Why Does My Child Draw on Himself?

Kids love to color, and they aren’t picky about how, when, or where they do it.

On the one hand, you want your child to grow up imaginative and expressive, and allowing them time to color is one of the best ways to foster those ideas. What’s more, coloring can help teach children everything from color names to hand-eye coordination to the balance between coloring inside and outside the lines as a form of following instructions and making their own choices.

On the other hand, what if the choice they make is to color themselves all over with a permanent marker? You may love how creative your kid is, but you may not exactly love having to deal with paint and ink stains from head to foot. In fact, you might be utterly perplexed by it – why is your child doing this? Is it something you should worry about? Should you try and persuade them to stop, or is this all just a natural part of growing up? Even if it is the latter, what if your child colors on themselves in public and you suddenly find yourself walking around with a Self-Tattooed Two-Year Old?

Thankfully, your worst fears about children drawing on themselves can likely be erased, as we take a closer look at why children do this and different ways you can, if necessary, clean them up again.

Why Kids Color on Themselves

There are many reasons why kids might scribble on themselves, not the least of which being that they find it fun. That’s simple, but it’s true. Young children like coloring and they have no concept of what is and isn’t “socially acceptable.” Sure, you may know that going around with blue Sharpie on your face isn’t the best look, but for them, it’s just a neat color combined with the fun of coloring – what’s not to like?

In addition, some kids seek out extra sensory gratification. They like color, and they may like the sensation of the markers or paint brushes as they crisscross their skin, so without the mitigating factor of social norms, it makes sense why young kids wouldn’t see the problem in coloring on themselves.

Then there’s the fact that coloring is and always has been a form of expression. Cultures around the world have embraced face and body painting, and so it’s only natural that kids would want to dabble in it. What’s more, if you have kids who indulge with finger paints, they may still be too young to tell why it’s “OK” to have paint on their fingers and hands but not other parts of their body.

You could also round this up by saying that young children learn by exploration! They love finding out about the world around them by trying out new things! Drawing on themselves is a part of this 🙂

Cleaning Your Kids up

First, it’s worth noting that, social expectations aside, there’s nothing “wrong” with your child having ink or paint on their skin. While a completely painted or Sharpie’d face will start to get irritated and possibly smell after a couple days as the paint and ink degrades or traps sweat, neither acrylic paint or inks are typically toxic in small amounts. That being said, not all inks are equally harmless when it comes to skin exposure. Just because you buy Sharpies and other markers at the store, doesn’t mean they’re good for your kids. These markers contain materials such as resin, xylene, and toluene, none of which are great for skin and can cause redness, itchiness, and swelling. What’s more, inhaling permanent markers’ fumes can cause problems when done intentionally and in excess.

As such, letting your kid scribble on their arm for the day shouldn’t be a problem. That said, if they’re coating their whole face, the ink stays there for days on end, or if they’re smelling red Sharpies like they’re a bouquet of roses, you’ll probably want to stop that. You might also want to consider looking for markers that are specifically marketed as being skin-safe.

Either way, there are several methods for cleaning ink off your kid’s arms, with alcohol-based cleaners being among the easiest choices here. Whether you use alcohol swabs, baby wipes, hand sanitizer, or even less conventional options such as hairspray and bug spray, all of these options can remove most inks quickly. The main downside of this option would be the potential for alcohol-based cleaners to sometimes irritate the skin themselves.

If you’d prefer an alternative method to removing these ink stains, consider natural oils and creams. Coconut oil is a good option here – not only does it remove ink stains, but has a nice, sweet scent that can be useful if the harsher alcohol scent of the previous methods bothers your child. Simply apply the coconut oil and wash the skin with warm water and a tad of soap.

Surprisingly enough, sunscreen can also be an effective method of getting ink stains out. Coat the affected area with the sunscreen and then rub it in gently until the ink dissolves. In the case of very young children, baby oil can serve the same purpose.

Finally, you can also turn to such creative measures as nail polish remover or toothpaste.

As such, you really shouldn’t worry if your kids choose to color on their skin. There are so many ways of removing it that you can get it off in no time.

Encouraging Your Kids to Color Elsewhere

Still, if you’d like to avoid them coloring on themselves altogether but don’t want to quash their creative spirit, you’ll want to try and find ways of persuading them to color elsewhere.

For example, you could tell them that you like their drawings so much that you wish you could see it all the time – and wouldn’t it be easier to do that if they drew you pretty pictures on paper instead? Maybe you can give your child more coloring time if they promise to color paper rather than themselves. You can also try engaging with your child and asking why they like coloring on themselves. If they like the color, maybe you can make a deal with them to get them new clothes (which you’ll have to buy anyway) in the color they like if they stop coloring on themselves. If they’re old enough, you might even persuade them to stop coloring on themselves in exchange for learning how to put on makeup with you.

Finally, you can also ask about what your child is feeling when they color themselves. The psychology of kids’ drawings is a complex topic, and usually connected to actual pictures than doodling on their arm, but it’s still worth considering. Above all, you want to show your child that you understand that they like to color, but just want them to try doing so another way. Demands will likely only beget defiance. You don’t want your kid screaming and scribbling on themselves to spite you. Talk to your child about what they draw on themselves and why, and you may be surprised by the answers you get.

Still, you always want to be firm. You’re having a discussion with them, yes, but it’s still important that they know you’re the boss.

By talking to your child about why they draw on themselves, you could unlock new answers about why they do so and thus direct those creative energies somewhere more lasting and less messy.

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