Giving Children Feedback on their Artwork

Learn how to communicate with children about their artwork in a way that encourages creativity.

Giving Children Feedback on their Artwork

It is a fact that parents, teachers, and counselors try to support children's creativity, but often they do not know how. Through casual feedback or well-intentioned but ill-advised statements, they may inadvertently undermine children's creative spirit. Children are hungry for true appreciation. They do not want flattery, opinions, or even blind support for what they do. They want to be seen. Positive or negative evaluation brings creativity to a superficial level. Parents and teachers should never compare children's work. In a studio, nobody is more talented than anybody else.

All children create from who they are in the best way they can. Beauty is in the innocence and truthfulness of their gesture, not in critical aesthetic evaluation. If parents and teachers don't introduce the idea of better and worse, the children won't, either. When children are a little older, they have already been conditioned to think in this way. It is then up to adults to break that unfortunate conditioning. Adults need only to steadily show the attitude of no competition, no comparison; children pick it up relatively fast and relax in it.

"Anytime I show my mother what I have painted or drawn, she exclaims, 'It's sooooo beautiful! Sooooo wonderful!'" says Annie, a spirited eight-year-old, mimicking her mothers voice while throwing her arms up. "It does not matter what I show her; she always says the same thing!" And to make her point she added, "Once when I showed her a scribble I had done in a few seconds she said the same thing!"

"My mother too!" echoes her friend Melissa. They both giggled, a touch of sadness in their laugh, dramatizing their moms with their dubious appreciation. "She even says I paint much better than my brother!"

I had overheard the two girls in the corridor during a painting break. Since the beginning of class, the girls had been surprised and a little disappointed not to hear me make any comments, good or bad, about their paintings, but by now they were quite at ease with it. My adult students, parents themselves, often ask me:

"What should I tell my children when they show me their paintings if it is not good to comment on them? I truly want to support their creativity."

"Words are tricky," I tell them. "The best way may be to avoid them. Work on changing your attitude; children will respond to a change of attitude. Can you look at creativity as process? Can you see children moving through their creative journeys instead of focusing on the outcome of their work? Can you avoid comparing children?"

To find out, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I really see what children are going through when they create, or only the appearance of it?
  • Am I aware how they give their heart to creation?
  • Am I sensitive to how they listen to the mystery of their intuition, to their creative dreamworld?
  • Do I see their courage and beauty in daring to express what they do, in fully exploring?
  • Can I not compare children's work, but instead appreciate all of them for who they are?
  • Can I support their process and their experience, rather than evaluate the final product with good or bad thoughts or comments?

Often words are not necessary; when they are, very few words are needed; they should concern only the process of creation. Talk about what children already know about their painting process, and show your appreciation or enthusiasm about it. For instance:

  • "I can see you enjoyed yourself painting that painting!"
  • "It was quite an adventure! Wasn't it?"
  • "Aren't you surprised to have painted that painting?"
  • "It was fun, wasn't it?"

Children know that creation is mysterious, and do not welcome being questioned about what they do. They love their freedom. They paint or create what they cannot say, what is beyond words and stories. In my classes, eye contact with children has been the most important part of my role as facilitator. I always make sure that they know I see them in their work and that I am aware of the movement of their feelings when they paint. There is no need to say anything; our eyes meet, and it is enough. The resulting painting is secondary.

I want the children to discover in their hearts that process is most important. Children want real contact and support in their creative adventures. If they are conditioned to hearing comments, however, they are going to ask for them. If that's all they can get, they will demand them. This is why the belief that the product is what counts must be broken and replaced by real appreciation of creation. If you truly see and understand their process, your eyes will say, "I am with you on your creative journey, no matter what happens, no matter what you paint or go through. I am with you, here, present." If eye contact is not enough to communicate your support, verbalize it. Follow your intuition. If you come from the right place, it will be well received.

Annie's mother had good, loving intentions, but she didn't know how to give support and encouragement, and her intentions backfired. Annie couldn't take her comments seriously. Her mother wouldn't see her creative process; the result - the product - was acknowledged, but not the living process. She didn't offer deep attention to her child's work, didn't see the beauty of the act of creation; she saw only colors, shapes, and images on a sheet of paper.