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My 6 year old nephew likes to draw. Most of the drawings have been of the family, animals and locations we visit or that he would like to visit. Until recently, I wouldn't describe any of these images as being dark.

Over the last fortnight, some of the images have been dark. To cite 2 examples:

  1. One drawing was of a saber-tooth tiger surrounded by 3 human hunters with spears. There was a lot of red on the page indicating blood
  2. One drawing was of the family dog, who sadly passed away in October last year. Most of the drawing was fine, except the dog was urinating heavily. My nephew thought this aspect to be hilarious

Now I think it is important to give some background of his home life:

  1. He is actually very kind. He treats younger children very well and likes meeting the neighbours' friendly pets
  2. His parents are going through a rough patch at the moment. His father (my brother) is suffering from a midlife crisis and is having an affair. This is well known to everyone in the family except my nephew
  3. There has been bereavement in the family. As mentioned, the family pet died a few months ago, and his paternal grandfather died 2 years' ago

When I saw the drawings I didn't know how to respond. Part of me feels that it is beneficial for him to express his feelings, whereas another part feels concerned about the social stigma associated with the drawings if other people found out about them.

My questions are:

  1. Should I be worried about the darker aspects of his drawings?
  2. How should I respond to them?
  • 85
    Maybe I'd need to see these, but I wouldn't necessarily categorize these as dark. He very well could have seen / learned about cave paintings or ancient hunters and was just drawing / imitating that. Also, he probably misses his pet so no reason why drawing that is bad. And all bathroom functions are absolutely hilarious to kids that age. There could be something here, but it doesn't sound abnormal to me. Is there something in his behavior / mood or these drawings that makes you interpret them as being dark? – Becuzz Mar 29 '18 at 13:34
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    Have all / most of his drawings taken this new turn or is it only one or two out of a bunch? If they are infrequent / a small percentage of the total drawings it may be less concerning than if more / most / all of them are this way. – Becuzz Mar 29 '18 at 15:04
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    Of these 7 drawings, what (briefly) makes you think they are dark? I'm trying to see if there is pattern here of something wrong or if the things you consider dark might just be normal 6 year old boy things. – Becuzz Mar 29 '18 at 15:23
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    No comment on the rest of your post but, honestly, I wouldn't worry about a six-year-old boy finding a dog peeing to be hilarious. That part seems pretty normal, to me. I hope everything turns out OK. – David Richerby Mar 29 '18 at 21:02
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    This isn't dark for a child. Blood isn't a dark motif. It's obvious. Extremely obvious. When a wound breaks the skin it bleeds. The dog urinating, is actually extremely funny and immature humor, something that a 6 year old should find hilarious. There's no problem here. I drew monsters and stuff when i was a child. In fact I spent a solid 3 months drawing half man half spider things. A wounded tiger is nothing to worry about. It's not specific. It's not disturbing. It's material similar to what's on national geographic an that's about it. Perhaps interests are changing. – user31841 Mar 29 '18 at 21:57
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I wouldn't consider that dark. Dark would be every drawing having family members dead or something. Specific to people you know. I used to draw medieval scenes with gruesome atrocities but it was not cause I was disturbed or anything. Still got me sent to psychologists which was a complete waste of time.

Should you be worried? I say no. Not yet.

How should you respond? I say don't. Not yet.

Now back to my own experiences - I just liked to draw. I was into knights. I drew people getting slaughtered from as far back as something like 7 or 8 years old I guess. I made flip books usually involving massacres. Lots of blood. etc. I had no resentment toward anyone. I was not angry. I was not sad. I just liked to draw and usually that's what came to mind because really think about the alternatives to young kids.

My parents took me to see psychologists. That was a huge mistake. That made me mad. When I was there, I couldn't be doing what I wanted to do, which was draw. And probably draw people being murdered. The thing is they chose to focus on what I was drawing and not what I was doing with every other aspect of my day. It's not like I was capturing animals and killing them. I was building legos... usually castles and knights where lego men got slaughtered. Making cushion forts, reading comic strip books like garfield and calvin and hobbes. Basically doing what little boys do. Aside my interest in drawing murder scenes, I was normal.

I would pay attention to all activities in his general day. If he has other interests, then casually think about what is thought process may be. If it all seems to point back to murder, then maybe ask a professional in child psychology. I despise and absolutely do not respect that vocation, but I'd still recommend giving it a try if you genuinely feel your kid thinks of murder all day long. Otherwise, he's just drawing what he's currently interested in.

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    Similar boyhood here. Luckily I was never sent to be checked out. I got the standard talk about how violence is not okay even if it appears in games and movies, which partly made sense and partly generated laughter because as a boy I thought... of course! This is fake, not real! As an adult I'm a strongly committed pacifist, and still see nothing unusual about these drawings. – Luke Sawczak Mar 29 '18 at 19:01
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    Ditto. Also disturbed my parents drawing some dark stuff, but I was harmless then and remain so. I remember feeling extremely guilty and embarrassed based on how they reacted, but in retrospect, my drawings just reflected what news I was bombarded with in 2001. – cr0 Mar 29 '18 at 20:45
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    My 7 year old drew a picture of horrors and bones raining from the sky. I thought it was awesome. Encouragement, or careful steering can go a long way. – Kai Qing Mar 29 '18 at 22:29
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    I got sent to a psychologist for drawing the Sun (huge ball of fire on black background) when we were apparently supposed to draw "smiley face sun". Apparently the teacher interpreted that as "dark". Needless to say, I'm not particularly intent on slaughtering friends or family or whatever they were fearing... I just liked astronomy, and disliked lies. – Luaan Mar 30 '18 at 8:41
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My three year old is fascinated by many aspects of the lifestyle of stone age hunter-gatherers, including the manufacture of stone tools, the slaughter of mammoths, and the (hypothesized) construction of shelters from their tusks and bones. He can't draw very well yet, but he play-acts all of these things.

We (my family) are omnivores, and my son understands that animals die when we eat them. I think it's perfectly normal and healthy for him to be interested in the harsh reality of where meat comes from, whether hunted or bought at the grocery store. I think this is part of being environmentally aware and responsible. It's not something to be concerned about at all, unless it becomes a fascination with causing suffering or killing for its own sake.

As for drawing the dog peeing, I find that pretty hilarious myself.

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I would not worry. These are not dark images in the normal sense.

First, a kid likes to draw what they see and hear, and their sense of humor may be tied to more simple things then our. So, for:

One drawing was of a saber-tooth tiger surrounded by 3 human hunters with spears. There was a lot of red on the page indicating blood

That's "normal" exploring of the cause and effect of hunting, death, and the like. It's what we do as humans. We kill animals and eat them. The animal has to die to for that to happen and this is a normal way to "explore" that. It's much better than, say, trying to stab the neighbor's dog to see what happens. Unless they are drawing a specific animal (Susan's Cat) many times, then it's really not important and just normal.

One drawing was of the family dog, who sadly passed away in October last year. Most of the drawing was fine, except the dog was urinating heavily. My nephew thought this aspect to be hilarious

Pee is just funny. Be glad you didn't have to, or don't have to go through the phase of the child peeing on things just because it's funny. Our son thought it was a blast to pee in his bedroom for about 6 weeks. He would just whip it out and let it fly, the giggle the entire time. This can happen for lots of reasons, but none of them are "warning signs".

  • What I mean is if they are depicting hurting a specific animal. – coteyr Mar 29 '18 at 23:14
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Children (all humans really) respond to input, they imitate what they see and experience. He's probably drawing these things based in various sources of input. If his parents spend a lot of time with him (stay at home), they probably know exactly what input he received that lead him to draw what he did. Thinks of it like an inside joke that you don't get it because you're not with him all the time. To a child, pee is funny, and blood is interesting.

  1. Don't be concerned.

  2. Respond by asking his parents if they know what the drawings are all about. They're probably not concerned.

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I don't think you need to respond in the role of a parent. This behavior doesn't require intervention. It is part of normal exploration of the world.

But you can respond socially by gently wrinkling your nose at them if that's how you they make you feel.

A reaction to the hunting scene could be "Oof, really bad day for the tiger huh? Is that all blood? Gnarly! I can't look."

A reaction to the dog scene could be "Oh it's your dog. Is he peeing? Blech! Why so much? Haha, when I remember him I think I'll picture him doing something else..."

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From my experience evaluating healthy and abused children in a psychiatric research setting, nothing in either of the drawings you described is abnormal.

As a general rule an adult's interpretation of a child's drawing tells you more about the adult and their relationship with the child than it does about the child. It sounds like you are concerned about potential stressors in your nephew's life and would like to understand his internal world and connect with him. Take the opportunity!

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I wouldn't assume the child doesn't know anything about what is going on in the family regarding the affair.

Although you are correct that he probably does not know nor understand the details, I would almost guarantee that he senses something is not right. Ask him if he feels something is not right - if he does, let him know that his intuition is correct, and that it is not something he caused.

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    I wouldn't ask him unless you can actually tell him what's going on. "Do you feel something is wrong" , "yes i do" makes for a very awkward conversation and i don't think that's helpful. Of course you don't need to go into details but a "mommy and daddy are having a fight" is the least you should tell if you ask him anything. – Batavia Apr 2 '18 at 18:43

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