Child scribbling in a notebook

My Child Cant Draw! What Should I do?

Welcome back to Best Case Parenting. A lot of the articles on this website are inspired by actual conversations or experiences I have had in my professional life. Today, I want to discuss the problem of “my child can’t draw, what should I do?”

The short answer to this is…. children are all different and we shouldn’t always compare our children with others. Try to encourage your child to make marks on paper (or other suitable surfaces) and draw/ paint from an early age. Starting with big movements, and then onto finer movements when they are ready. By doing this, you are helping your child build up the muscles they need to have good control when drawing.

Why do kids scribble?

Now let’s take a deeper dive into this whole “my child can’t draw” problem. A lot of parents worry that their child can’t draw or refuses to draw. Maybe they can’t hold a pencil or only scribble. In this article we will look at the developmental stages of drawing (hopefully in parent friendly language) and drawing development.

I wrote another article focused on helping your child to write. You will see some similarities between both articles, however this one is more specifically looking at drawing. If you want to get more information specifically geared to writing, you should head over to the other article.

I also wrote an article talking about ambidextrous children and hand dominance when writing and drawing. If you are worried about this, you can go over to this article HERE.

In this article I will probably refer to “mark making” a lot. So there is no confusion, mark making (for those that don’t already know) is the very early stages of drawing and writing. Your child will be making marks to communicate or express ideas or feelings. However, these marks won’t be well formed in the way we would expect from older children or adults.

Some people might refer to these marks as “scribbles” and disregard them as not important. During this article you will find out this stage is actually a very valuable one for a young child.

Is my child’s drawing skill good enough?

One problem I see with many parents, is that they don’t really have an idea what they should expect from their young child in terms of drawing and mark making. Often, they will end up having unrealistic expectations of what they think their child should be able to draw.

To help with this, I want to try and lay out some key milestones for your child when it comes to drawing or mark making. Of course, this is not an exact science and children will develop at different rates. However, it should at least give you a rough idea of what to expect from your child regarding the stages of their drawing development.

At each stage, I will also talk about what you as the parent can do to encourage your child.

Stage 1: Welcome to the ‘scribbles’

When your child is a young baby or toddler, you will be so excited when they first start picking up a crayon and making marks on paper.

At this age (around birth to 2 years old), they will have a fist style pencil grip. See the picture below for a typical example of this grip.

At first, their mark making may be a sensory experience. Meaning they may enjoy the feeling of moving a crayon around on paper. This is why you will often see them scribble in a rhythmic or repetitive way.

What age does a child start to scribble?
An example of a ‘fist’ style pencil grip

At this stage it is vital you only ask your child to grip chunky pencils, as thin pencils are a lot harder to grip effectively.

As your child gets older, you should start seeing a greater element of control come in. Their marks will still look like scribbles to you, but you should start seeing some grouping or basic attempt to create something more formed, rather than just random scribbling.

To be honest, at this stage, you shouldn’t really even care about the end result. It doesn’t matter what your child is drawing, it is more important that they are given ample time to practise so that they can start building up the relevant muscles in their hand.

A child can’t just instantly draw with control, it’s a gradual process that builds up over time. This is the foundation stage of your child’s drawing.

So, encourage your child to mark make in any way possible at this age. Buy chunky crayons and big sheets of paper. Let them lay on the paper and scribble to their hearts content. As the parent, you should also draw alongside them, modeling the enjoyment you can get out of this activity.

Buy chunky chalks and encourage your child to play by drawing all over your garden walls or floors.

And when I talk about drawing practise in this article, you can also include painting. Young children love painting and they are still improving their muscle control and pencil grip when doing this. Just be sure to buy only chunky paintbrushes at the start.

This is a vital stage of development for your child, so make it as easily accessible and fun as possible.

I talked about the idea of big and small movements for children when drawing. It is important a young child starts with big movements first. By this, I mean using a full arm movement to draw on big pieces of paper or other writing surfaces.

It is only when a child has had sufficient practise with these big movements, that they can be expected to start successfully using smaller and finer ones. By then, their muscles are ready for these finer actions.

Stage 2: Let there be form!

From the age of around 2-4 years old, you should start seeing more structure or form to your child’s work.

Rather than only scribbles, you will see that they start trying to make formed shapes and objects (for example).

At this stage, your child will still mostly be using a fist type pencil grip. Although, you should see the early signs of them switching towards a regular grip. See below for an example of a regular grip. Although, you can simply hold a pencil yourself (along with other adults in your family to make sure you are not a weirdo) ,and use that as a reference!

How do I encourage my child to draw?
This is an example of a more regular ‘pincer’ style pencil grip

Your child should still be using only chunky pencil and paintbrushes at this stage too.

This will also be the early stages of your child moving from being good at big drawing movements to some finer ones. In stage 1 they will have had lots of chances to do big arm movements on big paper. Now they should start showing the ability to make smaller arm and hand movements when drawing on smaller paper or writing surfaces. 

You will start seeing more control coming into their drawing action.

DO NOT stop allowing your child the chance to do the big drawing movements on big paper, simply start adding in the opportunities to do this on smaller paper too!

My one pet peeve at this age is seeing parents looking at their child’s work and dismissing it!

They will say “what is this” “It doesn’t look like anything!”

To say this frustrates me is an understatement! ( For those of you that don’t read this blog often, I am a teacher and thus have a lot of contact with parents!)

The important thing at this stage is encouraging your child. By giving them encouragement, you are helping them feel good about this activity and increasing the likelihood they will want to do more!

Praise them for their drawing (even if it looks like oganised scribbles to you) and show interest in it. What did you draw? Why did you draw that? Would you like to add anything else to your drawing?

So, this stage is simple. Continue to allow your child open access to mark making/ drawing materials at home. And give them encouragement over any drawings they do.

When can kids draw pictures?

Stage 3: Can you see what it is yet?

When this stage starts, you will actually start to recognise your child’s drawings. Their ideas and representations will be more accurately formed.

At this stage there won’t be many details, but you will start to see the basic outlines and shapes of recognisable objects.

Your child will be more comfortable when drawing on smaller paper, and begin to show an ability to have control when using these smaller drawing movements.

As with Stage 2, your child still needs a chance to draw on big paper. The proportion of time they do this will just be getting slightly less. At this stage, a good proportion would be a 50/50 split. Fifty percent of their time using big movements on big paper, and the other fifty percent on smaller paper with smaller movements.

Your child’s pencil grip should now be a regular one. If you see your child falling back into the fist grip, I would start reminding them to hold their pencil properly (in a positive way). Simply remind them that big boys and girls hold their pencil like this (including Mommy and Daddy). Don’t tell them off for this, just give them gentle reminders.

Stage 4: Let there be detail!

This is the final stage I will talk about for a young child, and will often happen around 4-5 years old and above.

At this stage, they will have mastered the basic shapes and outlines of objects, and now it will all be about adding details. You will start seeing them add doors and windows to houses! Maybe even door steps if you are lucky!

At this stage, your child has already mastered the basics and is starting to refine their skill.

They will have a confident and consistent regular pencil grip at this stage. You can finally test if your child can use regular pencils (rather than chunky ones). If they struggle simply revert back to chunky! There is no rush here!

There will be no real need for those larger movement on big paper, however still give your child this opportunity if they still find it fun! After all, one of our jobs as parents is to make drawing an interesting and fun past time for our kids!

How can I improve my child’s drawing skill?

So, you find out your child can’t draw well. What should you do?

Don’t skip any stages!

In the stages I detailed above I did specify an age range for each. However, please only use this as a guide.

If you have come to this article because your child is older and you have suddenly recognised they can’t draw well STILL FOLLOW THE STEPS!

Locate where they currently are on the steps and go from there.

There is no use trying to force a child to draw or make marks on small paper, when they haven’t built up the necessary muscle control on big paper first.

They will simply get frustrated and give up!

Think of it like this. As an adult, if you are right handed how would you feel if I forced you to do all your writing and drawing with your left hand? You would feel frustrated that you can’t physically create the ideas that you have in your head because you don’t have the level of control.

It’s exactly the same for a child.

So don’t think about age, think about where they are on the steps above!

But my child doesn’t show interest in drawing!

Some children might not naturally feel drawn to mark making or drawing. Maybe you are worried your child will refuse to draw?

What I would say to that is the younger you start the more likely you are to have a child that develops a love of drawing. If you expose your child to drawing at an early age and give them ample chance to experience fun mark making and scribbling activities, this is giving them a solid base to build their interest on.

However, if you still find your child grows up with a low interest in drawing, there are some things you can try.

Whenever you want your child to do any activities, you need to relate that activity to their interests.

For example, maybe your child loves Peppa Pig (if you don’t know who that is, where have you been??).

You can buy your child a Peppa Pig drawing book. This is the simplest and fastest way to encourage drawing.

Get your child to draw pictures of the main Peppa Pig characters with you. Ask them about their favourite Peppa Pig episode and draw it together. Ask them to draw their own Peppa pig story. Look at the illustrations in Peppa Pig story books and ask them if they can draw something better. They can design their own Peppa Pig character.

I cannot go over all possibilities, but hopefully you get the idea. Be creative, and find as many links as you can to what your child is interested in.

Give your child lots of exposure to real objects!

This may seem like a weird one to you, but hang in there!!

As well as expressing original ideas, drawing is also the act of producing your own renditions or recreations of things. Therefore, it helps if your child has first hand experience with the real subject matter.

Maybe your child is really interested in buses and always wants to draw them. Make sure to take your child on lots of real buses. Buy them books with pictures of real buses in them. Give them realistic looking toy buses to play with. Discuss with your child the features of buses.

All of this is helping your child build up a detailed picture of what a bus is, which will help when they try to draw a bus.

Should I sign my child up for drawing class?

Many parents might think that it may be a good idea to sign their child up for a drawing class or club, especially if the child in question is older.

This is only a good idea if they are already showing an interest in drawing and already have a fairly decent level of drawing control.

If your child has no interest in drawing and you try to force them, they will probably end up hating drawing (which will make the situation worse).

If they have a very low level of control and you send them to a drawing class, they will just get frustrated when asked to do drawing tasks that they simply aren’t ready for and don’t have the appropriate control for!

In both situations, your child will get frustrated and end up resenting drawing!

If you are not sure if your child is interested enough in drawing, why not take them along for a test session and see what they think. If they enjoy it, then all is good to continue.

Process Vs Creativity

When looking for drawing classes or clubs, there is one thing to consider.

Some drawing classes focus on teaching the process of drawing in a very exact and pre-described way. What I mean by this is (for example) they will show your child the exact way to draw a horse. With pre-defined steps.

I do not like this style of teaching drawing, as you are telling the child there is only one “perfect” way to draw something. And turning drawing into a process is one way to make it way more boring in my opinion!

This is also how you drain a child’s creativity and end up with drawings all exactly the same.

Therefore, look for a class or club that teaches in a more open ended and creative way. They may give general tips about drawing, but they don’t pre-describe exact step by step ways to draw things!

We are not building drawing robots, we are bringing up amazing and creative children!!

That’s all folks!

Thanks for reading our article on Best Case Parenting. Hopefully you have more answers to your question “My child can’t draw, what should I do?”

And if you think your child is behind where they should be do not worry! Every child is different and have their own strengths and weaknesses.

Just use this guide to encourage them to improve, without giving them any negative vibes!

It’s not the end of the world if your child can’t draw, but you probably do want your child to build up the necessary control to be able to write well.

So, at the very least try to get them through the first few stages.

After reading this article, if you still have questions please post them below and I will try to answer. I have tried to think of this problem from a variety of angles, but I probably forgot something!!

Have you had a child that only scribbles or can’t draw? Do you have tips on the developmental stages of drawing? Did you have a child that refused to write or draw? If so, we would love you to share your own experiences of going through this process with your own child. Please do this in the comments section below.

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