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How to Analyze a Child's Drawings

Updated on June 19, 2013

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.

Drawing Stages

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
  • Teeth
  • Long arms
  • Big hands
  • Exposed genitals or sexual content


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    • JoannaBlackburn profile image

      Joanna Blackburn 

      22 months ago from Rockport, Texas

      I used my children's drawings as a way to see what level they were on. I was a teacher for a child development center. I had 16 two-year-olds and you would be amazed what they can do. You look at the milestones list and then look at their work and you can see where they are on that list.

    • peachpurple profile image


      6 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      very good hub. I have heard and watched documentary programs about kids with family problems unable to communicate with others except through drawings and colors. When a child colors the cloud black that means to him, everyday is bad days due to some reasons. I believe so and kids are great at expressing their emotions , feelings with drawings and colors. Voted up

    • lburmaster profile imageAUTHOR

      Leah Lenau 

      6 years ago from Houston, TX

      Analyzing your own drawings is always interesting, but something you rarely want to tell anyone else...

    • David Trujillo profile image

      David Trujillo Uribe 

      6 years ago from Medellin, Colombia

      Kind of analized myself there. I draw people with large heads and skinny bodies. I´m a very insecure person.

    • jayshreepattanaik profile image


      6 years ago from INDIA

      Nice technique to judge is really difficult to judge a child but this type of hub is really helpful

    • lburmaster profile imageAUTHOR

      Leah Lenau 

      6 years ago from Houston, TX

      Applied them to my friend's drawings. Doing my own studies would take a lot of time.

    • profile image

      il Scettico 

      6 years ago

      Sounds similar to the random weird stuff I do. So you learned the idea at college, then made the concepts from analyzing children's pictures? Or did you learn the concepts at college and learn to apply them with your friend?

    • lburmaster profile imageAUTHOR

      Leah Lenau 

      6 years ago from Houston, TX

      I first learned about the idea at the community college. Then after telling my friend who is an elementary school teacher, we looked at some of her previous student's drawings. The things we do for fun are strange.

    • profile image

      il Scettico 

      6 years ago

      I feel almost embarrassed that studying child psychology did not even occur to me until I read this! Very interesting and useful. Judging by your bio, I imagine this was something you learned in college. Was any of this personal speculation?

    • cat on a soapbox profile image

      Catherine Tally 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles

      Hi Iburmaster,

      I really enjoyed all of the good info here. I will get my daughter's book of drawings from her first 5 years and take a look again. Thank you for sharing such an interesting hub.

      Cat :)

    • dilipchandra12 profile image

      Dilip Chandra 

      6 years ago from India

      Great hub, its interesting and it has lots of information.

    • Relationshipc profile image


      6 years ago from Alberta, Canada

      Very good hub! Everything we think and feel manifests itself outwards in some way, and it's so true - kids will act out or draw their thoughts and feelings. A good reminder for every parent or extended family - take notice of the kids drawings.

    • tsmog profile image

      Tim Mitchell 

      6 years ago from Escondido, CA

      Very interesting article Iburmaster. Honestly I remember my drawings for the MMPI being interpreted with these same similar descriptions. Studying that analysis system ( I don't like the phrase testing, since it doesn't test really, only offers insight from my point of view ) I remember some and forgot most. Reading the descriptions this accurate article provides bells were ringing sort to speak. Thank you for sharing and do have a wonderful day . . .



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