and recurring details, which point to meanings.

In order to read into pictures, firstly, it is important to constantly pay attention to the first impression of a drawing. Rather than seeking to interpret a picture and its deeper meaning, it is more important to emphasise the first feeling that the viewer has. Also, instead of putting the focus on finding symbols, there is a need to look at the picture as a whole.

Written by Dr. Joel Yang