What physical thing can my family symbolize

What a child's drawing reveals

Out: Handbook for educators. With the kind permission of mvg-Verlag, Landsberg am Lech

Margarete Blank-Mathieu

1. Children's drawings under developmental and personal aspects

Anyone who wants to judge children's drawings must first deal with the development-related possibilities that enable children to express themselves through images.

The representation of people, animals and objects differs, on the one hand, through development-related maturation processes, and, on the other hand, through the structures available, e.g. when children are given the opportunity to express themselves graphically with pens and paper, such as the development of coarse- and fine motor movement sequences are related to this and what framework conditions we provide children with free painting.

Children who have pens and paper of various sizes and colors available at a very early age will soon begin to paint, their manual dexterity will therefore be trained earlier, their movements will be more confident and more generous, they will experiment with colors and shapes and will soon develop their own painting style. On the other hand, children who only have single colors and small sheets of paper at their disposal find it more difficult to paint over large areas and to develop both gross and fine motor skills.

The structural prerequisites for painting must be assessed critically if children do not have an age-appropriate style of painting. So it is not only allowed to proceed according to developmental psychological points of view when we have children's drawings in front of us, but the personal environment of the child must also be included in the assessment.

In our day care centers, the children usually have a wide range of drawing options available. You can paint with a brush and paint as well as with different pens. There are wax crayons, crayons, felt-tip pens and finger paints in the facilities. We provide papers of different sizes and with different structures in terms of shape and color. You can deal with it independently and then develop over time an age-appropriate and personal "sign language".

2. Development of children's drawings according to Piaget

In the 18th delivery of the manual there is a more detailed description of the painting development. So I just want to add a brief overview here.

There are a number of test procedures according to which character development should provide information about intellectual maturity. Other "drawing tests" are intended to provide information about children's psychological problems or to teach psychologists about family problems. Such test procedures are partly controversial, but in any case belong in the hands of experts and should not be used by laypeople to get quick interpretation patterns at hand. That is why I do not want to go into any more detail here.

Since every comparison and every assessment has to deal with a wide variety of elements and cannot be linearly determined to specific characteristics, we should avoid such test procedures in the educational field and rather look at children's drawings against the background of promoting expression and promoting the individual abilities of the child. Nevertheless, a basic knowledge of the painting development stages is important.

The development of drawing related to the cognitive development phases according to Piaget (from: Di Leo, Joseph: The Interpretation of Children's Drawing, 1992, p. 43)

0-1Reflex reaction
on visual stimuli. Pen is brought to the mouth; Child does not draw
Sensory-motor phase
Child acts reflexively. Think motorically. Movement becomes gradually targeted with the establishment of cortical control.
1-2At the age of 13 months: first scribble: zigzag line. Child observes movement leaving marks on the surface. Kinaesthetic drawing. 
2-4Circles are drawn predominantly, then individually. The child sees an object in a randomly drawn circle. The first graphic symbol is usually drawn between the ages of three and four yearsThe child begins to think symbolically. Language and other forms of symbolic communication play an important role. The child's point of view is very self-centered. Pretend games.
4-7Intellectual realism
Draws an internal model, not what is actually seen. Draws parts that it knows are there. Shows people through ship hulls. Transparencies. Expressionist. Subjective.
Pre-operative phase (intuitive phase)
Egocentric. Sees the world subjectively. Vivid imagination. Imagination. Curiosity. Creativity. Focuses on only one feature at a time. Works intuitively, not logically.
7-12Visual realism
Subjectivity decreases. Draw what is actually there. No more X-ray technology (transparencies). Human figures are more realistic, more proportioned. More realistic colors. Differentiates right from left side of the drawn figure.
Phase of concrete operations
Think logically. No longer dominated by immediate perception. Concept of reversibility: the same things remain the same, even if their appearance may have changed.
12+As they develop critical judgment, most lose interest in drawing. The gifted tend to stick with it.Formal operations phase
Take a critical look at its products. is able to consider hypotheses. Can think about ideas, not just specific aspects of a situation.


3. Children's drawings are "letters" from children

Children always express certain ideas they have of their world in their pictures. You enjoy the movement that goes hand in hand with the experience that a product is created. This is particularly evident in the scribble phase. The pen that moves across the paper leaves lines, lines and dots behind. The child is a creator and designer. That fills it with joy and pride. The beloved mother or anyone else present will be enthusiastically demonstrated this product and given it as a gift. When adults write in his presence, so will they. It connects the message: I can create something, I can communicate.

Later the picture is consciously used as a gift. The child is drawing a letter. It "tells" stories, shows what it is doing, shows what it wants and thus conveys a picture of its perception and imagination. Every child's drawing contains self-statements from the child. A hasty interpretation would not be desirable, however, since we can easily reduce the picture to our own interpretation. Therefore, besides the one-off children's drawing, we also need to have some other sources of information.

3.1 Speaking and painting

When painting, children will usually also comment on everything they are doing. They tell what they are planning, think out loud where something is still missing, what color they are looking for and whether what they have drawn corresponds to their ideas. We learn a lot more in the process than can be seen later on the drawing, provided that the child feels unobserved and is so confident in linguistic expression that we can understand it. Often children mumble to themselves and a listener can only interpret these indistinct words again.

In our facilities, children often paint together. They tell each other what they are doing, adopt motifs from other children, experiment with colors and shapes, try to outdo each other and communicate by making pictures. Such images also have a communicative character. We have to consider, however, that they were created in a dialogue and, in addition to "own" images, can also contain other people's motifs.

Third, we can also ask children about their pictures. However, this should be done very carefully and not interpretively. First we ask the child what kind of story they wrote in the picture. This question shows that we are interested in learning something about the story of how it was created and the message that the child expresses through the drawing. It also prevents us from expressing that we cannot recognize the things and people depicted.

Sometimes, however, children themselves do not know what they wanted to portray. We shouldn't urge them to tell about their pictures, but rather encourage them by showing that we are interested in the picture, e.g. For example: "Oh, but these are beautiful colors", or: "I see a lot of circles and spikes in your picture". The child can then give us further information if they wish.

When children tell us something, we can encourage them to draw it too. "Can you paint me a picture of your trip?" or: "What does your big friend look like at home? Can you paint him?"

3.2 Series of children's drawings

Children often paint the same pictures over and over for a long time. This also has a meaning for the child. We shouldn't correct it in the process. However, it is important to observe the child and show any development of the painting. Are there any new elements being added, using different colors, or completing items? When we keep a series of pictures (dated), we also learn about cognitive and creative development. A child who has not added any new elements to their pictures for a long time may also have stopped at one point in their cognitive development. Or at the moment it has completely different interests that keep it from painting. In order to be able to follow the development of the painting over a longer period of time, we have to try to collect pictures of a child and arrange them by date. Especially with children, about whom we are concerned because they appear problematic, such series of pictures may provide information about the development of a problem.

But for this we have to know the "normal" painting development again. How are people and trees or houses represented in the various stages of development? Is the new development simply an age-appropriate further development or is there something threatening about relapsing into an earlier phase?

If we want to get to know the development of painting from cephalopods to profile people or the development of the representation of trees, etc., we should look around in the accompanying bibliography for further literature (especially Bareis, Alfred: From scribbling to drawing and painting, Donauwörth 1989). Such books can also be found in libraries or bookstores.

3.3 Perception and symbols

Children have individually different perceptions. Especially when she was in kindergarten, her pictures are not a realistic depiction of reality. Every child has their own reality that they represent. And the importance of individual objects or limbs is emphasized by their particular color or size. The order of the drawing and the placement also have a different meaning.

The child does not depict reality, but depicts an "inner model". Reality as it appears to him personally. For example, when a cow is being painted, the most important thing for one child is the tail (it has watched the cow drive away the flies with its tail), another child considers the udder to be more important, another child emphasizes the horns of the cow or draws the calf in the cow's body. Most of the time this has to do with his own experience or the knowledge he has about the cow.

The same applies to all representations, be it people, animals or objects. It is only from school age that a realistic representation is important to the child. The individual painting style then becomes clearer, the coloring more realistic, and a special talent for painting becomes apparent.

The fact that children in kindergarten mainly paint houses, trees, flowers and people is an expression of the symbolic power of the drawings. Houses stand for security, trees and flowers for living creatures, people for social relationships. How children represent these symbols says something about their feelings. How and with what colors do you paint houses, nature and people? Is it raining or is the sun shining? Is the picture embellished or does it appear blank?

There are a multitude of symbols in drawings that are especially meaningful for the therapy of sick people. A development can always be observed in children's drawings and the creative use and experimental phases with pens, paper and representation also play a role. Gmelin, Otto F .: "Mama is an elephant", the symbolic world of children's drawings, Stuttgart 1978 provides further information about the meaning of the colors and symbols.

The pictorial space (center, top, bottom, right, left) also contains a special kind of symbolism. (Teegen, Frauke: The Imagery of the Body, Reinbek 1992 , Pp. 59-64 about the meaning of the picture space) The healthier a person is, the more balanced the picture appears, the richer the representation of the colors. A normal, healthy child uses almost all colors that are offered to them. However, you should be careful when assessing an image in terms of the colors used. Why do you think the child painted the father's face green? Isn't that a warning sign? It could be that green is his favorite color, or that the other kids had hijacked all of the colors and it was too shy to ask for another color. Why is another child painting everything purple? Maybe it is a color that is otherwise not available and it is happy about the new color?

In healthy children, both the use of color and the inclusion of symbols should not be interpreted immediately. On the one hand, the child may be able to offer us a "simple" explanation for this, on the other hand we should observe the child's drawings over a longer period of time.

The interpretation of drawings is a science in itself and can only be used by laypeople as an aid to interpretation, but does not offer any deep hermeneutic possibilities for interpretation. We should leave that to the experts.

4. What is in children's letters?

Some messages in children's drawings have already been addressed. Children usually paint for sheer pleasure at first. This is the most important task of children's drawing. If children do not like to paint, we have to think about why this is so or from what period of time we observe this. Boys in particular paint less than girls. This could be related to the fact that boys prefer to move with gross motor skills or are socialized in this direction. There are institutions in which all boys paint with enthusiasm and others where boys almost defend themselves against painting. It is difficult to explain what the cause of this might be. If, however, we provide all kinds of painting utensils to all children and give them the pleasure of painting, e.g. For example, through large leaves on the floor that can be painted with brushes or by trying out new pens (felt-tip pens that shine particularly well), children who previously did not like to paint may resort to this means of expression again.

In the process of painting, inner tensions can be reduced, fantasies can be developed and cognitive processes can be set in motion. When children do not paint (any more), their possibilities of expression are impoverished.

4.1 I-representation

Perhaps the most important question we ask of a child's drawing is how the child represents himself. Is it in the center or on the edge, does it paint itself as large as other people in the picture, smaller or larger? Which colors does it use for its own representation, how does it relate to other people or objects?

Shy children paint themselves differently than self-confident children who feel comfortable in their family are painted in the center, children who have no friends paint themselves with certain objects or plants or animals that are "close" to them.

Children who feel threatened also show this in their pictures. Lightning and thunder come down on the person, they are depicted in threatening colors or show a fearful expression on their face. Often she doesn't even get a face.

The representation of one's own person can only be interpreted in connection with other painted people. If the child is still painting cephalopods, their own shape also takes on this shape. But if it already paints other people with arms and torso and your own person is still a cephalopod, this is an alarming sign.

Kindergarten children are still very centered on themselves. As a rule, it is therefore given special attention, lovingly decorated, provided with important utensils and appears in the center of the picture.

From the representation of the ego, one can infer the valuation of one's own person. If certain parts of the body are shown particularly large or missing, this is also significant. Which parts are shown particularly lovingly? Is that the hair or the new shoes? The representation of the navel is an important thing for many children.But important objects are also usually close to you, such as important people or toys. Children who love to draw themselves as adults are expressing that they would like to be big (and powerful). Children without hands may feel incapable of acting, children with no legs unable to move. A faceless child said of himself: "I am nobody."

There are also children who draw themselves as symbols. A boy drew himself as a flower. A bee had come and perched on it. When I asked him if the bee had visited the flower, he said: no, it stings the flower. Everything was painted very small in one corner of the sheet. Lightning and rain fell on the flower, the whole picture made a frightening impression.

Boys like to add symbols of power to their picture, e.g. pistols, large swords or cars and machines as decorative objects. Girls, on the other hand, often paint themselves in a meadow of flowers, a laughing sun and pretty clouds of sheep. The house (symbol of security) is very close by, also lovingly painted with many colors except for the curtains.

Children's images can provide an initial indication of how they perceive themselves. If we encourage children to talk about the picture, we may learn a lot more about the child than his parents can tell us and we can observe for a long time.

4.2 Representation of gender

As already mentioned, boys and girls paint different pictures. This has to do with gender-based socialization and one's own perception as a boy or girl.

Male and female characters are painted according to stereotypical ideas. Men get stubble hair and women long, possibly curly hair. Men get trousers, women skirts or beautifully designed dresses.

According to a story, children were allowed to paint men and women. The powerful man in the story got a full beard and a big cigar, the "normal" man looked not dissimilar to a child. The powerful woman was drawn with high heels and long eyelashes and wore a colorful robe. The "normal" woman got long hair and a bouquet of flowers.

Talking to the children showed that children do not see living men and women in these stereotypes, but rather know that their mother wears trousers and has short hair. As a rule, they know little about the father figure.

The portrayal of women is often associated with female activities. Women are painted as carers in hospital scenes, they cook or clean, pick flowers or decorate something. Men are associated with machines and cars, they are often painted in a professional context, e.g. B. as a firefighter. The role models that prevail in society become clearer in the drawings of older children. They depict reality and thus also realistically depict the gender roles lived in reality in their pictures.

Sex characteristics are rarely drawn by young children. In preschool age, when boys and girls increasingly grapple with conception, childbirth and the opposite sex, breasts are painted for women and sometimes for men with oversized penises. The sex act is hidden from most children and is also not painted. However, the baby appears in the womb. Boys who are in love with a girl paint this on their picture, even though they don't dare to play with this girl in kindergarten. The confrontation with father and mother and siblings also takes place in the pictures of children.

4.3 Family representations

"Family pictures" are very interesting. Children like to paint themselves with their family. We get very different statements about the painted families. Often some family members or friends are missing. Sometimes grandma and grandpa are in the picture or the dachshund is particularly big in the focus. In the family pictures, the social relationships as the child experiences them are clearly expressed.

Is the child painting himself the center of attention? Then it has developed a healthy self-confidence and feels safe in the family. If it paints itself particularly small and to the edge, it probably also feels "pushed to the edge" and insignificant. How does it relate to father and mother? If it paints itself between father and mother, both are significant for it. If it paints itself bigger or as big as adults, it feels just as important. Where are siblings placed? How differentiated are the individual people painted, with many colors or in one color? Does the unborn sibling in the mother's womb also belong to it? This situation is often depicted, as children are very preoccupied with the future birth of a sibling.

Children also like to paint their friends in the family picture. They are often sibling substitutes or same-sex "siblings" if they are missing. If relatives appear in family pictures, they are likely to play just as important a role for the child as their own family members.

Sometimes your own house, car, and pets also appear on the family picture, depending on how important they are for the family and thus also for the child. When we are dealing with problematic behaviors in a child, a "family picture" is instructive. Who is closest to the child, who can best explain what the child is currently concerned with and who will have the most influence on the child?

Which person makes a threatening impression on the child? If a person is particularly tall and overpowering, they may be afraid of this person or feel oppressed. Likewise, this person can perhaps protect it from another person who "comes too close" to it. We have to be a little careful with the interpretation of the images, but we can first recognize hypotheses on them, which we can then pursue further.

Here, too, several family pictures need to be compared with one another. If the mother had to punish a child, she might appear on the child's picture as a "bad witch" on that day, but at other times she is very lovingly painted with many colors and decorative elements and brought closer to the child.

Children like to talk about the family pictures. As part of a project that deals with family, siblings, birth and death, we can have such family pictures made of all kinds and let the children talk about them.

When children mention family problems, it is difficult because the other children promptly pass on everything at home. However, the subject of divorce, separation and remarriage should not be excluded. We have to try to deal with these topics neutrally through picture books etc. with the whole group. Nevertheless, it helps individual children to cope with such problems in their own families and to work on them to a certain extent if they can paint a lot. In one-on-one discussions, we can then talk to the child about such current problems.

For family representations in general, it applies that they encourage the child to think about their family, to present themselves in the context of the family and to give us certain possibilities of interpretation of how the child feels in the family and where it may have problems.

The assessment of family pictures could be based on the following aspects:

  • Which person (gender) is drawn first?
  • How are mother and father portrayed?
  • How does the child paint himself?
  • Are the people openly related to each other or is a member painted in a box or on the edge?
  • What are the proportions of the individual people to each other?
  • Are there things, animals or people that appear in the pictures besides family members?
  • Which colors were used? Which people were painted in the same colors, which in a different color?
  • Who is closest to your own and how is this portrayed?
  • What impression does the overall picture make on you?
  • Who was forgotten?
  • What does the child say about his picture?

A family representation under the order: "Paint your family as animals" could also be informative. However, this only makes sense with increasing age, as children only master different animal representations from about school age.

4.4 Representation of nature

In many cases, the representation of nature will be exhausted in the drawing of trees, flowers, a sun, clouds and possibly also raindrops or lightning. Children who are encouraged to observe nature will also paint other things. The pictures are then decorated with insects, beetles and other animals, but also with mountains and rivers, valleys and lakes.

The older the children are, the more important the lifelike replica becomes. Mammals, for example, are often not painted because it is so difficult to depict them realistically. Smaller children find it even easier. A trunk, head, and tail can represent almost any animal. If it then has a typical feature, such as a trunk, it quickly becomes an elephant.

The so-called "tree test" is popular in test procedures. Mental states are interpreted on the basis of tree representations. In young children, the representation of trees, plants and animals is still largely unstructured, either influenced by adults who z. B. have pre-painted a tree or simply adopted it by another child's tree representation.

The more important things in nature are for the child, the more likely they will appear in the pictures. In general, what is important is particularly differentiated and lovingly painted, also more colorful than the rest. It also doesn't matter what colors things really are in nature. A blue tree or purple apples usually have no special meaning, except that the child likes these colors.

4.5 Special topics

Everything that is important to a child will also appear in his "paintings". The upcoming vacation by the sea will appear long before in the children's pictures, the visit of the grandma will be painted, as will the Sunday excursion or the carriage ride. Children who paint every day "write" a diary with it. Everything that they experience, what scares them, what makes them happy is captured in the pictures. Since children's pictures are often very similar for a long time, we only discover what special may have happened if we look closely. There are pictures that are typical for certain children.

4.5.1 Individual preferences

Children have their own style of painting. Every child prefers certain colors, certain forms of representation, a certain layout of the pages. Whether it paints a certain house shape, always portrays its own person in a certain way, paints fruit on the tree or paints a particularly smiling sun in the center of the picture, we can always make a personal note by studying the children's pictures for a long time.

Here, too, we notice again and again, from around the age of four, when the imagery becomes clearer for us, that images of girls are clearly different from images of boys. Girls decorate their pictures with many colors, small shapes, flowers and brightly colored clothes, boys prefer things that express power, such as vehicles and weapons to decorate their pictures. And what the individual child is particularly interested in, be it the rabbits at home or the fire brigade that regularly drives past their place of residence, that naturally also appears preferentially in the pictures.

4.5.2 Current Interests

A project is being carried out in the kindergarten. It deals with forest, nature, rivers and flowers. Trees, plants, bodies of water and flowers appear all over the children's pictures. The same applies when a circus comes to town and everyone talks about the circus performances, the children also attended the circus or the animal show. Whether it is collective interests that affect the representation in the children's pictures or one's own experiences, they are "recorded" in the drawings.

Children produce so many pictures that we often do not even bother to adequately appreciate the individual picture. We create drawing folders in which the children can put their pictures or we give them home at the end of the day without even having looked at them properly.

We take an important information opportunity that the child offers us and that could give us information about many thoughts, feelings and sensitivities of every child.

4.5.3 Special problems

Drawing tests are often used to track down problems. The younger the children are, the more difficult it is to identify current problems in the drawings. Then the "rows" of drawings that we collect over time help. But like everything that preoccupies the child, problems are of course also painted. Often this happens in encrypted form, as children often associate problems with feelings of guilt and do not want to present them openly.

It is relatively easy to draw a recognized problem. So it may be that the waste incineration plant we talked about in kindergarten appears in all possible forms in the children's pictures. Environmental problems, traffic situations, accidents of which the child has become aware and environmental disasters are openly expressed in children's pictures.

It is different with the child's personal problems. When a sibling is born, this either does not appear in the picture at all if the child is jealous of it or it is painted in close contact with the mother, but its own figure is painted on the edge. Many other variations are also conceivable. Divorce and separation situations are often portrayed. The father who has moved away may be painted in another house, the child paints himself between the houses in which father and mother now live.

For all pictures that appear unusual, we can ask the child what they have painted and have a story told about the picture. If the child does not want to tell us that the story is "his" story, we can still find out from the story what is preoccupying the child. It could really be a story it has heard of, or it could bring a fairy tale together with reality in such a way that we think it is a child's own problem. Dealing with illness and death

Death is also a theme for the child that also appears in the pictures. The grandpa has died, the child paints the grandpa in every picture, but in a frame. He saw him in the coffin and this is symbolized by the frame. Or the sun is referred to as the grandpa who looks down on the child.

Pictures in which the child portrays themselves as sick are relatively common. Illness is an experience that almost every child experiences and which can then also be found in the pictures. If it was a question of a hospital stay, experiences of pain, separation, new knowledge about life in the hospital and the help and special care of hospital staff and visitors are shown in the pictures. Depending on what the child has experienced there, we can then go into the experiences based on the pictures and let the child report on his picture in the chair circle, if he wants.

Children today also learn about diseases that lead to death. When it goes to the cemetery, it sees children's graves there and asks why these children died. If it is bad that old people who were close to the child die, it is almost incomprehensible for children that children have to die and that the "powerful" doctors cannot help.

Children need our help when faced with such experiences. Painting also helps children to communicate these experiences and thus to get rid of internal pressure. It is not for nothing that painting therapies also help adults to cope with difficult experiences.

How can we perceive problems in children's pictures?

  • Important, conflictual experiences are expressed too clearly or at a central point (center point).
  • Experiences that the child perceives as too burdensome are excluded or the child tries to erase them (repaints what has been drawn).
  • Fear, experienced threats or prohibitions are made visible through encircling, painting over or crossing out.

"Transparent" pictures are still normal for kindergarten children. They paint everything they know, even if you usually cannot see it (organs in the abdomen, the navel, genital organs, people in the ship's hull or house, etc.). Only with older children or adults is a message associated with this that something should become transparent, something hidden must come to light, etc. Sexual abuse

If the experience of sexual abuse is to be derived from children's drawings alone, it is a delicate matter. However, sexual abuse is often very clear in pictures of children and can be recognized relatively early by experts. We have to proceed very carefully when sexual abuse is suspected or images of children seem to clearly indicate it.

Both are always valid and must be carefully weighed against each other:

  1. Children must be protected from sexual abuse as soon as possible.
  2. A false suspicion can be just as harmful to the child as an actual abuse.

The appearance of genitals is usually not a reason to infer sexual abuse. As soon as children deal with their gender characteristics, these will also appear clearly in the pictures, depending on their current interests. This happens especially with boys who present themselves with overly long penises or who give all men such when they are, for. B. seen men naked. Women, on the other hand, are often painted with breasts and less with the invisible sex organs. If penises or breasts repeatedly appear in the pictures in a certain phase of development, this is temporary and often only shows that children are expressing their knowledge of anatomical differences between men and women. Preschool and early school age children who are starting to want to paint people realistically also try to clearly express the differences between men and women in their pictures. "Naked" people are often only painted in secret, with lots of giggles and embarrassed looks. As long as this happens together in the children's group, one can assume that it is not a question of sexual abuse.

This usually happens in secret and the children are usually forbidden to report about the events. Children will either express themselves in symbolic drawings or will not want to talk about their pictures. If beds appear unrelated to illness, and a threatening man (most abuse experiences go hand in hand with male persons) can be seen in the picture, who may be carrying a long object (penis substitute), then this is already a possible indication.

However, further clues must also be found in the child's behavior. Is the child particularly anxious? Is his language interspersed with "sexual" words? Does it carry feelings of guilt around with it, does it shy away from being touched?

Painting family pictures may provide information about sexual abuse in the family, but conversations in which children are supposed to paint "funny" situations can corroborate indications of sexual abuse.

In order to better understand children's drawings and to be able to interpret them in context, we have to pay attention to a large number of elements in the drawings. It is not enough to judge the whole picture of the child on the basis of one element. Drawing is never an isolated activity. Like any communication, it belongs in a context, that of "the relationship between the child drawing and his audience" (Wildlöcher 1995, p. 227). So it may well be that the child wants to withhold something from us and therefore the interpretation becomes difficult. A useful interpretation cannot disregard the context. The child must always be seen in its overall context (family relationships, social relationship with the educator); but also the cognitive development and other experiences with the child are important for the overall evaluation. This is particularly true for suspected sexual abuse experiences of children.

5. Criteria for image assessment

The criteria listed here apply to both images of children and adults. In the therapeutic area, images are also used for therapies with adults. Painting therapy is helpful for many people who have suffered a difficult fate. You can then "get rid of" or work on problems that cannot be expressed in words by "expressing" your innermost feelings with colors and shapes. People who work with the terminally ill and dying, but also in family counseling centers, know about the possibilities of using drawings. Drawings can draw attention to a problem or corroborate a suspicion. However, they should only ever be used in addition to other observations.

The procedure for an image interpretation could be based on the following questions:

(In the case of children's drawings, it is always useful to let the child tell about his or her picture so that our interpretation does not overlook or overestimate a simple motif. Pictures of children who do not paint realistically (only possible from the age of 5) can also be used ) can easily be misinterpreted by us. Nevertheless, it is helpful to apply the following criteria to an image in order to sharpen your own perception.)

1. What feeling does the picture convey?

How does the viewer feel when they have a picture in front of them? Does he feel free and relieved, does he feel amused or stimulated or does looking at the picture give him a headache or even fear?

If, especially with problem children, we let a picture work on us in a completely impartial way, the first impression is already a "picture" in us.

However, everyone is addressed or repelled by something else. We have to be careful that our feelings really emerge from the picture and are not falsified by our own associations. Images that trigger tension, fear or concern in us should also be presented to other viewers and asked for their opinion.

Perception is always subjective and feelings are triggered by different things in people, so that here, too, distortions of perception can point us in the wrong direction.

2. What is noticeable?

In some pictures, an element "catches" our eye. Is it a red point between all the dull colors or an oversized object. Such a conspicuousness often influences the overall impression. If the child draws this object first, it certainly has a special meaning.

It would be better to speak of a meaning rather than a meaning. Symbols have meaning in pictures, but painting itself has a meaning of its own. If this eye-catching element is a symbol, it may have a specific meaning, e.g. B. a house stands for security, the ship as a sign of origin (womb), the car as a possibility of mobility, people stand for social references, nature symbolizes liveliness, closeness to nature.

In children, these symbol interpretations are often wrong because they paint spontaneously, i. H. Orientate yourself on a picture that you have just seen (in a picture book, at the neighbour's painting table) or draw something you have just experienced (on the way to kindergarten etc.), but also things that you expect as pictures "to experience" (circus visit etc.) ).

3. Obstacles

There are obstacles of all kinds in pictures. A person can represent an obstacle, a tree or an object. People who are separated by obstacles in a picture (two people standing on one side, another on the other) may have problems with each other. But also the lack of relationship between individual things in the pictures are obstacles that they can be seen in context.

4. What is missing?

If something important is missing, it has either a simple explanation or a deeper meaning. If the father is missing in the family picture, it can mean that he is on a business trip, does not live at home or the father has died. It would also be possible, of course, for the father to trigger feelings of fear (e.g. in the case of sexual abuse) and for that reason to fearfully avoid painting him.

If a person is missing limbs, although the child can already paint representationally, the child has either forgotten to draw them because they are not typical for the person (a paralyzed person can be painted without legs) or something has to be concealed (he may cannot go because otherwise he could tell something). People without arms are incapable of acting, people without a face are insignificant. If a house has no windows or doors, the people inside are locked and cut off from the outside world.

A car without tires cannot drive, a bird without wings cannot fly, a flower must be rooted in the ground (it cannot float in the air). Our question must then always be: What does the missing element mean and what does it possibly mean for the person painting?

5. What is the focus?

Things and people that are drawn in the center are important. Children like to paint themselves in the center of the picture. All important things are then lined up next to yourself, unimportant people and objects are either missing completely or are drawn in the margin.

Psychoanalytic interpretations give the upper half of the picture a more positive meaning than the lower, the right-hand picture space, the symbolism of the "masculine", the intellectual, and the left-hand picture space they assign more to feeling. In children's drawings, this may not be seen as extreme. It depends on the developed skill as well as experimental testing. Sometimes the child paints the sun on the right side, at other times it prefers to depict rain and then decides in favor of the sun, which then wanders into the left picture space. Whether one can always interpret this in terms of depth psychology is often suspicious to me when it comes to children's pictures.

The middle picture space certainly represents a main meaning. If children paint themselves small and insignificant in a corner, we can already draw certain conclusions from it. Our language also gives us many indications that can be used to interpret images. Is something marginalized or is it the focus, is it hanging too high or is it deeply rooted in us? If we transfer these linguistic expressions to the pictorial space, we get an idea of ​​the symbolism shown to us.

If something is just moving "into the center" (what visual language do we have!), It is painted large. The mother with the baby in her stomach is particularly important, you can feel the baby, but you don't quite know what it looks like, it is often not painted as a person, but only as a head.

In a series of pictures, one can then observe that what is initially important is pushed further and further from the center, moves to the edge and finally disappears from the picture again. The "bosom friend" may gradually move to the edge, an obstacle is inserted between her and the person painting (tree, house) and finally the child no longer has any space for her in the picture (as stated by way of explanation). But even threatening things can "migrate" in this way. The purpose of producing images in the therapeutic area can consist in the fact that what is threatening and fearful migrates from the center outwards over time and is finally "mastered" and disappears from the image.

6. proportions

Children paint what is important big and unimportant small, no matter how it actually is in reality. In the pictures, children are usually just as tall as adults, houses are no bigger than people and trees may reach the sky. When something is painted big, it has a big meaning. This also applies to frightening motives. Powerful people who are associated with frightening experiences are drawn in the center and oversized. If this person then has particularly large hands, his activity is also large and important or particularly fear-inducing. Boys paint themselves with oversized guns or knives. Girls equip their important people with long clothes, flowing hair or oversized hats.

Unimportant, but also secret things are painted small and on the edge. Children who have had worse experiences initially do not paint them at all, later they only appear on the edge of the picture and are quite small, in the phase of active and accepted discussion things get bigger and bigger and finally, as the problem is dealt with, they get smaller again.

When children are engaged in the genital organs, large penises and breasts are painted. For us, this can mean that children need information about the associated tasks or have had experiences that led them to such drawings. Visiting the pediatrician can cause organs to be drawn into the body that do not fit in terms of size. The lungs (we mentioned that smoking is unhealthy and damages the lungs) is shown halfway across the abdomen and completely black.

In summary, one can say that what is important and what causes fear is painted large and what is insignificant or repressed small.

7. Distorted shapes

In children's drawings, such distorted shapes can only be recognized by comparing them. Children's pictures often show imprecise shapes, which could be due to the development of the painting or the current state of mind. When children are not in the mood for painting, they draw something sloppily and distorted on paper, which in the end only expresses their displeasure.

But if you have carefully painted everything and only a single house or object appears particularly distorted (this does not mean perspective painting, that cannot be done by kindergarten children), then this certainly has a special meaning. It could be a broken house or a sick person, but it could also indicate problems at home or in a relationship.

8. Repetitions

Repetitions in children's pictures are more the rule than the exception. For a long time, children paint similarly structured pictures, increasingly decorating them or improving the individual elements. With new experiences and other materials, we can get them to try new things and work on new topics. In no case should we criticize if they keep painting the same thing over a long period of time. For the child, the point of repetition lies in the exercise, the improvement of the pencil guidance, the coloring, the line guidance. Children love repetition, which shows us wanting to keep the same story over and over again. For their safety, children need repetitions, rituals and familiar structures. This also applies to her pictures.

If, however, children remain standing on a picture motif and the same painting patterns for over six months, there is either a delay in development or we are not giving enough suggestions. It can also be that an unresolved problem is hidden and is painted until it "comes to light". Here is the picture of a letter to us that we have to read in order to be able to give the appropriate answer.

9. Perspective

Children's pictures are usually painted from the front and everything in the picture is neatly lined up. But sometimes the perspective is changed within the picture, the child paints the house from the back, but the person standing in front of the house so that he is looking at us. Something then seems to bother us in the picture and at first we don't even notice that this has to do with the differently painted perspective. This indicates an internal or external conflict. Either the child wants to turn away from something or to develop into something else, or they simply try out a new point of view that they noticed in the friend's picture. If, for example, people in profile are still drawn with two eyes, this is only the transition from one painting phase to the other and has nothing to do with a real change of perspective.

10. Put yourself in the picture

When interpreting a picture, it is also helpful to put yourself in the shoes of the picture, to walk in it, so to speak. Which sensations does this trigger in me, which noises and smells do I perceive, where do I feel comfortable, which parts of the picture do I prefer to avoid? Taking the child for a walk in his picture would be a good opportunity to deal intensively with a single child. And maybe we could learn something from his life and empathize with his wishes, needs, fears and doubts.

11. Shades

Children who color objects or people in black in their pictures express that something is wrong with them. People who are afraid or depressed are either painted lightly shaded or filled in black. But also people and things that are threatening.

Be careful when children are coloring people. It could be that they either just want to paint someone of color or put them on a dark blue sweater.

12. The object extends over the edge

Children seldom paint their pictures over the edge. Smaller children at the doodling stage do this regularly and it is good to offer them plenty of space to protect the drawing table. But, if children aged 5 - 6 years and older concentrate on a picture, at most the meadow (earth) or the sky will be painted from one edge of the leaf to the other and beyond. But if objects are painted incompletely at the edge and there would actually have been room for the whole object, this is a sign that something is happening unsatisfactory or at the edge.

Children usually paint from the center of the sheet to the right and left. However, if a child leaves a large part of the sheet unpainted and starts painting almost at the end of the right or left edge of the picture, it can be concluded that there is uncertainty. And this uncertainty is related to the painting.

13. Out of time presentation

If a child paints the Christmas tree in July or the beach in December, this has a special meaning.Perhaps they are expecting something special to look forward to or fear? The child in the cancer clinic who drew the Christmas tree in July fears that he will no longer be able to experience Christmas. It wants to encourage itself or to express that it would like to live that long.

St. Nicholas in March? So the question is allowed whether the figure shown is actually Santa Claus. Isn't this Nicholas-like person the boy from the house next door who played Nicholas last year and whose large Santa hat stands for the phallic symbol because he forces the little boy next door to engage in sexual acts?

There are usually two explanations: a harmless one, arising from the momentary wishful thinking, and a problematic one. An interpretation without questioning the child could lead us on the wrong track.

14. Inclusions and fences

Inclusions and fences can initially have quite harmless explanations. Don't sheep have to be fenced in so that they don't run away, haven't children already seen babies in the playpen? If such an explanation is unlikely, however, such sign elements can give statements about current problems or be understood as a cry for help from the child.

Being locked in can symbolize security, but also exclusion. Does the child feel excluded with us, is they afraid of the many children around them and therefore would like to surround themselves with a boundary? Or is the person in the picture a family member who marginalizes himself or is labeled a "black sheep" by others?

14. Extension

As already mentioned, boys in particular often paint themselves with long objects (knives, swords, rifles). They express that they want to be in control of others. They lack power and assertiveness. But this can also be observed in pictures of girls. A flower with a particularly long petal style that the child holds in the hand or a stick, a broom or a rake could mean the same thing.

Children feel insecure and often helpless. They provide themselves with symbols of power and assertiveness, also in their pictures. The same thing that applies to particularly long objects also applies to objects that symbolize power, either machines, cars or people whom you feel superior to. Girls like to paint themselves with dolls or little siblings. Couldn't this have the same meaning of exercise of power as the boy's guns?

15. Back

Children usually write their name on the front of the picture. Children who cannot write yet instruct the teacher to write their name on the back. The teacher's writing has lost nothing in the front of the picture.

When something is drawn on the back it often means that the things on the back do not harmonize with the picture on the front. If the mother is relegated to the back, she may be too far away emotionally for the child. In the case of family pictures, I have often had the experience that family members supposedly couldn't fit on the front and were then painted on the back. If something is forgotten and then drawn on the back, this is also significant, since "being forgotten" is an unconscious but often problematic process.

Children rarely paint on the back of a piece of paper. You'd rather use two different sheets of paper. A harmless explanation for pictures on the back could be a lack of coloring sheets. So we also have to pay attention to such things before interpreting an image.

16. Underlines

Underlining is relatively rare in kindergarten. Things and people usually stand on a solid foundation (meadow or ground) and are therefore naturally "underlined". If a single person is underlined in drawings, he or she lacks the foundation. If all persons are underlined and only a single person is not, then this individual is particularly "steadfast" (he does not need any additional foundation). Children seldom place themselves in the "free space". You still feel too insecure to be able to do without an additional foundation.

17. Colors

Color is light, is music. The colors of all substances are created by light. Seeing radiation of a certain wavelength is a physiological requirement. Very brief light is invisible to the human eye.

The use of the different colors is linked to the child's character, other preferences, temperament and current moods. The color symbolism indicated here must therefore be tailored once again to the very individual aspect.

The sea is blue. Blue is considered cool, withdrawn, transparent. It is associated with fidelity, purity, and truth. The color recedes from us, is unchangeable, is patient and quiet.

Brown is the color of the ground. Brown is melancholy, decay, pollution. Often, however, this color also arises from disordered paint pots as a mixed color and therefore has no special meaning.

Yellow is the sun, fire and light. Urgent, loud, garish, immodest, exciting and alarming. The yellow sector of the eye is the furthest, among the objects that come into the field of view, the color yellow is recognized first. That is why it is also used as a warning color. Those who prefer yellow have something adventurous and dangerous about them. Yellow / gold that dazzles.

Gray is the middle between black and white. It is considered both posh and inconspicuous. Indifferent, paralyzing, pale is associated with it. One speaks of the "Eminence Gray".

Orange has the radiant glow of yellow and the activity of red. A color that suggests a happy, relaxed state of mind.

Green is the hope. A color of spring, the calm, quiet fertility, the tranquility of the forest. Green becomes poisonous towards yellow, morbid towards blue. Green is the frog, green is the mixture between yellow and blue and yet more active than blue and, in contrast to yellow, calm and balanced.

Red is the color of blood, life, love. No revolution, no children's drawing that would like to do without this color. Both activity and lust for murder are associated with it. Life and destruction. Power, determination, victory and joy are expressed through this color.

Black as the opposite of white is absence, darkness. Symbol for sadness, hopelessness, world negation, beginning. The color black is also referred to as the transition phase.

Violet has the motor skills of red and the internalized blue. It is considered the color of the church and the martyr. This color connects heaven and earth, consciousness and dream. It shows and resolves conflicts.

In the Orient, white is considered the color of death. It is emptied and stands for the innocence of unbroken light. Seldom appears in children's pictures because mostly only white coloring sheets are available. However, it is indispensable for the representation of snow.

Children try different colors, usually paint brightly colored pictures and use many different colors. The older they get, they try to paint as naturally as possible and for this they need many nuances and shades of color.

18. Erasures / redrawings

Since children's pictures are usually painted in color right from the start, it rarely happens that something is erased. You'd rather take another paper and start over. It often happens that children are dissatisfied with their pictures and always start over, especially when they try a new subject. This does not mean anything, it just shows a trial phase.

However, if a child crosses out, paints over or tears up an object or a person that they have already painted several times and this happens frequently, it is time to take care of it. Which picture always turns out to be unsatisfactory? Which person in the picture is this due to? What is the cause given by the child himself? Uncertainties in connection with the overpainted object or the blackened person can be the cause. If what has been painted over is replaced by something new and this works better, this is to be seen as a positive sign. Often such renewals are made because one's own demands are higher than the ability to bring this to the picture.

19. Font in pictures

In children's pictures there are speech bubbles or their own name. It is important that others know who this picture is from and that it belongs to the bearer of that name. The pride in one's own work has to do with it. Pictures that do not turn out well are rarely given names and given away without a name or thrown away. Children paint stories and explain them as soon as they can write with additional words they insert. They should underline the importance that the child gives to the picture and protect it from misinterpretation.

20. Line at the top

A blue stripe for the sky is usually painted on the upper edge. It is a symbol of the unalterable, but it can also be considered threatening, depending on how dark this line is. Confinement, but also security can be expressed with it.

21. Transparency

In a certain phase of painting development, it is normal to be able to see through things at what is behind. Everything you know is painted, even if it's behind a wall. When older children or adults paint walls or bodies transparent, they are expressing the fact that they are unprotected or that they feel controlled.

22. Order

For every drawing, the order of the drawing also stands for the importance of the people and things drawn. The most important thing is usually painted first (this is different with "hidden" messages). In children's pictures, this is usually the own person, who is not only brought into focus, but is also painted first. When we observe what children first paint on their paper, we have an indication of the meaning that the child wants to give the picture. The first painting phase then brings the references that connect with the first motif, the further time the child spends with decorations and additions.

Children also paint pictures in several stages. Since they deal emotionally with what they have painted and their hand also soon gets tired, they sometimes decide to continue painting later. If we observe children during the painting process and precisely record the sequence, we can come across important messages that the child conveys to us.

6. Pedagogical aspects

Pictures of children are to be viewed under the aspect of activity. The development of manual dexterity and the creation of a product are initially important. Pictures also arise in our dreams, people "create" them every night. And just as information, fears, apprehensions and joyful expectations are hidden in dreams, so these are expressed daily in children's pictures. Just as dreams often come as a surprise to the sleeper, pictures often arise out of the unconscious and can only be guessed by the painter and not described. Children explain their picture to us, but they cannot describe things in it that have arisen in their unconscious.