When Kids Draw Violent Pictures, Should You Worry?

When Kids Draw Violent Pictures, Should you Worry?

Your 5-year-old comes home, proudly waving a picture she drew of an epic battle between good and bad fairies, glittery wings and heads ripped apart, all splattered with bright red blood.
Your mind races with concerns. Did she see something violent on TV at a friend’s house? Did the visit to the Halloween superstore last week give her some ideas? Is the drawing an indication that – gulp – she’s disturbed like that character from last summer’s horror movie?

“Take a deep breath before responding too quickly and remember drawings can offer parents an in-road to start a meaningful conversation with their child,” advises Cami Winkelspecht, PH.D., a clinical child psychologist with Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Dr. Winkelspecht advises consideration of the following tips when responding and inquiring further about the drawings with your child:

Monitor your reaction. Children are very good at reading their parent’s body language and tone of voice, thus try to stay neutral in your initial response, so as not to appear overly angry or upset, or the opportunity to better understand your child’s perspective on the drawing could be lost.

Start a conversation. Instead of trying to interpret the drawing for yourself, let your child tell you what the picture means to her. Ask your child general questions like, ‘Tell me about your picture’ or ‘Who is this person?’ You may get answers that let you know the drawing isn’t a reflection of a problem. Or, your child may reveal information that should prompt you to find out more.

Keep context in mind. A single picture in isolation is generally not a cause for concern. The accompanying conversation you have with your child should be a guiding tool to help you identify whether this is a reflection of their worry about a particular situation and/or can necessitate getting more detailed information.

Age matters. Young kids often find it easier to draw than to write, because they are just learning to master the alphabet. Drawing can be a great tool for self-expression and can lead to many meaningful and creative conversations with children about concepts they are unable to fully express in words.

If you are concerned about your child, please contact the Intake Department for Behavioral Health at (614)355-8080. A member of the behavioral health team would be happy to gather further information and determine what additional services may be beneficial.

Cami Winkelspecht, Ph.D.
Dr. Winkelspecht is a Psychologist and Clinical Educator for Behavioral Health at Nationwide Children’s Hospital (NCH) in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to her role as a clinical educator, she coordinates the Incredible Years parent programming initiatives within behavioral health, is the Associate Track Director of the Child Clinical Internship training track for their APA approved psychology internship program, and serves as a cognitive-behavioral therapy consultant for the agency. She received her B.S. in Psychology and Child Development from Vanderbilt University and her M.S. and Ph.D. from Auburn University.

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