What to Do When a Child’s Art Work is Disturbing

Last week a dad was arrested when he came to pick up his daughter from preschool. It seems the picture the little girl drew caused the teacher concern. The four year old drew a picture of a man with a gun. When asked about it, she told the teacher it was “her dad, getting the bad guys and monsters.”

The teacher did not like what she saw, so she called Family and Social Services. When the dad arrived at the school to pick up his daughter and his other children, he was handcuffed, arrested, and strip searched. According to the Calgary Herald, the police were apparently searching for the gun depicted by the girl. They then went to his house and searched for the weapon. What they found was a single toy gun.

As an art teacher, I see a lot of strange drawings. When my classes were working on storyboards for comics, I was not surprised to see a lot of explosions, rockets, and guns in the panels. I would need to put social services on speed dial if I were to report each and every violent image. While I don’t know the full reason a four year old would draw a gun in her picture, I also do not fully understand why children pick up a sticks and start pretend shooting, or sword fighting.

My advice for those who see violent images in a child’s drawings is to simply ask them what the picture is all about. You may be surprised to hear their answers. Self-expression is part of art.

Creating original art is an important part of development. Through drawings, paintings, sculpture and other forms of art, a child develops cognitive skills while processing their thoughts and feelings. Creativity is a useful skill regardless of their ultimate profession

Just because a child does not draw rainbows and butterflies does not mean they are from a bad home, or have evil intentions. It could be meant to shock onlookers, or be an attempt at humor. A boy in my class thought it would be funny to draw a beard on his cartoon baby and then draw a barbeque grill underneath, he titled it “Bearded Baby Barbeque.” This is not a boy who would harm his baby sister, nor was this image part of his memory bank, but it simply made the table laugh.

Protecting the four-year-old child in this case was most likely the teacher’s intent. Unfortunately, the situation was taken to the extreme. Concern could have started with a conversation with the family, or simply given a little more time before arresting the innocent man. If the picture had been of her daddy killing someone, or included the story that the gun was used to threaten the family, then the invasive investigation may have had some merit. Even then, it is wise to take caution when judging a family by their child’s art work!

More by Sylvie Branch:
17 Skills that art built
Minature tree house project
Art lesson: Tin Can Art


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