Unexpected Art Raises Parenting Question

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Dear Miriam,

I recently found pencil drawings all over my 10-year-old’s bathroom walls. I was surprised but not angry, and actually impressed with her artwork. I still want to have the proper parenting response to her, though. Do I make her paint over it, or do I provide her with colored pencils and encourage her to expand her drawings?

Signed,

Budding Bathroom Artist

Dear Artist,

Kudos to you for being a parent who can take a long view of the situation and not respond — or even experience — anger for this infraction against the norms. Given that it’s pencil and that it’s her own bathroom, the stakes are actually low enough that this scenario can be taken as a chance for both of you to practice responding to each other and working out solutions. She, of course, won’t know that’s what she’s practicing, but that’s where your proper parenting comes in.

Before you come up with a specific next step about the walls, I would encourage you to have this conversation with your daughter: “I noticed you drew on your bathroom walls. What’s up?” This very neutral conversational technique comes from Ross W. Greene, author of The Explosive Child. As a parent myself, I have been amazed by what kind of information can be gained by asking a question in this way.

Your next steps can be derived from her answers. If she says that she doesn’t have any privacy to draw, you can remedy that in a way that will work for your family. If she says she’s been admiring the murals around Philadelphia and wanted to create one herself, take her on a mural tour and see if there’s a different wall she can explore — or give her the tools to expand the bathroom art if it works for you. If she says she wanted to see your reaction, well, tell her that your reaction is to want to understand. She’ll probably say something else that you (and certainly I) never could have anticipated, and you’ll listen, and then you’ll figure out together what should happen next.

Your other best option is to do nothing. Don’t mention the drawings, don’t compliment or criticize her decision to draw on the wall, don’t provide more drawing tools. If she did this to express herself in a private place, not commenting respects that privacy. If she did this to try to get to you, avoiding that trap has the potential to shift your dynamic moving forward so that pushing buttons is less of a motivation for future actions.

Whatever you (and she) decide, the process will set you both up for increased open communication and respect. If you feel you have that already, then her artwork may be a simple expression of her comfort at home. Either way, you haven’t lost much except a clean wall, but you have the opportunity to gain some insights in your daughter.

Be well,

Miriam

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