Concerned with 4 Yr Old Artwork

Updated on January 15, 2013
K.S. asks from Lambertville, NJ
31 answers

Hi everyone! My 4 yr old daughter has always been interested in coloring, painting, crafts, etc..she is very right brained.....lately she has been drawing faces; eyes, nose, and mouth..but she has recently started making the face and then scribbling all over it. Im wondering if this is something I should be concerned with. I picked her up from Bible school this am and they were making paper plate balloons and they decorated the paper plates with faces and my daughter did hers with black crayon, she drew the face then scribbled over it.It looked very creepy, to be quite honest....I was somewhat embarrassed but more concerned. She seems to be doing this alot often and this has started to concern me. Please help! Am I overreacting???

Concerned Mom

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answers from Hartford on

Another artist here. You're reading WAY too much into it. Why don't you simply ask her why she does that? It's nothing to be embarrassed about and I don't find it the least bit creepy.

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answers from Boston on

Totally with those who said to treat this art as you would any other, with interest and without judgement. "I see you made a drawing. What would you like to tell me about it?" "Yes, I see. Thanks." If you ask a young child why they did something, that infers that they should know why, and they will ususally come up with an answer, just to be cooperative. Goodness knows, I don't know why I do half of what I do!

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answers from Chicago on

My 3.5 yr old has kinda a dark personality, so I was concerned last week when all his drawings of people had scribbled out faces. I didn't say anything at first, but then I finally asked him why he scribbled their faces, and he says, "he's a cave man, frozen in ice..." saw that on Scooby Doo.

I'd just ask her why she's been scribbling over them lately. Might have a very simple explanation.

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answers from Portland on

Okay-- first off, there's a lot of pop culture talk out there about the kid who draws in black and how that's supposed to be some sort of indication that they're upset....

See where I'm headed with this? It's easy to infer without getting good information. If it were me, before getting concerned or worried, I would start by casually talking about her picture. "Tell me about this picture. I see a face underneath and then I see a lot of scribble in black crayon...that makes me curious. Would you tell me about that?"

As a preschool teacher, my first guess is that your daughter is actually trying to do the work "perfectly", as she envisions it, and that she may be scribbling over (and MANY perfectly fine kids do this, by the way) what she's unhappy with.

If this is the case ("I didn't like it" or "I didn't do it right" etc.) here are some things to help:

First, don't try to validate the work she doesn't like or say that it's fine. Accept that she isn't happy with it. If you go on to tell her that her work is good, and to her it isn't, she may come to feel that you don't expect as much from her as she does from herself.

Instead: When she's scribbling over her work, ask her 'what about drawing this is hard for you?' (Do not ask *why*... many kids this age can tell you precisely 'what's hard' but they may not be able to contextualize *why* it is hard.)

Offer other options. Kids need to know that they can try it again when they're ready. Sit with her and practice drawing faces. Offer more paper to keep her moving forward in her work instead of ruminating on that unsuccessful picture.

Look at all kinds of art in picture books. Quentin Blake does quite a bit of scribble art for the newer Roald Dahl and Ramona (Beverly Cleary) books. Let her know that Blake has won awards for his drawing in his native England because people think his work is so good.

My guess is that unless something disturbing or significant has happened, this is likely her way of rejecting her own work/self-correction, and she's ready for more support in this pursuit. You can also ask her "so, tell me what happened while you were making your picture this morning. I noticed there was a lot of scribble on the face and it was a little hard to see." This is also an open-ended question which does not impose judgment on her work or its quality. If she is hearing negative feedback about her work from someone else, this could be a response.

And lastly, a word of advice --as the mother of a perfectionist artist myself---Life got so much better when I put the crayons away and bought some erasable colored pencils. Teaching them to erase a small amount of work instead of having to start all over again is a relief for everyone. My son also benefited from being taught to do the first work in pencil (with the freedom to erase) and then to color or ink in afterward, when he's happy with the pictures. Good luck-- I hope this is all it is and that she learns to be more tolerant and patient with herself. If she's really showing an aptitude, an art class for kids her age may also be helpful.

16 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

My 2 cents:

When my DD was in Pre-K, she added my pubic hair to her pics of me. The teacher asked what it was, and she clearly and unabashedly said, "My mom's hair down there." And kept working. It is at eye level you know.

When I was in KG I drew an elaborate trip to the park with trees and bees, and picnic tables and food, then when it was all done, I had this novel idea to copy an art project that my sister had done where the colors were all covered in black crayon and then the picture was etched out, showing the rainbow colors below. Unfortunately, several things occurred. There was not enough time allotted to complete the art piece at school. Then I couldn't remember exactly where all the the pieces were underneath all the black, and this particular piece of art was displayed at back to school night. My parents were probably mortified and I was too, because it did not represent what I intended, it was a total piece of caca.

My sister, 1 yr older in 1st grade, knew what I was trying to accomplish, but not one parent understood me and my black, creepy drawing.

So, just ask her...what's up with all the scribbling over the face?

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answers from Dallas on

I think you're overthinking this one. I have a friend whose daughter was in preschool and painted a beautiful picture...sun, grass, blue sky, the works. Immediately after that, she took black paint and and covered the entire painting. Her teacher was horrified and tried to tell my friend there must be something really wrong. My friend asked her daugther why she did that. Her daughter replied, "it was day, and then it was night." There could be very simple explanations to these things!

My daughter will draw a picture and scribble over it if she's frustrated with how it looks or if she's just getting bored with drawing and wants to hurry up to her next activity. Maybe your daughter jsut wasn't feeling like mayking paper plate balloons yesterday.

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answers from Dallas on

Normal. If it were colored in pick, would it have been "creepy?" Kids simply don't know that adults put black, in the creepy corner. Black is satisfying as a young child. It shows up and covers more then any color, and it's more deliberate. They color over faces, because they can.

I think of the great master artists and how crappy their childhoods were...with adults constantly telling them they weren't doing it right. You have to understand, kids have NO inhibitions. They color what they feel like, and it almost always means nothing. Their brain see something, and they do it. I am extremely right brained. I've always been an artist. I was always confused when people asked why I did something. There is no why!!!!

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answers from New York on

Yes you are over reacting. My youngest daughter always drew with black crayons. When asked why her reason was "Everyone else is always fighting over all the other colors. No one wants to black so I use it." She turned out to be a gifted artist so really no reason to worry.

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answers from San Francisco on

I'm sure it's nothing but have you actually asked her why she's doing it? Seems like that would be the easiest way to find out.
My daughter went through a phase where she kept putting a big X over all her people/faces, I said why are you doing that and she said "because I messed up." No biggie, she was just going through a perfectionist phase!

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answers from Austin on

Could be she was not happy with her work.. could be after being so careful to draw the face, she just likes the feel of just scribbling.. Like letting go of all of the control..

Maybe it is her new signature. has she seen someone sign their artwork?

Just ask her. She should have some sort of answer.. and i promise, it will not be negative.

Our daughter has always been a creative child.. drew on every sheet of paper she could find. We loved asking her to tell us about her art.. Sometimes, she said. "mom, this is not a picture! This is just scribbles!"

Or "this is my colors test." (she was testing out the colors)


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answers from Washington DC on

This is pretty normal. As others have noted, this could be either her simply being dissatisfied with the drawing or it could even be her own brain being creative in ways you can't see (like the kid who explained that the scribbles were "ice" on an "ice man"--see that post again).

I want to add that parents can and do overthink kids' artworks. When my daughter was your daughter's age we took a mommy-and-me art class for about four sessions at the local recreation center. The teacher was great because she really taught parents how talk to kids about their art.

For instance: Don't point to something on a kid's picture and say, "Oh, what a nice fire truck" because you might get the response: "No! That's not a fire truck! Can't you see it's not a fire truck and it's an...." That rectangular-ish blob of red might not be a fire truck at all to little Sally or Billy. (Just as that black scribble might not be at all something negative to your daughter; you need to talk to her in an open ended way, and don't let her see or hear any worry on your part.)

Instead, the teacher said, try comments like: "You used a lot of pink! I like pink. What's your favorite color in this drawing?" or "Tell me about this!" as you point to some element of the drawing. The answer may be very far from what you as the adult think you are seeing there. Then you can go from there talking to the child about the picture.

The unspoken element of your post is that you're scared she has some dark negative thoughts that the black scribble is expressing. If her life is OK and there isn't some huge negative (to her, not necessarily to you) change, then it may just be that she's a perfectionist and the face wasn't good enough. Be sure to just ask her questions about what she sees and means in her artwork; avoid saying things like "Can you make that fish look more like a real fish? See, a fish needs a fin here and it has two eyes, not four"....which she would interpret as "it's not good, it doesn't look right."

If your child is very into art, be sure to get her lots of different media (crayons, yes, but also pastels which feel totally different from crayons; watercolors; colored pencils, etc.) and ensure she has a place at home where she can draw and paint and never has to hear "no" or "that's messy"-- someplace she can have an easel set up all the time. She sounds very creative! Look for young kids' art classes in your area -- there are several that are part of national programs and others that are local and run by local parks and recreation departments. She might love those.

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answers from Boston on

As long as she seems fine otherwise, I wouldn't look too deeply into her art. My oldest used to put black x's over the eyes. It really creeped me out! But it didn't have any negative meaning to her and she grew out of it pretty quickly. My youngest (also 4) colors pretty well. When she is in the groove, she can stay in the lines most of the time. However, that does not stop her from scribbling all over the entire thing when she is done. I think coloring neatly takes a lot of concentration. Once she gets bored (or tired) of it, I think she likes the feel of scribbling.

If she shows other signs of being angry/upset etc, then you can open up a dialogue. But otherwise, just let her experiment with art work. You might even save a few of her drawings to show her when she is older. :)

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answers from Salinas on

Why not just ask her about it? Seems she is the best one to answer questions about her own art. Just be sure not to frame it in a negative way. Good Luck!

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answers from St. Louis on

I have seen an awful lot of kids do that. Not sure why. My kids never did but I have seen it a lot when I would pick them up when they were younger. Maybe they think it is coloring in or something, who knows. I just know it is normal.

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answers from Redding on

I'd just talk to her about it. It's almost like she's begging for that conversation.

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answers from San Francisco on

No. Kids draw all kinds of things. Sounds like she just doesn't like her pics or they aren't turning out the way she wants. Have you asked her?

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answers from Reno on

I haven't read all your responses, but perhaps she's trying to ad ethnicity to her characters? That's what it sounds like to me. Why don't you simply ask in a non-confrontational manner why this boy/girl has lots of color on their face?

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answers from Oklahoma City on

Go to the local library and get the resource librarian to help you find some books on children's drawings. When I was in college I had an interest in this after reading:

Children Draw And Tell: An Introduction To The Projective Uses Of Children's Human Figure Drawing


Interpreting Children's Drawings

Both of these books were so informative and I learned a lot. There are a lot more books out there that are a lot newer with more current theories in them. I think that a librarian who is used to looking up topics would be able to help you find a whole selection to choose from. They may even have some in their own books but most likely you'd have to use inner library loan. That's pretty easy to use if you haven't done it before. It may take some time for the books to get to your library though if anyone has them on their shelves.

Another option is to have a local book store order some for you, of course you wouldn't be able to read them to see if it is a helpful book or one that is pretty clinical and not helpful.

I prefer reading a book before I buy it if it's an investment that I will keep and use for many years.

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answers from Dallas on

Artists! Right brain here, too. There seems to be 2 things going on.

The making faces then drawing over them is probably a phase. When kids are very interested in drawing they invest a lot of themselves in it. At a certain point they notice what they are physically are able to draw does not match what's in their head. It really frustrates them. This disconnect brings out their inner critic that makes them scribble it out. It's not because she is a bad artist, it's because she is a good artist. It will get better. Keep offering different ways of expressing herself and show her artists different styles. Paint is good but look for children's art books and try something like vegetable prints. Or make your own stencils. Or recycling art or collage.
Her skill will catch up her abilities.

The black crayon thing is something to watch. If it starts to be a habit or a common choice, I think stress is something to consider. Try to make it you habit to be more positive with her. Remember to praise her about 10 x more than you say something negative to her. Sometimes when you are critical with your own self they pick up on that too.

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answers from Los Angeles on

I have also see kids at my preschool make beautiful paintings of flowers or people, then just color over the whole thing, not sure why either, I'd love to stop then so their parents could see it before they do it, but I won't! If it bothers you, just ask her how her day was, or ask about the pictures and see what she says.

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answers from Los Angeles on

My first thought was ,maybe she has just been un-happy with how her faces are turning out? Is she a perfectionist? My daughter is also 4y/o and she will scribble over her art when it's 'not good enough' for her...

I would just ask her. Don't straight up ask her why she did it though, then she probably wont give you the real reason....just ask her to tell you about it.

I wouldn't be too worried yet.

~My daughter colored over a page in a magazine once, the picture was of a family...she colored in all the faces using black, green and TOTALLY looks like a family of zombies, like TOTALLY. It's hanging on the fridge...b/c regardless of how 'creepy' it is, it is still pretty cool!

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answers from Washington DC on

My DD used to scribble over everything, because either she was trying to write over what you had written and didn't know her letters yet, or she had this elaborate story and the scribbles where things like dancing or feathers or sunshine. You need to ask.

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answers from Norfolk on

Kids are their own worst critics.
She wanted to draw it a certain way and when her work didn't turn out the way she wanted it to, she scribbles it out.
They are developing better small motor control (which will help with printing and writing) and experimenting with different drawing techniques.
Draw with her sometimes and show her some things you know how to do.

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answers from Minneapolis on

My daughter is a perfectionist and used to do things like this too. She would get frustrated because she was having a hard time drawing what she was envisioning. I just encouraged her to be patient and try again and eventually she would get it the way she wanted it. Regardless of what her pictures looked like back then, I would always ask her to tell me about her picture because it was usually not what I thought it was! lol Sometimes that made the scribbles make more sense! She is now going on 12 and is very creative. She loves to draw beautiful dragons and I am often caught off guard by how wonderful her artwork is.

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answers from Detroit on

At four years old your daughter is still experimenting. The scribbling (on the face) is something she may have seen someone else do and thought it looked fun. I wouldnt be embarrassed at all. Most 4 year olds draw amoeba looking faces and still scribble quite a bit.
Personally, I wouldnt be concerned-I would talk to her and ask her about it and about her color choice and continue to watch.
Theripists do think that black is associated with depression and that red is associated with anger-but that is really for older children.

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answers from Miami on

I love Hazel's answer. PLEASE try this.

Creepy to you is not creepy to her.

If you hear something from her that worries you, then call your ped and ask for someone to help you with her. AFTER you do what Hazel details.


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answers from Pittsburgh on

In my opinion this is a new form of expression, however, I can understand your concern. I would just sit with her while she is coloring and when she is finished just as her to tell you about the picture. She may have a very simple reason for scribbling on her face pictures. Also ask questions about color and placement. Be as interested as you can be to see what she tells you.
Good Luck

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answers from Boston on

My middle son had the worst artwork when he was younger. We used to just shrug and think "oh well, art isn't his thing." His pictures either had no color at all, or everything was scribbled over. Have you ever gone to those paint your own pottery parties? The other kids would make these pretty things with dainty patterns and bright colors. His pieces were a mess of black and blue, or that mess you get when you mix every color together. We definitely wondered if there was something "disturbed" in his artwork. His projects in K in 1st grade definitely stood out among those of his peers.

Then about halfway through first grade, a switch flipped. Suddenly he could draw really, really well. I come from a family artists and this boy is *good* - really, really good. It just took him a while for his hands to create what his eye could see. He tends to be a bit of perfectionist in other areas of life too. So maybe she just wants it to look a certain way and then when it doesn't, wipes it all out?

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answers from Binghamton on

I once drew a "bent and rotten banana" (what I wrote on the card) for my Dad for Father's Day. When he asked me about it, I supposedly said that I had only had a brown and a yellow crayon at the time. So really that was a very creative approach to the situation, if not a very attractive one. I think kids draw all kinds of things for obscure and sometimes really funny reasons. Probe very gently to see what your daughter is thinking about before you really worry.

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answers from Redding on


This reminds me of something from one of my very favorite movies, "Corrina, Corrina". In the movie, the little girl's mother died and the father hired a black nanny. At school, they were drawing faces and a little boy teased the girl for the color of crayon she used for the face that she drew. She had drawn a picture of the woman that she loved, her nanny.

I, personally, don't think you should freak out over your daughter's drawings.
She's not drawing images of people being bloody or killed, knives or weapons. I don't discern a "violence" theme.

Your daughter is only 4. She may not be happy with what she drew and want to scribble it out. My kids were and are very creative, but at 4, you can't jump to "creepy" conclusions because who knows what goes through their little minds.

It's likely something very simple and nothing to worry about.

Just my opinion.

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answers from Las Vegas on

When my daughter would scribble on her colored page, I would color it in and tell her it is beautiful, she just didn't finish it.

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