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Learn to decode children’s drawings

by , 11th Feb 2015

Learn how to decode children’s drawings and get to know your child and his inner personality better. Children’s drawings can tell you so much about their fears, joys, dreams, hopes and nightmares, but they also give you a precious view of their personalities.

Children begin their drawing process from the moment they are big enough to hold a crayon or pencil and put it to paper.  For little ones drawing represents a natural activity, usually with much enjoyment. They draw in order to express emotions, because they don’t know how to express different feelings through words. They express their fears, joys, dreams,  hopes and nightmares through drawings, and also give you leads about their relationships to the world and to other things.

Drawing is an outlet for communication, and children’s artwork represents a view of their personalities. Children’s drawings are unique and can give us precise information about the young artists.

watercolor-drawing

Every parent hopes to find some meaning in his child’s drawings. Sometimes drawings are just drawings, with nothing more than a fun playtime showing itself on the page. But sometimes, interpreting children’s drawings means that you discover a deeper layer to what they are thinking and feeling.

So, don’t read too much into a drawing, but instead allow the child to tell you what the drawing means to them. Asking questions, such as what the people in the drawing are doing, can reveal things from your child that you might never see yourself.

little-girl-doing-art

Drawing Stages

There are three stages of children’s drawings: Scribbling, Pre-Schematic, and Schematic stages.

  1. Scribbling   (2-4 years)

At this stage, there is no realism in the pictures, and they are mostly just marks on a page. It might seem like there is nothing there, but sometimes children create something called “fortuitous realism.” This means that when the scribbles are done, you might be able to see certain shapes,  resembling a car or a house.

little-girl-scibbles
  1. Pre-Schematic  (4-7 years)

At this stage, children attempt to create things they see with their eyes. They might draw the simplest things, such as faces, stick figures, cars, trucks, trees, and houses. There are usually no realistic details to these drawings. At the end of the stage, they begin adding in certain things that set their ideas apart, such as flowers in front of a house or clothes on the stick figures.

girl-drawing-with-mother
  1. Schematic  (7+ years)

In this stage there is some evidence of schema. For example, a drawing of the ocean might include sea gulls, starfish, a beach ball, people wearing bathing suits, etc. Words and symbols might be added to give further messages of explaining the drawing. Drawings of humans will have more details, possibly including freckles. There is more depth and realism, and the use of new viewpoints is possible.

ocean-drawing

Gender And Colour Preferences

Unsurprisingly, there are some differences between how and what girls and boys draw. Girls usually draw rounded shapes, including flowers, hearts, while angles, boxes, and straighter lines are characteristics of boys, along with cars, buses, etc. In general terms,  there is a tendency in children to prefer to draw their own gender.

In addition, some researchers have reported that girls tend to use more colours per drawing than boys do, with a preference for warmer colours (i.e. pink) and that boys demonstrate a preference towards cooler colours (i.e. blue).

girls-drawing

The choice of colour apparently can be significant:

  • Black and purple suggest dominance, and can be favoured by a child who is relatively demanding.  Blue is popular with children who have a caring nature and enjoy company.
  • Red is the colour of excitement, may be used especially by children to don’t want to miss out on anything, and is one of the most popular colours for children to use.
  • Pink shows a need for love and appreciation and is favoured by girls
  • Green is the colour of those who like to be different, like space, and are artistic and intelligent.
  • Yellow also demonstrates intelligence and a sunny nature.
boys-drawing

Position of the Drawing on the Page

When it comes to positioning on the page, apparently the left side of the page is traditionally associated with the past and with nurturing.  It is also associated with mothers.

The right side relates to an interest in the future, and a need to communicate.  This side is associated with fathers.

A child who places a drawing of a good size prominently on the page is considered to be well-balanced and secure, while in contrast, small figures drawn at or near the lower edge of the paper, or in a corner, express feelings of inadequacy or insecurity.

What Emotions Do Their Drawings Reveal?

Many emotions can be revealed from your child’s drawings, but don’t get too carried away with the things they might mean until your child has had time to explain them to you. However, there are some points that researchers have found that might display what a child is really feeling.

two-little-girls-drawing
  • Detailed, careful drawings may reveal a child who feels the need to try very hard.
  • Bold strokes, especially if close together, can be a sign of stress, strong feelings, determination or anger, while softer marks suggest a gentler nature.
  • The quality of line can also be significant – a figure drawn with light, wavering, broken lines, reveals a hesitant, insecure child who appears to think as he goes along.  By contrast the bold, continual, freely drawn line is expressive of self-confidence, and a feeling of security.

When drawing figures, the size, and the relative size of the figures drawn is considered to be significant, with more important or dominant figures being drawn larger.

The absence of arms is sometimes interpreted as indicating timidity, a sign of non-aggressive children, whereas exaggerating the size of the hands is seen as symbolic of aggressive tendencies if the figure is a self-portrait.  Likewise, tiny feet are seen as a sign of insecurity – literally an unstable foundation.

drawing-on-desk
  • Impulsive child: Big figures, no necks, and asymmetry of limbs.
  • Anxious child: Clouds, rain, flying birds, no eyes on the figures
  • Shy child: Short figures, no nose or mouth, tiny figures and arms close to the body
  • Angry child: Big hands and teeth, long arms, crossed eyes
  • Insecure child: Monstrous figures, tiny heads, no hands, and slanted figures

How to Encourage Your Children’s Drawings

Learning to interpret and decode children’s drawings can be very useful for you as a parent. However, try to encourage this creative activity as well.

Art experiences help children develop independence within limits, and gives them the opportunity to represent their ideas on paper or in other formats.  Most importantly, creative expression lets children tap into the magic of their own imaginations, which is what being a child is all about.

cute-girl-drawing

Here are some of the things you can do to encourage your child to draw more:

  • Make art a regular part of playtime.  Offer them various drawing utensils such as crayons, thick pencils, and washable markers.  Cut paper bags up to draw on.  Sometimes it helps young children out if you tape the paper down on the table so it doesn’t move as they draw.
  • No need for instructions.  Let your child experiment and explore and express his creativity in his own way.  This independent child needs to feel confident, competent, and clever.
  • Notice the process, not just the product.  Participate in their drawing process, instead of just complimenting your child’s success.  Help him draw some more complicated things, or choose together appropriate colours for a house of tree.
  • Use art to help your child express strong feelings.  If your child is feeling angry, help him/her express such emotions by drawing very angry picture.
  • Display your child’s art and writing.  This is how your child knows his/her work is valued and important.

Do you like to draw with your kids? Would you share some of your kids’ drawings with us? That would be wonderful!

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  • voltazar@gmail.com' Alexander Paramonov says:

    Thanks for creating this very informative, and easy to read page… I really enjoyed the basic overview of interpreting children’s drawings, and am even more encourage to allow them to express and explore the art of drawing, and to participate in the great activity together with them.

  • msadler0208@gmail.com' Miss Lissa says:

    I found this very helpful and inspiring. Helping me glance inside my children’s mind will be beneficial to their needs and our relationships!

  • Zeineldinelayal@gmail.com' Layal says:

    My child drew his dad with a very big hand and kept turning the pencil in acircular way and scratched all above him . In the picture their was his brother he made him with big tummy and he dre him self next to them but smaller in size and colored his face with the pencil u he said my face closed. What does that mean??!!

  • Janzer1986@gmail.com' Dan Janzer says:

    I enjoyed reading this, I started looking into the physiological meanings behind drawings because my son who is 6 going on 7 in September draws himself with me almost everyday, I was curious as to what this meant because he doesn’t seem to draw anything else. We have a split home where he lives with his biological mother and step-father for a week and then myself and girlfriend for a week. He has many siblings but never draws them unless asked to do so. Any insite would be greatly appreciated

    • NDFAdmin says:

      Dear Dan,
      Thank you very much for your message. Hope there are more articles you find useful on our blog.
      We would have to consult with the experts to answer your question. If we get the answer, we will get back to you.

      Best,
      Your NDF team

    • NDFAdmin says:

      Dear Dan,

      We are glad you enjoyed reading our article 🙂
      Are there any topics related to early childhood development and education you find particulary interesting?
      Thank you for following our blog, we really appreciate your feedback 🙂

      With love,
      Your NDF Team

  • estrella.gillette@gmail.com' Estrella says:

    Thank you so much for this article, and for your continued work in early childhood development! I stumbled upon your organization while I was doing research into my own son’s artwork. He’s a sensitive and curious 4-1/2 year old, and has a wonderful grasp for getting his thoughts onto paper through drawing. He loves animals, specifically lions and other big cats, and draws them in different scenarios. But lately he’s been drawing scenes of predators stalking and catching their prey with more frequency. It’s in pen and ink, so there’s nothing overtly “gory,” but the prey is definitely captured and eaten.

    Should we be concerned by the subject matter or is it just a natural fascination? My husband and I want to continue being encouraging and don’t want to censor him, but we weren’t sure if it was a sign of something more troubling. Any insight would be most appreciated.

  • […] more about childhood drawings and their meanings at the Novak Djokovic Foundation and the ABC learning […]

  • drsreelekshminair@gmail.com' Dr. Sreelekshmi says:

    Hi

    Loved the article. My 5 year old son paints with lot of colors. I am not able to interpret from his paintings. Can I share with you so that I can get a help to interpret

  • drsreelekshminair@gmail.com' Dr. Sreelekshmi says:

    Where I can share my kids painting

  • rizriv@gmail.com' Rizz says:

    This is a very helpful page especially for us who just adopted a child and trying to understand his inner emotions and character.

  • mazeyadolphus@gmail.com' Mazey says:

    My child drew me and her father and coloured us the same colour. She put her younger brother in the middle of us and said he looks like dad but she drew herself far from us alongside her grandma which she painted green and her black while she used red purple and pink (a small amount) to colour us.

  • nishanteeka@gmail.com' Nishanteeka Ganti says:

    My 5 yr old daughter draws good pictures but at the end she makes them clumpsy with either adding too many object s or colors. What should we predict her attitude from her drawings. I feel terrible and upset once the drawing ends. I can see that she can do good stuff but ends clumpsy. Could u please let me know what is happening with her.

  • […] study’s findings compare favorably to research that tracks the changes that occur in children’s drawings as they get older. By the time kids hit […]

  • doc_adarsh@hotmail.com' adarsh kohli, Professor Clinical Psychology, says:

    VERY GOOD ARTICLE. I WORK ON DRAWINGS TOO!!!

  • doc_adarsh@hotmail.com' Adarsh Kohli, Professor Clinical Psychology,PGIMER Chandigarh,INDIA says:

    VERY GOOD ARTICLE. I WORK ON DRAWINGS TOO!!!

  • leaeldar1@gmail.com' Lea Eldar says:

    Wonderful knowledge!!

  • vsmith3869@gmail.com' Smitty says:

    My little sister drew a picture of a little girl in a wagon. It was really cute, until I noticed that the little girls mouth was sewn shut. What does this mean?

  • NDFAdmin says:

    Dear Smitty

    It is possible that you didn’t understand the drawing of your little sister and that girls mouth is not actually sewn shut. So, don’t read too much into a drawing, but instead, allow your little sister to tell you what the drawing means to her.

    We hope our article was helpful!

  • Chaadani@ullens.edu.np' Chaadani says:

    Hello,I asked my students to draw a self portrait. One student surprised me.He drew this picture of dragon and on the head of the dragon there was the tiny him.The drawing was very untidy.He also used pink colour for the body and red colour for the mouth.He has used brown colour for what looks like a wing of the dragon. I explained to him that the drawing was all about him and he actually needs to draw himselves as the size of the dragon.I also showed him an example of his friend’s portrait.The second time ,he drew this huge picture of his friend and again inside the picture there was tiny him.what does this mean?Does it have something to do with self identity?Is it something serious?

  • sjst.mars@nic.edu' Samuel says:

    Good article, I really enjoyed reading it. I am now in college and doing research about how children are able to show emotion through their artwork. I am curious about the scholarly side of this article. The author was Ljiljana Mandrapa, but where did all these ideas come from? It seems like all these ideas are connected to one person, but was there any research done prior to writing this article? Thanks

  • dkatz@gmail.com' U kat says:

    My daughter she seven draws people with a huge face in wondering what’s the meaning of this?

  • Nolabubbie@gmail.com' Marsha Hope says:

    My thirteen yr old grandson drew a portrait of himself at school.and it was well done and great except he did not give himself a mouth! Does this mean he doesn’t think he has a voice?

  • noel_pmm@yahoo.com' Noel Achas says:

    My 3 year old daughter draws human figures in inverted position most of the times, sometimes sideways. My wife and I are amazed how she adds facial details, like eyebrows, eyes, up side down. Does it tell anything about her? She’s a normal kid, confident, sometimes bossy. Thanks

  • pebbels42@aol.com' Donna says:

    Thanx for keeping the lesson point great work. I am sure I will look at my grandchild masterpieces with new eyes…

  • lilyhaz@icloud.com' Widy says:

    My kid really like to draw toes. Not the whole foot, just the toes. Im concerned he has a fetish

  • elijha@webmail.co.za' Elijah says:

    I’m a sculptor for 32 years and a Father of 2 pigeon pairs. I remain facinated till this day and have been reading children’s drawings that have told me a daily story. This is incredible.. Thank you.

  • Jdr159@gmail.com' Diana says:

    My grandson has drawn a house with lots of arms, two arms are holding
    Knives one facing the house and one away from the house, the door is a big mouth with sharp teeth. Two arms have windows has hands does anyone any ideas.

  • mbps1945@gmail.com' M Stretton says:

    My granddaughter free a picture of red riding good starting with the shoes and working upwards! Her elder brother also drew a picture starting from the bottom
    Is this Unusual? I’ve never seen this before.

  • jadejanay@gmail.com' Jade says:

    Hi.. Im interested in this article.. Can you send a copy to my email ? Thank you

  • Info@hanksvilletours.com' Kathryn says:

    What does a ladder represent in a house drawing. My 5 year old grandson has been drawing ladders in houses

  • brandonbruce1990@gmail.com' Brandon says:

    Im a somewhat young father and have been doing lots of art projects with my daughter . and this article has lots of great information for me thank you !!

  • Lily_macky@yahoo.com' Lily Alejandra says:

    I love this article!!

  • Imhalabi@gmail.com' Manal says:

    My daughter was asked to draw her family members in class…she drew her father and sister and she drew me with a baby in my tummy..the teacher asked her where are you in the drawing she said in moms tummy!!!!shes 5 years old… why did she drew herself in my tummy!!!!??

  • evans101010@googlemail.com' Lawrence Evans says:

    My 12 yr old daughter draws snakes and skulls what can this lead to
    It seems mcarbbe

  • teacherlisbett@gmail.com' Lisbet Gonzalez says:

    Great explanation!
    Thanks very much

  • nwanieucharia01@gmail.com' David Nwani says:

    This is so inspiring thank you so much,now I understand better.My son can draw anything he set his eyes on,he’s so passionate about his drawings.This is so helpful God Bless you immensely. Will definitely follow this page.

  • ekatrantzi@gmail.com' Effie says:

    As a child at the age of five, I vividly remember of drawing a self-portrait as a figure with eyes that looked like a cercle and inside they each had a big x rather than the dot that the eye is usually is pictured. Does this mean I had hidden aggression?

  • marcelinahajj@gmail.com' marcelina says:

    How to know If a 12 years old boy is being abused by a grandparent
    We should ask the kid and how to ask or act

  • kitchedup@gmail.com' Wanda Groenewald says:

    We have a 6 year old little boy who draws minimal detail stick figures but when drawing his parents he colours their entire faces – makes me think of when someone scratches out faces from pictures. They have just had a baby sister and he draws her in soft colours, pink and purple and detail (Like booties and blanket). But his parents are red with basic detail.

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