Drawings are emotions on paper

By ruth | January 13, 2014

Contributed by Jennifer Lo, Management Consultant and a Certified Trainer with Equilibrium Dynamics.

If you're a parent like me, you probably have experienced taking home a stack of drawings, doodles and art projects from your child's school, especially with the young ones. Some days you talk about it, others you’re busy or forget and sometimes there are so many that some go straight into the recycle bin. 

Many of us find it hard to “read” a scribble or figure out the storyline to a detailed drawing. As a creative arts teacher when this happens to me, no matter what, I remind myself that that even if it doesn’t make sense to me, it made sense to the artist who created it. Drawings are inspired by the teacher's instructions but often led by emotions. Emotions help drive behavior and communications.

I work at an Art school and facilitate meetings for parents who wish to gain insights on how their child is progressing in art class. Quite consistently, the parents who take advantage of these meeting opportunities are those who wish to create a more fluid conversation with their children. A small percentage ask me about what the drawings might mean and attempt to understand their child’s perspective.

I normally find myself advising parents to just take a few minutes to ask and listen. Each little masterpiece offers a glimpse into a child's own language and becomes a voice they can use when they might not be able to fully articulate something verbally.

The other day, I spoke to a father whose child only enjoyed drawing Angry Birds characters. At 4.5 years old a child’s fine motor skills are often not developed sufficiently to make clear structured lines and shapes. When I initially reviewed his drawings, I couldn’t distinguish any Angry Birds. Then his father explained that his son's Angry Birds were " a circle with what looks like a letter V above the circle. That's it!" Once I recognized this symbol, it became easy to see that almost every drawing in the past 4 months had Angry Birds hiding in them! What an eye opener!

This is a great story to share about a parent obviously in tune with their child and their art! Most children will have a signature symbol that only a parent or teacher could understand and interpret. Practicing good communication skills is not just about public-speaking or language arts, it can also be about looking at important non-verbal cues, such as a child's own personal art language.

Next time, take a closer look at the drawings that are going home with you in that infamous 'Friday Folder.' What is the backstory for the characters? How are they positioned, together or separate? What kind of action is taking place? Are the characters talking: are they friendly or not? Did your child get to finish the drawing? Did he or she take too long to figure how to draw something and did perfectionism get in the way of accomplishing goals? How about the instrument used: was it in color? Was it in pen? How did your child make decisions in his artwork or project? Questions such as these help to explain their developing personalities and signal to you where they might need some support.

Drawings are more than just pictures or doodles, even the small ones, done on the margins of math worksheets. Drawing is a form of communication, a window into a creative process, and how thoughts are formed. These thoughts hold the potential to lead into actions and help explain how a child views the world around them. Isn't it exciting to know there's a whole world behind a simple doodle?

If you are a parent who sits down with your child to go through his or her doodle every time, Miss Jenn thanks you and gives you a gold star. If you haven't, start the New Year asking things like, "So, what's this drawing about?" and have an adventure in their world!

Emotional Competence Skills involved:

  • Other Awareness: Try reaching out to your child's emotional side by taking time to ask them about their pictures.
  • This might mean taking control of your own time management.
  • Be aware of your child’s (and your own) non-verbal communication.
  • Understanding the world around us informs our identity.
  • Enjoy connecting with your child’s emotions on paper!

Contributed by Portia Jackson, DrPH, MPH, Consultant, Founder of Active Steps Coaching (www.portiajackson.com), Certified Trainer with Equilibrium Dynamics 

Welcome to the New Year! This is a time where many take action on resolutions with the hope that they will achieve their goals. However, it can trigger as much fear as it does excitement, with the realization that the same obstacles we encountered in years past await us now. Whether you have accomplished past resolutions and are seeking to maintain them, or will begin anew this year, a large predictor of your success is your response to the challenges that lie ahead. Will you retire your ambitions at the first interruption of your best-laid plans? Or, will you draw upon your resources and find a way to overcome obstacles?

It is enchanting and seductive to believe that a New Year creates a time and space, protected from the real world, in which we are fully resolved and ready to take action. However, when we least expect it, a cascade of emotions often hits us and derails us from our intended path. We encounter an emergency and must redirect the resources we intended to use for a dedicated purpose. The question arises, how do we not only plan but also stay accountable to our goals in light of life? 

Conduct a reality check of your goals, and check your fear at the door.

First of all, consider whether or not this goal is not just something you want, but something you are dedicated to taking sustainable action towards.

  • What are the fears and concerns that have kept you from taking action in the past? Use the emotional competence strategy of feelings management to evaluate your feelings and establish a plan. Are you using your fears and concerns as an excuse to avoid admitting you don’t really want to do the work that is required?
  • What decisions will you need to make in order to accomplish this goal? Use the emotional competence decision-making strategy to evaluate your options.
  • What systems and resources will you need to set in place to support your goal and stay accountable? Challenge yourself to think creatively as to how these needs can be met.
  • Is your dedication to this goal strong enough to get back up each time you fall, learning from the experience rather than expecting immediate success?

Be mindful that fears that keep you focused on the worst-case scenario can also keep you from doing the work required to create positive potential outcomes. Visualize the worst that could happen, then identify strategies of how you would you deal it. If you are using your fears and concerns as an excuse to avoid admitting you don’t really want to do the work required, then you should rethink your goal. When you start with a more easily achievable goal, you can build your confidence and motivation, allowing you to stretch yourself gradually toward setting larger goals.

Value what you have already achieved as much as you do your future potential. 

Devote time to building your self-efficacy by focusing on what you have overcome and accomplished in the past.

  • What progress did you make in 2013? What lessons did you learn?
  • How have you overcome challenges or dealt with fears in the past? How might you apply this to your current situation?

In this process, you will achieve a better understanding of yourself and how you respond to challenges. You will learn that while distractions and setbacks are inevitable, they also invite you to think creatively and pursue options that are not immediately visible. Once you have a strategy in place for dealing with them, and are accountable to that process, you will make progress towards your goals.

Emotional Competence Checklist

  • Create goals that are based on realistic expectations. Separate them into short-term and long-term (overall) goals, where small missions or projects help you reach your end result desired. Keep sight of that overall goal.
  • Develop an informed plan. Empower yourself ahead of time by determining what will be required to carry it out.
  • Be aware of the choices that are available to you and the decisions that you must make. Use the EQD 'Alternative, Benefits, and Costs (ABC)' process to facilitate your decision-making.
  • Record your goals and revisit them monthly. Make adjustments as needed.