What children's drawings mean in psychology

by Anna Kazakova
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Even before children have learned to speak and even walk correctly, they are already actively beginning to draw. Already at the age of 1-2 years, they are able to devote an amazing amount of time to this activity. Always with pride and shining eyes they bring their works of art to their parents and eagerly await their reaction. They definitely put the most effort into their drawing and want to express something to them.

But can you see what's behind your child's drawings? Do you understand what you are looking at and how to respond?

Psychology has been studying what children's drawings can tell for about a hundred years. With the help of drawn pictures you can immerse yourself in a child's world. Children usually use their drawings to express and work out their feelings, fears, desires. 

This is a very important stage of development, so parents should offer their children as much material and freedom for creativity as possible. There is no need to criticize or correct the drawings.

Knowledge of certain developmental stages has contributed to the fact that psychologists can better and better understand what a child wants to express by means of a drawing. However, caution should be exercised when assessing children's images. drawn images should always be seen in context.

Misinterpretation can lead to misdiagnosis and misunderstanding. Therefore, make sure that you do not jump to conclusions.

In this article, we will look in detail at some motifs in children's drawings and tell you how you can interpret them. We will also consider cases when drawings should not be disregarded, as they can indicate serious mental disorders of the child.

Interpretation of the most popular motifs in children's drawings

Certain motifs constantly emerge in the development of children's drawing.

These primarily include:

  • the representation of one's self;
  • family motifs (e.g., family with animals);
  • different gender characteristics;
  • home;
  • ideas about nature

First of all, it is interesting how the child portrays himself or herself in the picture. While confident children try to be in the center of the picture, shy children tend to draw themselves smaller and in the presence of animals or plants. If a child is afraid or feels threatened, symbols such as storm clouds or lightning bolts are often used above his or her heads. For example, important body parts for children are shown especially large.

It's the same with family relationships. In these family pictures, people who are especially important to the child are drawn especially large and in the center of the picture. If children, for example, draw friends in the family picture, we can conclude that they play an important role in the child's life. If a family member is drawn particularly tall and strong, it may indicate that this person has a particularly high level of power over others.

When a child draws a family in the form of animals, he or she may want to express hidden feelings.

Once children learn their gender characteristics, female and male people are portrayed in a particularly stereotypical way. For example, a man grows a lush beard and a woman has especially shiny long hair in the foreground. At the preschool age, appropriate people are drawn with breasts or penises.

The drawing of a house is very popular with preschoolers. These houses are an important symbol of safety. Open and happy children often paint a very large house with many decorations.

The sun, trees, flowers, and clouds are objects that children like to capture in drawings. The older they get, the more realistic the images become. Drawing a tree also tells a lot about a child's development and maturation. Although in the beginning the tree is depicted only in outlines, over time it consists of a trunk, crown and roots.

Children always express certain ideas about their world in their pictures.

Every child's drawing contains the child's self-affirmations. However, hasty interpretation is undesirable, since we can easily reduce the picture to our own interpretation. Therefore, we need other sources of information in addition to the one-time child's drawing.

Meanings of different colors in children's drawings

First, the children will try to give people, animals, or objects the color in which they actually exist. This means that the meadow is green, the sky is blue, and the sun is yellow. 

Children like colorfulness. Colors like red and black are preferred at the beginning of their creative careers because they are especially contrasting. 

However, children also use colors to draw emotions. Mentally healthy children tend to use different colors to express their image. This only becomes noticeable when a child prefers or even uses only one color for his or her drawings. 

Warm colors mean contentment and balance, dark colors mean sadness. But it always depends on the context of the picture. But, note that conclusions about mental health can only be drawn in children around the age of six. 

Next you can see how you can interpret the colors that are dominant in the children's drawings:

Red.  Used by all children. This color expresses strength, determination, victory and joy. In children older than 6 years old, a strong predominance of red in a picture can indicate a tendency toward aggression. 

Blue.  The color of self-control, interpersonal relationships and good adaptation to the environment. Associated with fidelity, purity and truth.

Green. It is hope. The color of spring, tranquility, quiet fertility, the peacefulness of the forest. Green is a mixture of yellow and blue, but more active than blue, and at the same time, unlike yellow, calm and balanced. 

Yellow. Often used in combination with red. In children over the age of 6, yellow can be a sign of aggression or a signal of the great importance and influence of adults in a child's life.

Black. Symbol of sadness, hopelessness, denial of the world. Systematically present in children's drawings. If black is ubiquitous in a picture in people over the age of 6, it may express a state of anxiety.

When interpreting children's drawings, don't jump to conclusions! An image may be painted in one color, for example, because that color is currently a favorite or because there simply was no other pencil at hand.

Development of children's drawings in relation to age

Psychologists and scientists have found that every child goes through different phases of development in drawing. Most studies are based on the work of child psychologist Jean Piaget. 

Piaget used drawing tests to assess child development. He was able to determine that children display pictures and drawings differently depending on their age group. So you will have to interpret pictures depending on the age of your children.

Before the age of one, babies don't draw, they play with a pen or pencil. Babies explore their surroundings and like things in their mouths (including pens). 

After the first year of life, children's first drawings appear. Your baby will draw zigzag lines or doodles. These drawings do not mean much yet. Colors do not matter yet. Drawing promotes the development of motor skills.

At the age of two to four, pictures with circles are created. The child learns to draw round shapes. The first symbols are seen. At this age, so-called "cephalopods" are also created (a person consists of a head, arms and legs; there is no upper body; arms and legs are not directly attached to the body; eyes and mouth are outside the face). The child begins to draw other objects, for example, animals (a dog, a horse, a bird), a car, clouds and trees

After the age of four, children can draw scenes. They draw ships, cars, and people. Children's pictures are transparent, that is, your children show what is in the house or ship as if the walls were transparent. The location and size of the elements are not based on reality, but on individual perception

At the age of seven, the characters become more realistic. Children no longer draw "cephalopods", but real people. They are shown from the front or in profile. The child recognizes spatial relations and proportions. Children can explain exactly how to interpret the pictures.


In this article, we wanted to show you the main points that psychologists take into account when interpreting children's drawings. And at the end we would like to answer some of the most common questions from parents concerning this topic:

If the children's drawings are disturbing, do I need to see a psychologist?

Don't jump to conclusions and observe the child. Ask him or her about the picture he or she drew. It is possible that he depicted a scene that frightens you, simply by drawing an image from a cartoon or story. 

If motifs repeat from drawing to drawing, consultation with a psychologist is necessary.

If my child only draws doodles?

This does not always mean a problem. It is the process, not the end result, that is important to the child. It is an important bodily experience. Even simple doodles are full of meaning. He expresses himself through action, not through an image.

And finally

From the very beginning it is necessary to let the child draw without any pressure. All that will be needed is paper, a pen (several pens only make sense later) and a quiet place where the child can escape to if he or she wants to draw. Because of the urge to imitate, children very soon try to do what they see in their parents, siblings or peers.

If children are allowed to draw at their own pace, they have an additional opportunity to gain experience for the rest of their lives. Then they often feel their own moods, experience self-efficacy, acquire knowledge of shapes and colors, accompany their self-development, and experience much joy and approval. That's why it's so important to devote enough time to these activities.

Adults should only accompany this process and should have no influence in the first four or five years, just watch and enjoy the drawings. 

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