By Tracy Odell
December 17, 2014
kids drawing of family

Children's drawings of their family are often cute or funny, but they are also reflective of how things are going at home according to new research. The way children sketch themselves and their families can give psychologists important clues to their home life. Children growing up in a home filled with chaos, instability, and/or disorganization tend to draw themselves at a greater distance from their other family members and draw themselves smaller in size relative to the other people in the picture. They also might have a neutral or sad face in the drawing. The children's diminished sense of self is influenced by their parents' lack of attention and brief interactions with them -- a result of a chaotic, unstructured home.

The researchers sat over 900 children down with markers and paper and asked them to draw a photo of their family with no additional coaching. They found the optimal age for the children in their study was six. At six, children have developed enough fine motor skills to draw detailed drawings, but haven't yet internalized ideas about an ideal family that could color the way they draw their own family. Researchers studied the drawings and discovered patterns that appeared in the artwork which had been drawn by children from disorganized homes.

Psychologists sometimes shy away from using children's drawings to draw conclusions about their home life because these interpretations can be so subjective. Two therapists could look at the same drawing and interpret it in totally different ways. This research is a first step towards developing a system to objectively study children's family drawings and providing therapists with a new tool to help understand their young patients and provide them with appropriate support.

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