‘My kids love to draw together, but my younger daughter becomes frustrated because her drawings don’t look as ‘good’ as her sister’s.’
‘My daughter has always loved painting but over this past year she has become self-conscious about her creations ‘not turning out right’ or not ‘being as good’ as her brother’s.’
I don’t know what to say to my son when he tells me, ‘Mine doesn’t look like the teacher’s. I messed up, it’s not good.’
Does any of this sound familiar?
It’s very common for kids to be critical of what they draw, especially when they compare it to other art they see, and it’s so tough as parents to watch our kids struggle and spiral into self-judgement when they feel discouraged.
When we hear our kids criticize their art, our instinct is often to talk them into liking it with compliments such as- “I think it’s beautiful!” And while we may wholeheartedly love what they’ve made, attempting to change their mind about it never really works. Instead, it’s helpful to first look at what might be going on for them internally and developmentally to determine the best way to support them.
Here are three possible reasons why your child may be comparing and criticizing their artwork and some tips you can use to help them navigate through their self-doubt and discouragement:
1. They want their art to look more ‘advanced’
By the time kids are 8 years old (and often younger) they develop a more discerning eye and opinions about their artwork. They can perceive the difference between a drawing of a car, for example, that has sophisticated detail and looks 3-D and one that is a flat ‘symbolic’ representation. They want to advance their skills to draw more realistically and can become discouraged if they don’t know how to get their ideas onto paper.
What you can do: Encourage your child to describe rather than compare
Ask them to be specific about what they like and don’t like to identify the techniques and skills they want to learn. Start a dialogue with them in a very matter of fact way- “Oh, it sounds like you are noticing differences between your artwork and your brother’s. Let’s talk about all the different choices each of you made and what you’d like to change or add to your picture next time.”
When kids realize that artists never like all of their work, they’ll become more gentle on themselves and more open to changing what they don’t like.
You can find some helpful prompts to encourage your child to reflect on their artwork from the Parent Tip Video called Art Talk.
2. They think there is a ‘right’ way to make art and are seeking approval
Often kids look to adults or older siblings to gauge what is good or bad, right or wrong in their world and it’s natural for them to approach art in the same way. The fact that there is no ‘right’ way to draw a fish, for example, may be new information. It may require a big shift for them to let go of trying to make it look ‘right’ and instead, branch out to add their own unique ideas.
Another reason kids may be critical of their art is that they are indirectly seeking approval for their work. They may not feel confident in themselves and look for positive feedback from others in order to feel good about what they’ve made. This one strikes a deep chord in me as I clearly remember as a little girl putting myself down in attempt to get positive feedback from my parents. I looked outside of myself to determine if I was ‘okay’ or good enough, and I still catch myself at times comparing my work with others to see how I ‘measure up.’ Wouldn’t it be great for our kids to develop a positive sense of self well before they become adults?
What you can do: Remind your child often that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to make art
Spend time together looking at different ways artists have interpreted the same subject matter. Look at the photo album in Thrive’s Community Group and see how each child created their tropical fish differently. You can also search Google images for ‘Tropical Fish Artwork’ and point out to your child that no two paintings look the same. Enjoy noticing how uniquely creative each one is.
As you look at artwork together, have a conversation about the fact that everyone has a different opinion about what they like and don’t like. When your child internalizes the fact that there is no such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ art, they may begin to value their own opinion rather than seek approval from others.
3. Competition between siblings or one sibling wants to imitate the other
If you have children of the same sex and similar age, they’re more likely to compare themselves against each other and have competitive aspects to their relationship. This can show up when your kids draw together, especially if one child has been labeled as the more artistic or creative child in the family. Kids are more likely to be critical of their work if they believe their sibling is ‘better’ at art in general.
Comparison and can also occur when one child looks up to their sibling and wants to emulate them. There is such a sweetness to this and being aware that sibling admiration may be at the root of their self-criticism will give you the opportunity to honor their feelings while also gently encouraging them to appreciate their uniqueness.
What you can do: Nurture a loving and supportive relationship between siblings and be conscious of the feedback you give them about their artwork
I love the advice from the book, Siblings Without Rivarly, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish: ‘Help your kids develop a great friendship so that when they do fight, they will want make up because they enjoy and value each other.’ When your kids make art together it’s a perfect opportunity to encourage them to support and respect each other by asking them to share one thing they like about their sibling’s artwork.
Also, if you comment on your children’s work, be specific and balanced with your feedback. Comment on what you notice about their effort or a new technique they used and leave out your judgement of it. Describe what you see and find specific and different things to highlight about each child’s art to celebrate their individuality.
Having conversations with your kids about the idea that anything is possible if they are gentle on themselves and stay open to new learning can send a powerful message that they can create what they want, far beyond their artwork.
As we do our best to support our kids, we have the opportunity to reflect on how we are modeling the qualities we hope to instill in our children. If we want our kids to have positive self-talk and not shut down when they feel discouraged, we need to behave this way toward ourselves. Often the topics I write about here are things I’m working on in my own parenting and personal life and the messages I send my kids about self-compassion, and staying open to new learning are qualities I’m cultivating within myself, right along side my kids. Here’s to life long learning!