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Telling Without Talking: Exploring Your Child’s Feelings thr
By Yvonne Sinclair M.A.
You might already be aware that art can be a powerful source of therapy. Did you know it can also be a diagnostic tool that gives a trained clinician a plethora of information? I am not a certified Art Therapist. I have had several workshops offering training in art therapy, but when I have tried art in my practice, its power blows me away.
Children usually love art until they become teenagers and critical of their work. As a diagnostic tool, art is amazingly informative. One of the programs I have explored about art and children is “House/Tree/Person.” In this program, a child is given a sheet of paper and asked to draw a house. He/she cannot be given any other instructions, so if they ask, “My house? Or a blue house?” the clinician will tell him/her that the rule says it has to be his/her drawing without anyone telling him/her what to do. Crayon, markers, and pencils are supplied. After he/she draws a house, the child is asked to draw a person and then a tree.
The drawings are explored as the child voices answers to specific questions. The clinician will see how the child’s drawings are indicative of the child’s emotional feelings. If there are no windows or doors in the house, for instance, getting into this child’s emotions will take work. He/she has closed him/herself off emotionally for some reason. If the tree is dead, then the child is not thriving. No (or small) hands and feet on the drawing of the person usually tells us the child feels powerless.
These are just a beginning of the indicators in a child’s art work. Some pathology can be suspected with certain ways a child draws. If there is an indication of a problem or pathology, then the clinician can open the door to explore this further. One drawing is not a definitive diagnostic tool. The clinician can also compare the drawings to an age appropriate chart to discover more.
The drawing medium the child chooses to use will also be an indicator. If the child chooses pencils, then he/she is in need of control. If he/she chooses markers, then he/she is more comfortable in him/her world. Crayons are considered somewhere in between.
Some of the workshops I attended mapped out indicators of abuse in drawings. Personally, if I see those indicators, it means I need to explore that issue. Again, one drawing is not a definitive diagnostic tool.
The overall look of the drawing can give some clues, also. If there is a lot of scribbling and random marks, this may indicate the child is feel chaos. Large hands and claw hands can indicate a feeling of aggression. Teeth showing may also indicate an aggressive stance. If the drawing involves numerous erasures and crumpling to start over, then the child may feel inadequate. It may also mean he/she is too hard on him/herself.
If the tree has a hole in it, I was taught to check for abuse. As the years have gone by, I am finding, sometimes, the child draws the hole for a positive reason. When asked, “Is that a hole I see in your tree?” the child sometimes answers that it is a house for a squirrel. Again, more exploring must occur when any drawing indicates a problem of any kind.
When the child draws a picture of his/her family, an abundance of information to help the clinician is offered. The size of the people in the family usually indicates the child’s perception of power in the family. The family members the child includes in the drawing of family can indicate family dynamics or issues. One child drew the boys on one paper with Dad and the girls on the other paper with Mom. Don’t ask me why; I am still wondering over that one.
Sometimes I will have the family all come in and do a set of drawings. Each family member chooses one crayon. They are instructed to do four drawings, one at a time, with these instructions: 1. Draw something without talking. 2. Draw something together without talking. 3. Have a fight on paper. 4. Make up from the fight. This will reveal a great amount of information about how the family functions. We then explore what I see, and it helps the family understand what is going on at home. It also gives them the opportunity, then, to change dynamics if they wish.
If you have your pictures from Kindergarten or lower grades in school, it may be interesting to find a certified Art Therapist and do a little exploring about how you felt during that time.
I would like to mention here that a child can be nurtured or damaged by one statement about his/her art. As clinicians, we are taught to keep from putting a value on the art. For instance, we say, “I see lots of red in your drawing,” instead of, “That is a beautiful drawing.” I would like to share a little story I ran across years ago.
In first grade Mrs. Lohr said my purple teepee wasn’t realistic enough, that purple was no color for a tent, that purple was a color for people who died, that my drawing wasn’t good enough to hang with the others.
I walked back to my seat counting the swish swish swishes of my baggy corduroy trousers. With a black crayon nightfall came to my purple tent in the middle of an afternoon.
In second grade Mr. Barta said draw anything; he didn’t care what.
I left my paper blank and when he came around to my desk my heart beat like a tom tom. He touched my head with his big hand and in a soft voice said the snowfall, how clean and white and beautiful.
By ALEXIS ROTELLA
Have fun with your children. Draw with them. Notice their drawings and if anything seems troubling find an art therapist to consult. Remember to be positive without voicing value when commenting on children’s art.
©Copyright 2010 by Yvonne Sinclair M.A., MFCC. All Rights Reserved. Reproducing this information in any way is strictly prohibited without express permission by the author.