Scribbling is the first step in the graphic expression process, and in that it is akin to the babbling which precedes speech among infants. Although scribbling is a preliminary experience, children who scribble soon begin to develop personal preferences and show a clear desire to produce diverse and interesting artwork. During this stage, the child begins to develop his spatial orientation and ability to experience the world kinesthetically as well as through the senses.
This drawing was made by 30 month-old Tom. Tom insists on doing some things his own way, no matter what. If his wishes are not met, he becomes extremely agitated, so his parents say. In such situations they feel a bit lost – every time they explain to me that he is not the only one who makes the decisions and they cannot follow his every whim. Nevertheless, this behavior recurs each time things do not go his way. How can you cope with such rebelliousness, they ask?
Tom’s drawings are very impressive, suggesting high cognitive skills for his age. Nevertheless, the strong pressure he uses and the density of the various scribbles reflect the willfulness described by his parents. Everybody knows about the Terrible Twos, with many parents struggling with a tiny toddler willing to fight to the bitter end over things that may appear utterly trivial to adults.
Tom fights for his position – he wants to be noticed and is willing to pay a dear price for it – such as an angry rebuke by his parents. He is prepared to pay this price because for him, being at the center of attention is the goal, and even if it is achieved in a negative way, it is still achieved.
The drawings indicate another issue which deserves further attention and analysis: Tom has a well-developed verbal skill, but some of the drawings appear to suggest that certain issues are sometimes “over-discussed” at home. My recommendation to his parents was, therefore, to check how they draw the line, and see whether they do not add excessive words and explanations to the original refusal.
Sometimes, explanations may confuse children like Tom precisely because of their relatively high cognitive ability. I am not suggesting, of course that the parents should dictate arbitrary rules to the child, ones that he cannot understand. Nevertheless they must be careful not to obscure their clear “No” with excessive explanations.
The best approach is to have the child take part in the decision-making process. It is better to do so when the proverbial iron is cold and not right at the moment when the child wants something he cannot have. That is, after things have cooled down, I recommend talking about what happened and arriving at a decision together. This way, there is cooperation in discussing the matter, combined with assertiveness in action. The parents should maintain their position until the rule is internalized by the child, and have some patience – usually, by the time the toddler is three, his stubbornness subsides…
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