Children’s Drawings: a Window to the Inner World of Children

Drawing is a very powerful tool in the emotional expression of children. Painting is a liberating act; nobody teaches us to draw, and it is not necessary, because naturally we started doing it.


Drawing is a very powerful tool in the emotional expression of children. Painting is a liberating act; nobody teaches us to draw, and it is not necessary, because naturally we started doing it.

Children love to draw and their attention is completely focused on it. It is a game that motivates them, stimulates them and gives them their own space of concentration.

At certain ages, language is not developed in its entirety and drawing is a fundamental communication vehicle for them. Drawing, apart from being a very valuable game, is a great resource to understand their feelings and relate to them.

Therefore, it is very important that we do not limit you with indications or restrictions. Do not criticize their creations, or decide for them. It is fundamental to leave them free to enjoy and we can learn a little more of their inner world.

“In the boxes of pencils the children keep their dreams”.

– Ramón Gómez de la Serna-

How does the ability to draw develop?

When a child begins to draw we think that he does not follow any order or model, but it is not true. Children’s drawings are organized based on basic laws, such as uniformity or continuity.

The elements, scribbles and figures will be the reflection of successive experiences that the child has and that, after organizing them in his mind, give rise to his personal creation. That is to say, the child synthesizes what he observes and from there he represents the model that he has created in his interior and that has allowed him to organize his perceptions of the environment.

The analysis of children’s drawings, generally, has been developed from three key aspects: its structure, its theme and evolution through development in childhood. Graphic creation has stages, but children from all cultures of the world begin in the same way: scribbling.

Between the ages of two and four, the little ones begin drawing art with scribbles and lines. From the beginning we can see most of them enjoying this activity. With the passage of time, the strokes become more controlled, they will be named to identify them with real world forms and, although they surely do not have any resemblance, it is a great advance.

Around the three years arise the forms. Mandalas, suns, circles, triangles: basic forms that will later combine to create multiple designs. From the four to the seven years appear the first attempts of representation.

The images begin to be recognized and the themes are distinguished. They enjoy making figures like people, houses and trees. The human figure is almost always the preferred theme. In this stage they make a great effort to connect their intention of internal representation with the real world. The drawing contains what is meaningful to the child and reflects his or her way of relating to the environment.

From the age of seven there are changes in the expression of children’s drawings. In these moments a clear differentiation of the personal style takes place, the color and the form are stabilized.

The spatial order makes its entrance on the scene, the figures and elements begin to have orientation in the paper, for example the lines of the sky or the ground appear.

There will be more and more details, symbology and social contents. From now on, and especially if the child continues to develop his artistic side, children’s drawings will charge more wealth and in adolescence may explode their creativity.

“Left to their own devices, children can successfully practice any way of working that is very different from what we take into consideration.”

-Jacqueline Jarrett Goodnow-

Children’s drawings, translators of emotions

The painting usually has a very relevant role in the case of children with traumas or other types of pathologies. In these cases, the drawing is a way of expressing their internal conflicts.

For a psychologist with adequate training, drawing can be very useful, using it to generate hypotheses about the diagnosis of the child or simply to understand his personality. The game that is established in consultation allows the child to relax and make contact with an unknown environment without needing to feel pressured to speak.

The drawing helps to release tensions and allows the child to expose their interior. Through paper and paintings he can communicate his world without the need to use verbalization. The free artistic expression favors a playful environment and offers information about the state of mental development of the child.

The professional, through the observation technique, can analyze how the child expresses himself, intuiting that his personality will be reflected in different aspects: his movements, the attention capacity, his strokes on paper, the disposition of the figures, the chosen elements , colors, etc.

The relaxed atmosphere encourages children to make a free creation or we can even suggest a topic if we want to study a specific area.

Children exposed to great stress or who have suffered traumas reflect their anguish in the drawings. They represent what they have lived, being able to become very explicit according to their age.

The child is the one who guides the theme of the drawing at all times and therefore the painting can act as a mirror where it reflects what needs to be exteriorized.

“I prefer to draw to speak. Drawing is faster and leaves less space for lying.”

-Le Corbusier-

What messages do children’s drawings contain?

When a child draws, we can observe many aspects of his development, for example, his attentional capacity.

Children often enjoy a lot when they paint, so the activity usually involves them in a halo of concentration that leaves them absorbed. If they are not able to maintain attention when they draw, they may have worse attention levels in other types of tasks, so it may be interesting to analyze if there is any attention deficit in the child.

Observing the creations, we can also estimate the degree of complexity of thinking of the child, even if this is advanced for his age. Normally very intelligent children elaborate more complex drawings, while cognitive deficits are associated with poor drawings or a lower level according to their age.

Likewise, a child’s drawings open the doors of his personality and emotions. Painting is a tool that allows them to communicate their way of relating to the environment, they project their family, their house, their friends. They show the facts that have most caught your attention, what has marked your experience.

Children who have suffered catastrophes or wars draw scenes of conflict, with this they seek to integrate what happened to order it in their mind, to give it meaning and accept it, with this they also transfer their emotions and take a certain distance, it is as if through Paintings will release part of that burden.

On the other hand, when analyzing aspects such as the size of the figures, their distribution, the distances and positions, the colors used or the marks and symbols we can unravel many meanings of the content.

What are the colors that stand out? Is there an impulsive, calm, aggressive or nervous line? Do we find incoherence between the positions of the figures? Are the characters incomplete? How have the spaces been distributed?

We can establish a dialogue with the child so that he can tell us the story of the drawing and thus achieve his own interpretation. On other occasions, the professional must explore conflicting aspects that the child may not reveal directly or do with some kind of fantasy.

A child who has been sexually abused may picture himself lying in bed with his father and his hand on his body. Or maybe, a girl who has a conflict with her mother represents the mother figure in a distant position with respect to his, she may not even draw it or use dark colors and incomplete strokes, it may not represent any facial or corporal features , for example, that the mother does not have hands or mouth.

Of course all these aspects must be studied by a professional and the interpretations of the drawings will be hypotheses that must later be confirmed with a thorough psychological exploration. Each case has to be analyzed with its own subjectivity.

There are many possible variations and with a simple drawing no diagnosis can be affirmed, so other types of tests and interviews should be taken into account.

Even so, the drawings represent a very valuable tool to establish a communication with children -also with the elderly in many cases- when we find that direct communication is not rich enough or closed.

“Every child is an artist, the problem is to remain an artist when you grow up.”

-Pablo Picasso-