February 5, 2017

Does your child enjoy making artwork? Beginning as early as age one or two, most children enjoy scribbling with crayons. While most parents fear the mess, children really love using brushes and paint. These creations are the beginning stages of the creative process. And it is one that we would like to enhance as much as possible.

Young children are proud of their creations. They enjoy the process and are usually satisfied with the results. As children age, their fine motor skills improve and so does the quality of their artwork. Shapes and designs actually start to look recognizable. Children start to make designs intentionally.

While, this makes reviewing artwork easier, it also sets parents up in a trap to stifle creativity in their children. And somewhere between age 7 and high school, many kids transition from loving art to avoiding it because “I’m not good at art.”

What Do You Usually Say When Your Child Shows You Artwork?

Kids make a lot of art in my office. I would say 95% of the time, if a child shows a parent their creation, the parent will say one of three things:

  1. It’s beautiful!
  2. I love it!
  3. Good Job!

Sometimes, it comes out as this big run on sentence

Ooh, good job, it’s so pretty, I love it.”

Which is usually followed by, “Okay, let’s go” or sometimes, “What is it?”

What’s wrong with that?

Well, the intention is good. Praise children for their work, right? Tell them how great they are, right? Even if you have no idea what it is? It’s not that you are doing the WRONG thing..it’s just that there is a way to discuss artwork that is more helpful.

So, what’s wrong with the praise of artwork?

What’s wrong with “It’s beautiful”?

Well, what if it isn’t beautiful? It might not be beautiful to the child. She might not be happy with the result OR it might not feel like you genuinely think it is beautiful.

More importantly, is it required to be beautiful? That’s a pretty high standard when you think about it. Maybe it was an experiment in a new technique. Possibly, it was an expression of the more un-beautiful feelings that humans have. Maybe it was just fun.

What’s wrong with “I love it”?

This one is tougher. You might love it. Your child will probably ask you if you love it. The play therapy response is, “Tell me how you feel about it.” Again, this goes back to the idea that the child may or may not be proud of this particular painting. But, to foster real creative expression, the art is done to help you feel good about yourself-not just to please others.

We want children to do things because they feel proud of their own work, not just because it makes you(the parent) happy. In fact, knowing that you LOVE rainbows will encourage a child to draw nothing but rainbows. Maybe they really wanted to draw dinosaurs, but kids generally want to PLEASE the people that they care about. And so, without even knowing it, you have pushed your child to draw things that you love instead of drawing what they love.

What is wrong with “Good Job”?

Praising the outcome focuses on results. Art is about the process. Again, does it have to be “good” on some scale of artistic goodness? The process of creating is what unleashes the confidence to continue to try new things.

It is the same as saying “good job for making an A on your spelling test” instead of “you really studied a lot this week for that test and it paid off.” When you focus on the process, you help children learn that mistakes are natural, okay, and expected. But, that the process of overcoming hardship is critical. Learn more reasons not to say good job here.

Oh My- So What Am I Supposed To Say About Artwork?

You can memorize my Top Five Most Helpful Responses to Your Child’s Art by remembering the word ARTSY.

When all else fails, be ARTSY in your responses by talking about:

A          ARRANGEMENT: Talk about how the picture is arranged on the page. “You used the entire paper” or “You decided to draw only in the middle.”

R          REFLECT BACK: Talk about how the child feels about the picture. Always reflect back their feelings, especially if they ask for your opinion. You could say, “I’m more curious what you think about this picture” or “You seem really happy/unhappy with how it turned out.”

T          THOUGHT: Talk about the effort that went into the picture. “You put a lot of thought into this one.” If you don’t think that they put much effort into it, you might say instead, “this one came so easily, you didn’t even have to think about it much.”

S          SUMMARIZE:  Summarize the picture by talking about what you see. Similar to talking about the composition, talk about the colors used or the way it was produced. “You used a lot of colors.” “You used some crayons and also some markers.” Actually take a minute to enjoy the picture (even it is just a scribble) for what it is and talk about the process of making art.

Y          Say YES! Because you are the parent, your opinion will often still matter to the child, so don’t be afraid to say you love it! Your child is likely to continue to want to know what you think about the picture.

Find something specific and authentic to comment on. “Yes, I like HOW you had an idea and brought it to life.” “Yes, I like that you told me that you ‘messed up’ but then you turned it into something else.” “Yes, I noticed that you were really focused on the details of this building/tree/person, etc.”

Watch This Demonstration: Hear Me Talk About My Child’s Art

Still struggling with how to talk to your child about their artwork? Watch this short video where I demonstrate talking about artwork using my own child’s creations from last week.


Final Thoughts:

I will admit that I am NOT an artist. Somewhere along the line, I also fell into the “I’m not good at art” mode of thinking. I don’t particularly enjoy painting, drawing or making things. However, I do think that I am a creative person. I like to see ideas come to life. I write, I renovated a house, I enjoy fashion.

The bottom line, is that I do have a sense that my creativity has value. And I believe that is the essence of the artistic spirit.

Pablo Picasso (imagine what HIS mom said about his art!) is often quoted as saying,

Every child is an artist. The problem is how he remains an artist as he grows up.”

Your child doesn’t have to be the next Picasso. But, you can help nurture their ability to feel like their creative spirit is valuable just because it is an expression of them!


What do you do with all this artwork?

Realistically, I save a few here and there for the scrapbook, but discreetly, throw the rest away while my child is not looking. Let’s keep it real!

Although, I have seen some companies that will turn artwork into clothing, stuffed animals or books, I have not actually gone that far (yet).

Definitely save a few…they are only little for a little while!

About the Author

Jen Taylor, LCSW-C, RPT-S is an EMDR Approved Consultant and Certified Journal to the Self Instructor.  She is a therapist specializing in complex trauma, an international play therapy teacher and a published writer of multiple play therapy chapters.  Jen is the creator of the original 2017 Play Therapy Summit and many other innovative programs for mental health professionals.  Jen uses writing therapy, play therapy and expressive arts for her clients and for other mental health professionals so they can lead more joyful and meaningful lives.  Jen encourages people to try new things and create daily habits that allow for incremental progress towards previously unimaginable results.   Jen is a travel enthusiast, an avid reader, and a girl who lifts weights and runs for fun.  

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