Monday, August 13, 2012

Stop Putting Your Child’s Drawings on the Fridge

I know the title of this post seems a little harsh but hear me out.  Instead of automatically putting your child’s pictures on the refrigerator, stop the automatic routine and allow YOUR CHILD to determine where she wants her picture to go.  The picture belongs to her so let her choose.

Some readers are going to think I’m making too big a deal out of this, and that’s OK.  I’d like to show my readers a slightly different view on this act.  We parents got into a routine of automatically placing our children’s creations on the refrigerator for everyone to enjoy.  Some parents probably never asked the child if putting them there was OK, they just did it automatically to help their child feel prideful for what they accomplished or created.

Many adults think that it pumps their child up if the picture is displayed in public and for lots of kids, it might.  If a child receives praise from something they create, they may be inclined to run and create more.  Great… but who or what are they running off to create more for?  The praise motivates a child externally to create for others or the words of praise from others.  Wouldn’t you rather have your child creating for the love of creating?

Too much praise creates awareness of the value of someone else’s opinion.  In my parenting classes and workshops, I teach parents AND teachers how to do it less often and how to replace it with a form of “encouragement” to connect our children with their opinions of their own abilities and creations, not the opinions of others.  I’m convinced that children who enjoy doing and creating for the love of doing and creating become more balanced, have higher self-esteem, and misbehave less often.

Here is an example of how to use more encouragement and less praise, using the example of the child drawing a picture.  Your child walks up to you and shows you a picture he has drawn.  Instead of telling him how wonderful it is and how proud you are of him for creating it, the first step is to be expressive.  This means saying something like, “Wow!” or “Look what you did!” or “Oh my!”  Your expressiveness without judgment simply makes your child feel important and noticed at the moment.

The next step is to ask plenty of open ended questions that allow your child to tell you all about it.  Some good questions are, “Tell me about it,” or “Explain to me how you put this picture together,” or “What’s your favorite part of this picture,” or “Which object was the hardest to draw.”  The object in asking these questions is to get the child to examine the creation, to take ownership of it, and to explore whether he enjoyed creating it or not.

Once your child presents his picture and explains it in more detail, a suggestion is to tell him what YOU liked most about it, but what you’re going to say has nothing to do with the picture itself.  I suggest that you bring to his awareness what you saw in his emotions, not the picture.  For example, you could say, “You know what I love most about your picture?  I loved how excited you looked to show it to me!”  You could then say to him, “You look like you love to draw.”  Saying these things to him will help him to determine whether he is drawing pictures for you or because he enjoys drawing.  The last thing that we want to do to our child is to create false motivation for doing something just to please us.  Do you know adults who are so unhappy because they followed the dreams their parents wanted them to have?

If you have been hanging your child’s pictures on the refrigerator for some time, because of this training, he might automatically ask you to hang it on the fridge.  If he does, ask him, “Is that what you would like to do with it?”  You could also say, “What else would you like to do with the picture.”  If he chooses the fridge, go ahead and hang it as usual.  Your child might also ask you if YOU like his picture, especially if he has become a “praise junkie.”  If he does, simply say, “I do like it… but I want to know what YOU think about it.”

When my step daughter was young and her mother and I praised less often and encouraged her more, an amazing thing happened; she stopped putting her pictures on the refrigerator.  Instead, she asked for an album to keep her pictures in and she began to collect her pictures in a way that she could enjoy them, not us.  We then noticed that different pictures from that album began to appear on her bedroom wall for her to look at.  Sometimes we would ask her if we could look at her pictures and she would share them with us.

Please consider raising your children to love doing things for the love of doing them, not to please others.  When we create an external motivation for our children, it disconnects them from who they are and what they want.  They are then likely to grow up “disconnected” and ready to do things to please others or to gain things outside of themselves, such as rewards, money, and praise.  Teaching your children to develop true talents, loves, and passions starts with your everyday interactions with your child.  Here’s a video that shows the importance of nurturing the natural loves and desires of a child.  See more suggestions on my Web site at

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Bill Corbett is the author of the award-winning parenting book series, LOVE, LIMITS, & LESSONS: A PARENT'S GUIDE TO RAISING COOPERATIVE KIDS (in English and in Spanish) and the executive producer and host of the public access television show CREATING COOPERATIVE KIDS. Bill provides parent coaching and keynote presentations to parent and professional audiences across the country. Bill's practical experience comes as a father of 3 grown children, a grandfather of two, and a step dad to three, and resides in the area with his loving wife Elizabeth and teenage step daughter Olivia.


  1. No, no, no, no - I don't think families put artwork on the fridge to motivate their children to do more - I think it is a way to celebrate as a family the growth and development of their child.

    Okay - but I do agree, we want to look for internal motivators to keep kids interested in creative processes. However, part of me also wants to say that hanging the artwork on the fridge isn't just about celebrating or showing off the child's work but it is also a way of integrating work from school into the family environment. It is a way to highlight what is important to everyone in the family. I know my daughter's refrigerator has what she considers to be important on her fridge like photos of the family, invitations to parties, checklists, a calendar, and works from home and school.

    I hesitate to think that once a child brings artwork or other papers home, that it is only the child that should choose what the family should display or celebrate. Sometimes, the child may actually be inspired by what his or her family takes an interest in. Besides, I think that if you aren't hanging it on the fridge, chances are - the artwork is landing in a drawer or on a table or still left in a backpack.

    However, your thoughts on involving children in the process are good to think about. I agree - involving children in the decision making process is a good idea but in any case - I believe when a child is at home, the family should feel invited to celebrate and highlight a child's work - even if the only way they know how is to put it on the fridge.

    Ok - so if nothing else, you got me trying to figure out where I stand on the issue of displaying children's art:)

    1. Deborah,
      As a mom and an Art Teacher, I totally agree with you here. I'll never forget the time I saw one of my students' artwork in the trash can in the main office of our school. I was COMPLETELY crushed. Right now my son (who is three) doesn't really care about what he "makes" with me or at school. I, on the other hand, celebrate it and make a gigantic deal out of it and...wait for it...hang it up (sometimes on the fridge, sometimes not). It really instills a sense of pride in my son to see me get excited about his creations, and about hanging it up so everyone can see it. If it were his choice (only since he doesn't really honestly care at the age of three) it could stay at school or get put in his keepsake box. I want him to know that we VALUE his hard, beautiful work and the way we show that is by display.

  2. Hi Deborah, great comment and thank you! The way I see it, a child's work is their creation to do with what they want. So if you're displaying her drawings from school, then why aren't you also stacking her Lego block towers on top of the Fridge that she built in the playroom. On the other hand, if she were to bring home a piece of art that garnered a gold ribbon or a first prize, that I might consider celebrating on the Fridge because it was an acknowledgement for an achievement. That I think is OK to celebrate as a family, but not daily creations. Just my thoughts and I thank you for yours. Bill Corbett

  3. Fascinating post and discussion ... very thought provoking! I can see both sides of displaying artwork on the refrigerator. And I definitely believe in using encouragement rather than excessive praise. I wrote a post about that topic at I pinned your post to my Kids' Art Projects Pinterest Board.

  4. my 17 year old son draws and signs a picture to compete with the artwork of our 7 year old daughter. It gets crazy on my door. I thought after age 8 or so they would not continue to do this. 17 going on 18 is a bit much..


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