How To Interpret A Child’s Family Drawing – Part 2

How to interpret a child's family drawing - Part 2

The expression “projective test” indicates a test in which the person projects his personality, feelings and experiences through a spontaneous creation, for example a drawing or an interpretation of figures already given.

As we have indicated in the previous article, the use of projective tests is very extensive for diagnostic purposes, always accompanied by other tools. In particular, in the case of child psychology the drawing of the family is frequently used, which was first analyzed by Louis Corman in 1961.

The drawing of the family can give us a very complete vision on how the child integrates into the family environment, what is the position he occupies and what are the affective relationships or jealousy towards the different members of the family.

When interpreting a test, especially in the case of a projective test such as the family portrait, one must be aware that it  only shows the child’s sensations at that precise moment of his life experience and from his personal point of view. It would be totally irresponsible to extract a complete diagnosis of the individual problems of the child or his or her family environment from just a child’s drawing.

How to interpret the family design

Let us now analyze in more detail how the drawing of the family in a child can be interpreted.

1) Design phase

Unlike other types of tests, in the family drawing test, whoever wants to give an evaluation must already be present during the time in which the child draws, naturally without intervening in any case.

The instructions to give to the child are very simple: “Draw a family”. If the child asks if he should draw his own or can invent it, or if he asks for other clarifications, the answer must always be very vague: “Draw a family”.

From that moment on, while the child is making the drawing, various aspects must be observed, such as:

  • its blocking level: if it takes a long time to start, if it does not start from people but from the house or another element, etc .;
  • which person draws first and the order of family members;
  • if there is any character on which it takes much longer or which it keeps erasing and redrawing.

 2) End of the drawing

When the child has finished the drawing, it is good to ask him a few questions:

  • Who is each character? If a family member has not been drawn, ask him why he is not there. For example, it is common that, for reasons of jealousy, one of the brothers is not drawn.
  • Which character does he identify with? Where is he in the drawing?
  • You can follow up with a short series of emotional questions: Who is happier and why? Who is sadder and why? Who is the best? And the baddest? Because?

In this way you will get a more complete picture of his feelings, which deepens the interpretation of the drawing.

3) How to interpret the design of the family

As we have already indicated to you previously, when we proceed to the interpretation of a child’s drawing, we do not refer to aesthetic perfection. In fact, one of the aspects to take into consideration is the psychomotor evolution of the child, since sometimes some “errors” or omissions may be due to the immaturity of the drawing skills rather than to problematic situations.

Two main aspects must be analyzed in the design:


The graphic aspect

Under the graphic aspect there are various details relating to the drawing itself and its distribution in space.

Generally speaking, we can extract the following information:

  • Dimensions of the design : normally a large design indicates vitality, extroversion and generosity; a smaller than normal drawing may indicate an underestimation of oneself and feelings of inferiority (although it must be considered that he may have felt ashamed because he had to show us the drawing).
  • The direction of the drawing : if it is oriented to the left, we can speak of a greater detachment from the surrounding environment and a great relationship of dependence on the family unit; if oriented to the right, the child usually has more initiative in social relationships, is more self-confident and has a good relationship with others.
  • Position of the drawing on the sheet : a drawing made very high up is a sign of joy and spirituality; one very low, with a bit of pessimism but also a tendency to practical action; in the middle of the page indicates objectivity, self-control, good reflection.
  • The drawing of the lines : children with good motor skills will draw thin lines; a drawing in which straight lines predominate indicates a dominance of reason over feelings and a certain difficulty in communicating affection; a drawing in which curved lines predominate speaks to us of a much more sensitive and affectionate child.
  • Pencil pressure : excessively light or weak pressure indicates that the child may be very influenced by what others think of him; firm pressure indicates self-confidence and self-confidence.


The content

Let’s now analyze different aspects related to the interactions of the different characters in the drawing.

  • How was the drawing made? We will be able to find schematic drawings, which indicate dynamism, exploitation of resources and control of affectivity; very elaborate drawings, which show us a child with great ability to concentrate in work, but also imaginative and creative; incomplete drawings, which denote great insecurity and indicate problems in the missing parts.
  • What do the characters do? There are very static drawings, in which the characters are arranged in a parallel line without carrying out any action, which indicate emotional problems; dynamic designs are much more appropriate and indicate well-being and maturity.
  • Is the design balanced? When the characters have the correct proportions in terms of size, there is harmony between the child and his or her family environment; disproportionate characters give us additional information. For example, it is very common for younger children to draw their mom older than the rest of the characters.

 4) Final evaluation

Once you have collected all the data, you have to give them an order, establishing links between the real data you have about the family (number of members, more usual presence of the father or mother, etc.) with what the child has told through its design and its interpretation.

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