Drawings are emotions on paper

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!
|| January 13, 2014