Confidence issues and the young artist

Published by Lori Pickert on March 18, 2008 at 01:29 PM



My kids most of the time see what I've drawn and right away start complaining that they can't draw and that they want me to draw it for them, or saying "I don't know how to draw it". — Heather

Never draw for your children. It sets up a dynamic where they are going to try to copy your example, and that's not what we're after. We want to observe and try to draw what we see, not mimic someone else's drawing.

Instead of drawing for your child, talk to them and support their efforts.

The child who says "I can't draw!" or "My drawing looks terrible!" is expressing a lack of confidence or maybe just looking for confirmation or denial. Sometimes they are overwhelmed by something that seems too difficult.

If they complain that they are making mistakes or their drawing isn't good, point out that we have to make mistakes when we are learning something new. If we aren't making mistakes, we aren't learning.

Focus their attention on what they are drawing. Talk together about at which point they might start drawing the object. Have them trace it with their finger before they start. Talk about all the things they notice about what they are drawing — the textures, the details.

Try breaking the exercise down into smaller tasks. "Can you draw this line?" Once they have drawn that line, "Can you add this detail?" It is always helpful to ask, "What do you think?" They will usually point out to me what they haven't yet drawn, or some detail they've so far ignored. They may point out something they don't like about their drawing. "It's too small." "It's the wrong shape." In that case, say, "I see what you are saying. Why don't you draw it again over here [on a blank piece of the paper or a new sheet]."

Let them see that they are learning. This is why I like to use a sketchbook. Flip back and look at their first drawings and ask them what they think. Can they see their own progress? Remind them that the two things that will make them better at drawing are observation and practice.

My son compares his drawing to his older brother's and becomes upset and says he doesn't want to draw anymore. What should I say? — Pam

If a child compares himself to an older friend or sibling or to you or another adult, point out that that person has simply had more practice than he has.

When my younger son made this same lament, his older brother said, "You are a much better artist than I was at your age — when you are my age, you will probably be better than me!"

If I was working with a child and they admired my work, I would say a genuine "Thank you!" and maybe "I've been working really hard on this." (Modeling desirable behavior.)

If the child went on to say, discouraged, "I'll never be that good", I would point out how much progress they've made and/or point out how much better I get when I practice. (Praising effort, not results.)

I have a question about using erasers--how would you handle objections?? My oldest is Mr. Perfectionist and I can already hear him griping at me for suggesting this. Any ideas?? — Jill

My older students especially can spend the entire class erasing and trying to perfect each line as they go. Stress that sketching is practicing and when you stop being happy with your drawing, instead of erasing you're just going to move to another part of the paper (or a new page) and keep drawing.

How about a little sports analogy? If your son was practicing batting, he would hit 100 balls in a row. He wouldn't stop every time he missed one and say, wait, pitch that one to me again — I need to redo that! You just keep practicing and after hundreds of balls, you're a much better hitter.

How do you encourage them to follow their own ideas instead of feeling like they should copy you? — Michelle

Copying isn't necessarily bad. In the clasroom, we loved to see kids copying each other, because they would get into a fantastic group dynamic, extending each other's work. For example, child #1 makes an aquarium by wrapping a piece of cardboard into a tube. Child #2 "copies" the first child and also makes an aquarium, but he finds a piece of acetate in the recyclables and makes a transparent tube. Child #1 goes to find his own piece of acetate and make a new, transparent aquarium. Child #3 is now on the scene and also wants to make an aquarium — but he adds beads to the bottom for rocks and tapes cut-out fish to the sides. You can see how this kind of dialog improves everyone's work.

I wouldn't necessarily assume that a child lacks confidence in her own ideas if she switches to making the same thing that you are making, or the same thing as the child next to her. In some ways this can be "restaurant syndrome" — I thought I wanted a salad until you ordered the club sandwich. I had an idea, but once I saw your idea, that looked great, too!

If your child has a lot of opportunities to make authentic art — preferably every day — they will eventually work on their own ideas. If you sit down to, say, play with wire sculpture with your children, you might hang back and wait to see what they are making and encourage their efforts.

Try having your child draw from her imagination while you are nearby but busy with some other activity — cooking dinner, for example. Have her tell you about her drawing while she makes it. "I'm drawing our house. This is me. This is you. This is Daddy. This is Grandma coming to visit" etc. When you are making art together or with a group of friends, try not to worry too much if she's "copying" someone else's idea. She will probably add her own ideas, like seasoning, and she is still getting great experience learning about the materials and what she can do with them.

Related stuff:

Drawing with your children

Drawing with your children, continued



Comment by Sara on March 18, 2008 at 08:30 PM

I really enjoy reading your blog. I studied emergent curriculum in college and I use with my kids now. My kids attend "regular" school but I try to do more open ended projects at home. Your site has been really helpful.


Comment by Lori Pickert on March 19, 2008 at 12:56 AM

thank you so much, sara - i really appreciate your comment!

Comment by Allison Fouse on March 22, 2008 at 06:24 AM

At the risk of this sounding like a generic comment, I would like to say that I really enjoyed reading this post. This subject is a particular 'sore spot' in our household, and I would like to thank you for your guidance and insight. This post was just what I needed, and has helped me take a deep breath of fresh air! =)

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 22, 2008 at 03:17 PM

lol re: generic comment, allison - actually, if you want to comment "good job!" on all my posts, i would love it! i care nothing about specific praise myself! :^D)

thank you very much, and i'm glad this one helped you!

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