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How to Analyze a Child's Drawings
The idea to study drawings is helpful in family cases. Children notice the little things around them, that some adults will overlook. By having a child draw, what they view around them shows. For example, a child who is being abused by their father might draw him with hands, possibly putting great detail in the hands such as making them larger than normal or being very detailed.
But how can analyzing a child's drawings help you? If you are a school teacher or day care worker, it is important to notice these slight differences between students. It is your job to report chances that a child is being abused or neglected. Through using child psychology, we can help many children have a better life.
Since 1880, children's drawings have been studied. At first, the goal was to recognize patterns in objects and structures, identifying development stages, and comparing social and cultural groups. It was realized that there are universal development stages and drawings from different cultures are similar. For example, children living in remote villages or modern cities drew houses with a triangular roof, even if they lived in apartments or skyscrapers. Because of the studies, many evaluation tests were created. Many of these tests use numerical scores to rate a child's intellectual and emotional status based on what level they are in drawing their surroundings.
In 1949, Machover developed the theory that drawings of humans were reflexions of a child's inner world, instead of just cognitive development. She morphed Freud's use of projection to be applied to child's drawings to understand a child's inner self.
Why Drawings Reveal so Much
Before children even have mastered language, the only form of expression that they have are images. But even after they learn languages, children pour emotions that they cannot put into words, into their drawings. For young children, a pencil and paper or paints are the best form of expressing their hopes and worst nightmares. When a child feels something is missing from their lives or feel deprived, these will be expressed, hidden or in plain sight.
Even in the teenage years, drawings express emotions. For example, an anorexic teenager drew herself as slightly chubby with lumps over her body yet she was under the average weight. Another example consists of a college male who drew his home and a tree on fire which signified his home life and work life which were in turmoil during the previous months.
From 12-18 months, a child begins making marks on paper. At first, the scribbles do not mean anything, but they turn into a way of communication. Luquet developed three set of stages of developing drawing skills. Later on, Luquet also included three more stages later in life. Yet these three remain the focus for children under 10.
- Scribbling - 2-4 years
- Pre-Schematic - 4-7 years
- Schematic - 7+ years
Scribbling Stage: There is no realism on the page. They seem random and unplanned. However, near the end of this stage, what is known as "fortuitous realism", where a child might draw scribbles vaguely resembling a car or a house.
Pre-Schematic Stage: The drawings focus on humans, plants, trees, houses, and buildings. But the drawings are in no way accurate. Most humans are drawn without necks, fingers, pupils, lips, etc. At the end of this stage, "intellectual realism" comes into play where the child adds these missing features, such as clothes.
Schematic Stage: Now there is evidence of schema. For example, a drawing of the ocean might include sea gulls, starfish, a beach ball, people wearing bathing suits, etc. Words and symbols might be added to give further messages of explaining the drawing. Drawings of humans will have more detail, possibly including freckles. There is more depth and realism, possibly the use of new viewpoints.
What Can We Notice?
Signs of being impulsive:
- Humans without a neck
- Big figure
- Lack of symmetry
Signs of anxiety:
- Shading of the head, body, or limbs
- No eyes
- Clouds, rain, or birds
- Legs pressed together
Signs of insecurity:
- Slanted figure
- Small head
- No arms, legs, hands, or feet
- Monstrous or grotesque figure
Signs of shy nature:
- Small figure
- Short arms
- Arms clinging to body
- No nose or mouth
Signs of anger:
- Crossed eyes
- Long arms
- Big hands
- Exposed genitals or sexual content