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Signs that a Parent Can Spot in a Child’s Drawings that Show that the Child Is in Trouble or Needs Help

One of the primary roles that we have as parents is that of protector. If our children are struggling, it is our responsibility to help our children through the difficulty. Observant parents know that children always find ways, directly or indirectly, to let us know when they are struggling. Some children will directly communicate their struggles (i.e., “I’m scared, Mommy!”). Other children may not be as forthcoming; these children’s struggles will manifest behaviorally (i.e., withdrawing from social contact, becoming aggressive with others, etc.). Their struggles may also be reflected in their artwork. If you have a child who is not forthcoming, but you believe s/he is struggling with something, be alert for the subtle clues that your child may be giving you through his/her art. The following list, while not intended to be all encompassing, gives you some of the primary indicators that your child is manifesting his/her struggle in his/her art.

• The artwork tends to be dark, ominous, or even bloody. Scenes may depict a darkened and spare landscape (i.e., one lone, dead tree on barren terrain at dusk); monsters (which may represent someone in real life that scares your child or perhaps even represents your child him-/herself); family members or classmates engaged in conflict, oppression, or acts of physical violence; or simply dripping blood.
• The artwork shows people or creatures with identities that are intentionally concealed. For example, a person may be drawn with a mask.
• The artwork shows people or creatures who are missing features or have enlarged features. A person drawn without eyes may mean that person does not see or does not want to see something. A person drawn with big teeth is being portrayed as a predator.
• The artwork shows a group of people missing one or more individuals from the group; or, in the alternative, one or more individuals are placed apart from the group in the picture. For example, the picture may show Mom, both siblings, and the little artist’s self-portrait, but not Dad (who is in the home but not in the picture). Or perhaps one of the family members is drawn as if s/he is standing apart from the rest of the family . . . s/he may even appear to be floating up and away from the family.
• The artwork shows people not proportioned well with one another. For example, the child may draw his/her older brother considerably larger than any other member of the family, including the parents . . . or the child may draw him-/herself considerably smaller than any other family member.
• The artwork shows a house without doors or windows (which may represent feeling trapped or insecure)
• The force used in drawing or coloring leaves deep impressions in the paper.

The above list is not intended to be all-inclusive. It is, however, a good overview of the common signs that we, as parents, can spot in our children’s drawings that may indicate that our children are in trouble or may need help to cope with struggles.

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