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What Drawings Reveal

A child's artwork can relay important feelings.

If you've ever been handed a drawing by a child, you know children unconsciously pour themselves into their drawings, making each work a significant gift. Thoughtful consideration of your child's art can provide insight into his thoughts and feelings, telling you things he may not have the words to express.

Children's drawing ability develops in stages, and specific picture features change as thinking skills mature. Donna Leonhardt, a former elementary school art teacher says, "Normal, developing 6- and 7-year-olds often use X-ray drawing because they don't understand perspective. They may draw people visible through walls or cars. As they mature, 8-year-olds feel the need to express themselves more clearly, therefore drawing more realistically," says Leonhardt. Typically, boys emphasize action, while girls are more concerned with detail.

Other picture features reflect emotional states, not cognitive development. While the overall mood conveyed in a drawing is the most important indicator of a child's general emotional state, researchers have isolated some features that indicate specific feelings. In his book Interpreting Children's Drawings (Brunner/Mazel), author Joseph H. DiLeo, M.D., explains:

  1. Features depicting ideas significant to young artists are drawn larger than less significant thoughts.


  2. Threatening topics may be drawn smaller than other picture details.


  3. Imperceptible, incomplete, or wavy lines indicate a child feels insecure and sad.


  4. Bold, flowing, and freely drawn lines and figures show a child feels confident and secure.


  5. An anxious child often obscures his drawing by shading over it.


  6. A human figure drawn in disjointed parts is so unusual in early elementary children's drawings that it is interpreted as a call for help.


  7. Color is also an important emotional indicator. One artist who studied cancer victims' artwork discovered that in the days immediately preceding their deaths, these children drew in black.

Experts emphasize that con-clusions regarding a child's cognitive or emotional state should not be based on one picture. It is the frequent reoccurrence of a particular symbol that indicates intense feelings. To gain deeper insight into your child's thoughts or feelings, ask your child to tell you about his picture.

Encourage your child to draw during emotionally tumultuous times. Children often find drawing easier than talking.


March/April 2002, Vol. 14, No. 18, Page 20

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