Child’s Psychology – What Do Your Child’s Drawings and Scribbles Mean?

In This Article
  • Understanding Your Child’s Drawings’ Meanings
  • Common Children’s Drawings Meanings
  • When Should You Examine Your Child’s Drawings?

A child communicates in many ways. Verbal communication offers just a tiny insight into his mind. Analyzing his drawings might give a deeper understanding of his mental and psychological state. It brings a better understanding of his personality and also offers parents and therapists a medium to help the child tide over difficult and stressful situations.

We often depend completely on verbal communication to understand our children. However, this forms just 10 percent of the human ability to communicate. Studying other forms of communication is even more important for a parent because children are often not aware of their feelings.

Besides, younger children might not be articulate enough to verbalize them. Studying a child’s drawings can be a good way of comprehending his mindset. Give him coloring tools like a drawing and coloring book with a set of crayons or watercolors and look out for the colors he uses, the strokes he makes and the overall ‘feel’ of the picture. This surely can say a lot about him. Therapists also believe that drawing is a good way to express stress and find relief during tough times. Doctors have been successful in treating problems like bed-wetting, thumb-sucking and stuttering through art therapy.

Understanding Your Child’s Drawings’ Meanings

Your child’s drawing’s meaning can give you valuable insight into the state of mind of your child. It can also tell you about any kind of physical and sometimes even emotional experiences he is going through.

1. First Impression

The very first look at your child’s picture can sometimes reveal what he’s feeling. Look at the picture and see what you feel. Does it look depressing or disturbed? The answer to that question will give you your first clue to your child’s thoughts.

2. Colors

The colors he uses come next. Children, as they grow up, are exposed to a wide range of experiences and emotions – everything they come across is exciting and new! The response of a healthy child to all this information and sensory input would be to use a wide range of colors in their drawings. The more colors your child uses in his drawings, the more happy and excited he is about life! Colors also help to better express emotions than a simple pencil would. Hence the overuse of a particular color may also indicate the emotional state of the child. This is in line with the findings of color psychology. In general, a child who uses blues and greens a lot is happy and well-adjusted. Bright and warm colors like oranges and yellows signify cheerfulness, whereas dark colors, especially in drawings that are sad in themselves, could point at a child that needs help.

3. Completeness

If a child leaves his drawings incomplete or draws light hesitant lines, he might be in need of encouragement. Such drawings point towards a hesitant, insecure child. Incomplete drawings might also be an indicator of a casual impulsive personality. However, if the pattern continues over a longer period of time, a parent might consider seeking help. Too many erasures and corrections might indicate a high level of anxiety. Conversely, too much embellishment might be an indicator of a child’s need for attention.

4. Position

Where on the page a child is drawing a picture can also indicate the state of mind of the child, but this would be applicable to older children who have better motor skills. A child drawing on the left side of the page is a shy, introverted child; it could also mean the child is seeking the presence of a caring adult, or a nurturing mother- or father-figure. A child drawing on the right, on the other hand, talks about someone who has a desire to communicate and is an out-going kid.

Common Children’s Drawings Meanings

Your child will draw pictures in three phases:

  • Scribbling Phase: random scribbling of lines that has no real meaning.
  • Pre-schema Phase: when children try to draw what they see, including simple figures, trees, houses, etc.
  • Schema Phase: when there is a well-identifiable theme to the drawings and the drawings are more realistic.

Through these three phases, your child’s drawings will go from random scribbling to defined pictures with themes and meaning that an adult can understand without asking the child. Through the different phases, your child’s drawing’s meaning will keep evolving. Here are some common themes that you may see in your child’s scribbling, and what each of them means.

1. Scribbling

The first phase of your child – scribbling – may not make sense on paper. But psychologists say that at this stage, it is not the actual drawing but the process that is indicative. A child may put pencil to paper, drag it across, and make noises of an engine revving up. If you asked this child what he had just drawn, he may say ‘daddy going to work’… which means the random scribbling is actually a car on the road. Scribbling makes no sense when you look at it, but the process can give insights.

2. Smiling Sun

A full sun in the center of the page, with a smiley, is the sign of a well-adjusted, happy, satisfied child.

3. Stick Figures

Stick figure drawings usually depict the family of the child. You can pick up cues about the child’s emotional state by seeing where they place themselves in the picture, who are they standing next to (which indicates the person they feel closest to), which stick figure appears the biggest (which indicates who is the most important person in the family, according to the child), etc.

Stick Figures

4. Increasing Number of Details

The more details a child adds to the drawing, the better his cognitive ability is developing. Children will usually add details like spectacles on the ‘father’, or a bind on the mother. Children with acute observation may even be able to notice and interpret physical appearance differences, and may even be able to see ‘gender’ differently.

5. Hole in the Ground

This is the typical drawing of a child who has recently experienced loss. Usually it is in the form of a death in the family, or it could also be the death of a pet. If the child is alone in the drawing it means the child is feeling very lonely.

6. Monsters

A lot of kids’ stories are full of dark scary beings, so such a drawing could be nothing but the child’s interpretation of the story. On the other hand, it has been indicated by psychologist Dr Christopher Hastings that drawing monsters could be a coping mechanism of a child that is feeling powerless.


7. Clouds and Rain

Showing lots of clouds and rain in the picture could indicate the child is feeling especially anxious or scared. If the child is feeling particularly so, he may draw himself standing beneath a cloud.

8. Houses

The interesting details you can note about a house drawn by a child include the number of windows, whether the door is open or shut if there is a walkway leading to the house, etc. More number of windows is an indication that the child wants people to ‘see what’s going on in the house’. An open door shows a welcoming attitude. A walkway, on the other hand, could indicate a socially well-adjusted child who has healthy social interactions with his peers.

9. Angry People

A child drawing angry people, especially family members, is likely experiencing emotional trauma. Many times, these drawings are also a result of being exposed inadvertently to that kind of media – movies on TV, videos on the Internet, etc. The actions of these people also can give insight: an adult in some kind of danger can indicate a fear of losing the adult or the child’s anger towards the person. On the other hand, an adult hurting the child may indicate abuse at home or fear of the concerned adult.

When Should You Examine Your Child’s Drawings?

According to art therapist and international expert on the analysis of children’s drawings Michal Winner, “Parents, educators and mental health professionals do not seek to analyze children’s drawings with the sole purpose of identifying fears and distresses or bring about significant behavioral change. Drawings are an additional, easily available tool for understanding daily behavior.” In fact, it has been indicated by several studies and researchers that children who draw more are actually more creative and intelligent.

Sometimes children may draw scary things: weapons, fire, angry people, fighting, etc. While the odd drawing is okay, if this is a common trend emerging in your child’s drawings, you may want to consult a child psychologist. Some such situations, where consulting a psychologist may be necessary are when:

  • The child is drawing violent pictures repeatedly.
  • The child draws a person or an object significantly bigger than himself.
  • The child draws disjointed body parts for human figures.
  • He uses too many dark colors and unpleasant images.

It is important to look at a child’s picture in its entirety. Never rely only on your interpretation of your child’s drawings. They can draw some pretty darned ridiculous and crazy and funny things! Remember to ask your child the meaning of what he has drawn. Do not take every single scribble meaning to the heart!


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