Often when your little ones bring home a piece of art from school, camp or an after school activity it isn’t obvious what it is. So often what parents tend to do is say “oh wow…that’s such a great dog. Good job!” Then the child says “Mommy that’s not a dog it’s a horse.” Or it may not be anything distinguishable at all and you say, “what is it?”.

For a brief moment your child feels a hint of invalidation because you didn’t duplicate what they were trying to communicate through their art project. Remember, it doesn’t need to be anything specific (like an animal, landscape or person) – sometimes art is more abstract. So instead of telling them what you see or that you don’t know what it is, ask them to describe it to you. This helps to avoid those akward moments of miscommunication. It also gives the child an important opportunity to communicate about their art.

Here are a few things you can say when asking about a child’s art:

  1. Tell me about what you created.
  2. How did you come up with that idea?
  3. What did you like about creating it?
  4. Were there any challenges you had to overcome?
  5. Tell me about the materials/supplies you used.
  6. How did your art teacher explain the project?
  7. What made you use those colors?
  8. Is there anything else you would add if you had more time?
  9. Does your piece have a title? If not, what do you think you would call it?
  10. What’s your favorite part about your art piece?

Questions about the artmaking process and what message they are attempting to communicate through the art piece are best. They help to develop critical thinking and communication skills.

Once you get a clear picture of how the child sees their own art work, then you should praise them for it. You can say what you like about it and be specific. For example….”I really love the red color you used, it makes it so bright and cheerful”. Or “You are so creative, I love when you share your drawings with me.” Or “You communicated so well about your picture, I really can see you put a lot of effort into it.”

Some important things to remember…Please don’t compare your child’s artwork to other children – especially their siblings. Judging their final product and comparing it to others takes the fun out of the artmaking experience. Don’t make comments about not “coloring within the lines” either. These are not helpful and actually discourage your child in future artistic endeavours.

Especially when they are young, critique is just not needed. It is about flexing their creativity muscle and asking them to communicate about their creation. That is what you should be giving positive praise for. Just remember to be specific as much as possible. Saying “I love it” is nice, but saying what you love about it, makes the praise more real and genuine from the child’s perspective.

It is also much harder for a child to reject your praise if it is specific. For example, if you say, “It’s so beautiful!” The child can say, “No it’s not.” On the other hand, if you say “I really love how you mixed those colors together, it is so creative”, that is much harder to reject.

Lastly, putting their art on display either in your home or your office gives the child a greater sense of pride and accomplishment. It communicates to them that you feel their work has value.

There are many skills children learn from an art project – creativity, communication, confidence, problem-solving skills and many others. Ensure that your discussions about their artwork are positive and validating. The long term benefits are well worth the effort!

To learn more from Lisa Phillips, author of The Artistic Edge, check out her book.