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Drawing is one of the most common childhood activities which have survived in a world full of computers and Internet games. For children, drawing is a sensory experience that enables them to freely express their inner self and imagination. Parents and professionals may use it as a projective tool to learn about the child's social perceptions, emotional difficulties, cognitive stress and even talents.
Children's drawings were researched since 1880. At first, the focus was on identifying patterns in objects and structures, identifying the normative drawing development stages and comparing various social and cultural groups.
Surprisingly, it was found that there are universal developmental stages and that drawings of objects made by children from different cultures are quite similar. For example, it was found that children from remote villages or modern cities drew houses with a triangle on top of a square, although they lived in a tent or a sky-scraper, as the case may be.
Identifying the symbolic unity in children's drawings led to the development of several evaluation tests, which determined the child's cognitive level. Such tests, created for example by Harris, Goodenough and Koppitz , used a numerical score to indicate the child's intellectual and emotional status, based on fixed parameters, such as the number of body parts drawn or the quality of the connection between them.
In 1949, Machover pioneered a significant change in the way human figure drawings were interpreted: she chose to view drawings as reflecting children's inner world, rather than just indicators of their cognitive development. Her work was based on Freud's concept of projection, which considers children's drawings (and other forms of expression) not as a reflection of their reality, but rather as a window to their inner self.
Today, children's drawing analysis is widely used by educators, art therapists and parents as a tool for evaluating the child's social, emotional and cognitive condition. It helps identify the child's fears, thoughts, feelings and difficulties in various environments.
Drawings reveal how a child perceives the subsystems in his family. In other words, drawings will show his attitude towards parents and siblings. Some of the most common ways children use to describe relationships in a family are distance between figures, height and width of family figures, different colors and clothing. In the following drawing, our first glance may not reveal any inner family coalitions, mainly because all family members are drawn in the same color and appear to be equal in height.
However, the figures' topography – the ground on which they stand – indicates the differences between them. The eldest son (in the middle) is drawn on the same level as his parents, whereas the 5 year-old girl who made this drawing and her younger brother are drawn on a different level. She drew grass to compensate for the height difference, so that she and her brother would be able to reach the same height as the rest of the family. In this case, height represents family dominance and leadership.
Using children's drawings
Although drawings provide us with a wealth of information about the child's personality, perceptions and wishes, you must approach the issue with care. Using a single drawing for analysis provides only a momentary glimpse on the child's condition. Therefore, our comprehensive evaluation process relies on 10 drawings at least, to ensure valid and professional interpretation.
Here are some of the rules to follow before drawings:
1. Paper size may reflect the child's general and behavioral maturity. In general, the page is often seen as the "stage of life", meaning that the way we draw or write on the page reflects the way we handle life in general. When a large page is presented to the child, it may encourage free expression without boundaries, but it might also reduce creativity and freedom of expression and even threaten the child. Hence, you should consider, especially before starting drawing, the child's needs, so that he will enjoy the most suitable conditions for true artistic work.
2. Drawing instrument. When given the option to choose, the drawing instrument is also highly significant. This is all the more important when the child has a clear preference, to the point that he refuses to use others. In most cases, the felt-tipped pen (marker) is chosen when accuracy is an issue. Drawing using a felt-tipped pen is usually rich in detail and indicates that the child is concentrated on his art and the outcome. Drawing with a marker is somewhat reminiscent of writing in that it is precise, controllable, definite and above all clean. On the other hand, crayons invite the painter to a messier and less accurate experience, with a better chance of leading to a bigger and more abstract work. Using water colors invites the painter to a sensory and liberating experience. Nevertheless, some will hate using water colors and experience tension caused by its relative uncontrollability and "messiness".
3. The drawing environment plays a key role in the creative process. When the child feels uncomfortable with his surroundings, creative expression would be difficult. Some children prefer drawing in a confined environment, while other would rather draw outside in the open space. The environment is also a reflection of the child's situation: it may very well be that as part of a therapeutic process, there would come a time when the right thing to do would be to switch to drawing outside, or draw in an otherwise challenging environment, for example.
To conclude, drawing is a very powerful tool for emotional expression. It may simulate, transform or hold a dialogue with real-life situations. An analysis of your child's drawings will enable you to help your child achieve his goals and succeed in life without having to intervene directly and intrusively. Therefore, we strongly advise you to collect your child's drawings and use them to know him better.