How to Talk to Kids about Their Art_Feature
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How to Talk to Kids About Their Art

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4 tips for how to talk to kids about their art and ways to encourage their continued creativity and self confidence as artists.

Kids drawing of puffin and ocean
Photo by Rachel Withers

Updated July 2021 by Anna Harpe

Are you wondering how to talk to kids about their art?

Maybe you find yourself saying, “Beautiful!” or “I love it!” every time your child brings you her latest drawing, simply because you don’t know what else to say.

Here’s a quick guide to help you know what to say (and what NOT to say) the next time your child shares his artwork with you.

Kids painting art mural
Photo by Jean Van’t Hul

How to Talk to Kids About Their Art

1. Avoid Empty Praise

It’s such a knee-jerk reaction for many of us to pile on praise. “Wow!” “Amazing!” “So beautiful!”  It’s an easy go-to that doesn’t require much thought. 

But did you know that too much empty praise can have negative effects on our kids’ motivations? 

Child development experts tell us that when we pile on the praise, children may start “performing” for our reactions.  Before you know it, kids are drawing pictures to hear the compliments instead of for the love of the process.  Not exactly what we intended, right?

So… what’s a parent to do?  Read on!

Toddler art with tempera paint sticks
Photo by Rachel Withers

2. Make Observations

This might take a little practice, but once you get the hang of it, it’s EASY!  Instead of all those “wows,” try making simple observational statements about your child’s art.  You’re not making judgments; instead, you’re noticing.

  • You used so many squiggly lines here
  • I see lots of red and yellow!
  • You filled the whole paper with your painting
  • You’re really concentrating while you work
  • I see triangles and circles

These kinds of observational statements might feel awkward at first.  But I challenge you to give it a try; I think you’ll be surprised at how naturally your child responds!

Kids drawing
Photo by Jean Van’t Hul

3. Ask Questions

Instead of telling your kids what YOU think about their art, turn their attention inward.  Ask questions!

  • What’s happening here?
  • What did you use to make this?
  • Why did you decide on those colors?
  • What title would you give your work?
  • What would you like to do with your art?
  • Do you feel proud?
Child holding washi tape painting
Photo by Jean Van’t Hul

4.  Put Your Child in the Driver’s Seat

Can’t think of anything to say?  I’ll make it easy for you:  “Tell me about your work.”

It’s that simple!

Just turn the attention back around to your child and what they think about their work.  It’s a simple, engaging response that gets your kids talking and keeps the focus on the child and the artist.  Perfect!

Free Printable Guide: How to Talk to Kids About Art

How to Talk with Kids about Their Art_Free printable guide

To help you remember these tips, I created a FREE printable for you.

More Kids Art Resources to Get Started

How to Talk to Kids About Their Art

39 Comments

  • Reply
    molly
    February 16, 2010 at 7:43 am

    Wow — with perspective and everything. Love it. Have you been reading Going on a Bear Hunt lately? :)

  • Reply
    The Artful Parent
    February 16, 2010 at 8:38 am

    Don’t think we’ve read that book yet. But we’re heading to the library…

  • Reply
    molly
    February 16, 2010 at 9:03 am

    We are just taking it back to the library today — that is why it is on my mind! The one we are returning is by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury.

  • Reply
    Lauren
    February 16, 2010 at 9:34 am

    Good point about commenting on art! My son is very sensitive about that, and I guess I am too, so there you go.
    Also, does anyone have a particular child sized easel to recommend? What do you like/not like about yours?

  • Reply
    Pam
    February 16, 2010 at 11:11 am

    Very sweet reminder of regarding the sacred personality of our children. (a Charlotte Mason thought). Thanks. I always feel inadequate about that very thing!

  • Reply
    The Artful Parent
    February 16, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    I think ours (Melissa & Doug) is great. It’s relatively inexpensive, sturdy, adjustable, etc. The adjustable part is what I have always said I liked the best about it, though, and obviously I haven’t adjusted it yet! Here’s the link: https://www.amazon.com/Melissa-Doug-Deluxe-Standing-Easel/dp/B0002AUWKG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=toys-and-games&qid=1266342552&sr=8-1
    The one thing I don’t like about it is the chalkboard surface which doesn’t work too well. I keep meaning to paint it over with chalkboard paint, which other people have done, but haven’t gotten around to it yet.

  • Reply
    The Artful Parent
    February 16, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    Just got it!

  • Reply
    Scented Sweetpeas
    February 16, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    What a wonderful cave! I love the way she set up the sections before she coloured them in all separately to get depth into her piccy – very talented little lady :-)

  • Reply
    The Artful Parent
    February 16, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    Not to discount Maia’s abilities, but frankly I think the illusion of perspective is largely due to the black marker losing it’s ink as she worked inward!

  • Reply
    Sarah N.
    February 16, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    That’s one fantastic cave. I find myself asking my girls to “tell me about your picture” a lot. I try to remind myself not to make assumptions and I’m often amazed by how differently they think and create.

  • Reply
    Carrie at Rhubarbsky
    February 16, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    Ooo, thanks for this one. I also try to ask what something is before assuming I understand my kiddo’s art.
    I’d love more of your thoughts on how to talk to kids about their art, and also your ideas on how to encourage kids to keep trying. My five year old is in the “I messed this up, so I’m going to crumple up the whole thing and cry” stage. Also the “but it doesn’t look exactly like what I wanted it to look like!” and the “YOU draw me a cat mama!” stages. Any resources on encouraging her creativity and stick-to-it-iveness?

  • Reply
    Angela
    February 16, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    “Oh, very interesting! Tell me about that…” must come out of my mouth 100 times a day. There’s sooooo much art going on around here with sooooo much snow outside, it’s easy to get impatient and slip into bad habits. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Reply
    Annette Standrod
    February 16, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    so true… I have an art therapy degree so that is one of the first things we learned. I am still trying to get my husband out of the habit of saying “what is it?” and my daughter is 3 now.

  • Reply
    Nikki
    February 16, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    I’m so glad you’ve addressed this issue! I hear myself saying “nice” sometimes and want to scream inside! My mom always thought everything had to be something, and I don’t want to repeat that.
    I have 2 extra kids over on Mondays, and with my 3 they get into the art center and go wild. Ideas fly, and they want to know what I think of their creations. (Last time, I got in there with them, which happens too infrequently :) Thank you so much for your blog.

  • Reply
    shenandoah
    February 16, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    I need to start an art group for my son right away.! this is a fantastic drawing! And that she calls herself an artist…..love it. I just love that way you bring art in to her life. living in Brooklyn NY it is a little hard but this drawing is so inspiring. the way it fills up the whole page……

  • Reply
    Deborah
    February 16, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    Haha! Yes – you might want to raise it up a bit! Good idea to wait until an artist has finished the masterpiece before asking any questions!

  • Reply
    Concetta at Glittering Shards
    February 16, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    hee hee – that’s lovely. They grow so fast the easel can’t keep up. (Bear hunt is a favourite here too btw.)

  • Reply
    weelittlearts.com
    February 16, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    We love the conversation and getting the nation to revisit the value of an early childhood visual art program. Please check us out on the web and on Facebook.
    we would love to speak with the owner and creator of “The Artful Parent”. please visit http://www.weelittlearts.com
    and contact us. Thanks

  • Reply
    Lindsay R
    February 17, 2010 at 1:35 am

    have you heard of/seen the book “ish” ? it’s awesome, and addresses that “crumple it up” thing, which BOTH my big boys tend to do at times. ;-)

  • Reply
    Lindsay R
    February 17, 2010 at 1:38 am

    oops…that link is makebelieve-lindsay.blogspot.com

  • Reply
    Lindsay R
    February 17, 2010 at 1:37 am

    hi, jean! great cave, and i just wanted to say THANKS for the pretzel link…we made them on valentine’s day, and they were a huge hit, both to make and eat. loving your site more and more each day…finally got mine up and running, too!

  • Reply
    Meg @ Kids & Eggs
    February 17, 2010 at 7:25 am

    My daughter…and son have come up with some really creative – I never could have guessed it- creations such as..
    walking goggles & dozens of sad faces BECAUSE she likes making rainbows (the frowns) for mouths – sometimes it takes a mother to love and truly understand these pieces of art.

  • Reply
    Lauren
    February 17, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    Thanks!
    Related to this post, this morning my son was drawing a big round squiggly yellow and green thing and when I asked what it was he said, “Well, it might look like Abraham Lincoln, but it’s not.” Glad I asked!

  • Reply
    Carrie at Rhubarbsky
    February 17, 2010 at 1:26 pm

    Thank you so much Lindsay! I just put “Ish” and “The Dot” (same author) on hold from our library. They both look fantastic!

  • Reply
    Carrie at Rhubarbsky
    February 17, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    Thanks Jean,
    It’s so curious to watch my little one’s art attitudes start developing. It seems to me that there must be a crucial point at which kids start to abandon the free-spirit of creating art and start judging themselves. I’m super interested in fostering my kiddo’s creativity and the joy she gets from doing art for as long as possible.
    Hmmmm.

  • Reply
    Jean Van't Hul
    February 17, 2010 at 9:34 am

    Carrie, I’ve gotten the “you draw a cat” or baby or heart or whatever. But not the other two (yet) so am not sure what to say. Maybe I’ll ask an expert…

  • Reply
    Allison
    February 17, 2010 at 7:31 pm

    I just showed this picture to my 4 year old son and asked him what it was and lo and behold, the boy said “A Cave”!! I just had to share that b/c I thought it was great!!

  • Reply
    NancieKay
    July 13, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    Many years ago, a first grader complained to me that I hung his ‘cow’ upside-down in a hallway display of paintings. These paintings were a series of black drip lines done in tempera paint going horizontally & vertically with the resulting spaces between the lines then painted in watercolor in what I naively thought was a random order. When I corrected the placement of this student’s painting sure enough there was a clearly defined cow…the things I learn from my students!
    My favorite go-to question to my students is “Tell me about your painting (drawing, sculpture, etc)”. Saves me a lot of confusion and helps the child put into words their creative process. Specific praise concerning line, shape, color (and all the other elements and principles of Art) helps increase their vocabulary as well…

  • Reply
    Sarah
    July 14, 2012 at 7:33 am

    This is helpful! I always stumble or pause when first shown the masterpiece and my son has a big smile and I have no idea what it is. Now I am prepared!

  • Reply
    KatieK
    July 14, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    “So, what’s going on in this amazing drawing?!”
    This is what I say pretty often to my art students. My youngest students are 7, so they have a bit more confidence, and thankfully, most of what they draw is recognizable. Even if I have to guess and guess wrong, I have never let a child leave discouraged. I will praise their use of color, line, shape, composition skills, and imagination. Critiques in my class have always scared me a bit, but the students LOVE having their classmates ask them questions about their artwork, and that takes bravery. Because of this, each student exits the critique with a great self esteem, and ownership of what they made, and the power to answer questions.

  • Reply
    Becky G
    July 16, 2012 at 7:56 am

    I really appreciate your reminders (and those in the comments) about being mindful when talking to kids about their artistic creations. Thanks!

  • Reply
    Erin Casci
    July 17, 2012 at 11:45 pm

    I don’t know what to do when my 4 yr old brings a piece of paper with a few scribbles on it. She probably spent about 15 seconds on it and didn’t seem to have any goal in mind. Do I give it praise when it wasn’t something she really tried or thought about? I want to encourage her to color and draw but it doesn’t seem like I have found and effective technique yet. Thanks,

    • Reply
      elspeth
      May 22, 2018 at 7:56 am

      Hi Erin,
      Sorry nobody has replied to your great question yet – I think that the “tell me about your drawing?” question is probably the most helpful. But you could also use the ‘describe what you see’ technique when it seems like a 20 second scribble with seemingly not much to say for effort or time spent. We are aiming to build their confidence, which means being honest and not overpraising as we’ve learnt in this brilliant article, so describing the colour “I see you used your green pen for this one..” or “…the pink crayon.” with warmth, is I think what I would do. Would love to know what Jean Van Hul thinks too…

  • Reply
    cami Stewart
    August 18, 2012 at 9:58 am

    Good tips! Thank you

  • Reply
    Tracey
    October 2, 2012 at 6:35 pm

    As a kindergarten teacher I can tell you I hear “I can’t” a lot and requests for me to draw it. I tell the kids that I learned by practicing in kindergarten! If they are desperate type A’s I sometimes make suggestions for shapes that they could consider putting together… An oval, circle and two triangles could become a cat. Also, kids know false praise when they hear it, so if they didn’t really put any effort in, don’t gush, encourage them to add to their work.

  • Reply
    Little Artist
    December 29, 2012 at 8:16 pm

    I love your blog and this post is particularly great. I’ve also noticed that it’s important that their drawing doesn’t have to be anything – it can just be experimenting with technique, materials and colour. Just give them time and space to do their magic!

  • Reply
    Katgirldu
    February 5, 2013 at 8:54 pm

    Comment on how her motions affected the scribble, “your pencil went fast, round and round.”
    • “Your pencil moves fast, round and round”
    • “You have pink at the top and blue at the bottom”
    • “You put red squares on top of a green shape”
    • “That’s one of the brownest picture I’ve ever seen.”
    • “Look how you filled the whole page with color – was that fun?”
    • “Look how you put all those small circles around that big shape.”
    • “The blue shape is next to the red shape. None of your pieces touch.”
    • “You have lines and shapes together, here and here.”

  • Reply
    Connie Gleeson
    February 21, 2013 at 12:01 am

    On the whole a great post, and as devil’s advocate I propose that instead of saying “I like…” which communicates judgement and approval which might adversely effect the artist (if she/he didn’t plan it or regards it as a mistake), just say what you see; for example, “Wow, the red paint is mixing with the yellow paint!” Then… WAIT… and see if the artist expresses a feeling or comment on the effect.

  • Reply
    Kristen
    February 26, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    What is the theory behind NOT saying this? As an art educator I see that it can be prescriptive and limit the possibilities of what it could be (as it cold also be abstract) but do you have any article you could point me to that I could share with my Parent and tots art class?

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