Always Real, Parenting Gone Awry

Lessons In Life And Coloring

“I’m not good at coloring!” he sighs.  A gust of exasperation escapes his lower lip making his copper hair fly straight up off his forehead.  For a second, I get lost in his face and forget that he is frustrated and about to cry.

“I’m never going to be a good colorer!” His eyes become shiny with tears.

I  look at his paper. It looks pretty much like everything else I’ve seen him color lately, which to me, is artistic perfection.

I look back at him, not sure what really is needed here. I consider my responses:

Tough love:  “Snap out of it dude – you’re five. You color just fine.”

Encouragement:  “Sean, persistence is the key to life. You just keep trying and someday, in 44 years, you’ll be able to color as well as me!”

Validation:  “I love it! I think it’s fantastic!”

Commiseration: “Yup. You stink at coloring.”

Advice: “Have you tried holding your crayon properly?”

I say nothing and wait for more information.

“Everyone else at school colors better than me.”

He puts his forehead down on the counter. Silence hangs between us for a full minute.

I decide to go with a multi-pronged approach.

“Yup! You stink at coloring!” I say.

He pops his head up off the counter and stares at me with big eyes.

“Really?” he asks in disbelief.


“Dude, you’re only five. You’ll get better and better at coloring the more you do it, and some day, if you’re lucky? You’ll be as good as me!”

This makes him roll his eyes. His mother is so lame.

“Besides! I love it!” I enthuse. I do. I love his artistic expressions, the way he draws people with no necks and big crooked smiles.

And then, because I couldn’t stop myself:   “Have you tried holding your crayon properly?”

30 thoughts on “Lessons In Life And Coloring

  1. I want to preface my comment by stating that I’m sure Sean crayons very well and in a way that is age appropriate for a 5 year old. It would be surprising if he didn’t.

    But, in the interest of sharing experiences, I once had a 3 yr old who said that. And then she was a 4 yr old and said that and then a 5 year old . . . And I looked around at what other children colored, and wondered, but I figured that children’s drawing isn’t supposed to be a masterpiece, so no biggie.

    Later (when she struggled to learn handwriting) we found out that she actually did have significant fine motor delays. So, it really is possible to color significantly worse than your peers. Things have worked out for her though. She still struggles with fine motor tasks but she’s adapting. She uses scissors to open most packages, and types most of her schoolwork (she’s in 4th grade now). She still doesn’t enjoy coloring, but she now invests her energy in things she enjoys more. It all works out.

  2. This is not said in a negative way, because I love my mother. But OH MY GOSH, this sounds EXACTLY like something my mother would say to me.

    All of it. Except she’d probably have tried to fix my crayon positioning herself lol.

    It sounds like you had a very very VERY good mother! wink wink

  3. Oh, good. This started out suspiciously as a “I’m such a good mother; you could learn from me” post. Then I remembered who was typing. One of my authentically awesome faves, AM.

  4. I love making comments to my kiddos that make them pop their head up off the counter and stare at me with big eyes. LOL – they don’t buy it anymore, but it does make me smile at myself.

  5. I like “artful approach” and may steal it 😉 Well done and well-shared, thank you. I hope to be that graceful in my unsureness! I’m guessing it may break your artist’s heart to know how many kids really internalize that ‘I’m no good at this’ message and stop creating – so glad Sean has you to navigate it with him!

  6. Perhaps you have encouraged creativity instead of always sticking coloring book pages in front of him to “color in the lines,” and he has played outdoors, played inside, and used his imagination. He may not have as much experience in coloring as some, but I’m sure his time at home has been full of good experiences.

    Please excuse my gender bias, but our daughter liked to spend time coloring. Our son did not. Unfortunately, around here the kindergarten teachers held “coloring contests.” My philosophy is to encourage them all at school, and I absolutely hated the “contest” idea, just making those little boys feel worse. Even when they might choose one boy and one girl, I thought it was ridiculous and cruel!

    Of course, I’m sure you have told him some people excel at some things and some at others. Children have to learn that different people do different things well– reading, writing, coloring, singing, playing ball, making people feel good about themselves, etc., etc. If we really want to improve at or get good at something, of course it takes lots of practice. Is coloring worth practicing tho? In our house, my daughter colored for fun, and still does sometimes, tho grown! My son picked other things to do for fun and excelled at them.

  7. By the way, as an educator, let me say that I totally agree with helping them hold the pencil or crayon correctly. It makes it much easier for the child in the long run because it allows for the correct movement of the fingers and hand and makes it more comfortable to write.

    My 3rd grade teacher made me relearn how to hold my pencil. I was so mad at the time– had done it the other way fine all my young life. I am so thankful now that she made me change!!! It was tough love, but it was good for me.

  8. Sorry to monopolize, but I just reread and guess you may be talking about freehand drawings. I would treasure those no-neck ones, too.

  9. I don’t know why this post reminded me of this, it’s barely even on the topic. But when my granddaughter, who will be 13 this year, started kindergarden, the teacher sat them down to color. My granddaughter, politely but firmly, told her, “I know how to color. I came here to learn to read.”

  10. What a brilliant way you have with your son, no wonder his such a bright little boy.
    I remember a little boy at our church saying he couldn’t do anything craft wise, and refused to even try. When his sister teased him I remarked it wasn’t so easy for a left handed person (as I should know) She said Mum says he must learn to use his right hand. Luckly he was starting school a week or two later, and the teacher sorted it out, and gave him a much needed conferdence boost, so he was able to show us, just how well he could colour in, using his left hand

  11. You navigated that beautifully.

    When someone exposes a vulnerability, I always transfer my own insecurities onto them and tend to babble, over praise,and ramble. All of which cumulates into a phony mess.

    Co-dependents please step forward as I lead the pack. Sigh.

  12. You make me wish I had had children later so that I could be as smart as you!

    Oh Jodie, you really have no idea how wrong you are. I have no idea what I’m doing. I make it up as I go along. Sometimes I wish I were young like you just so that I might have more years to figure it out. I was thinking the other day, the woman who has her child at 25 and lives to be 80 gets 55 years with her kid. If I live to be 80, I’ll get 36. I pray I get at least 36.

  13. I love everything you said.

    The picture of my son’s that I treasure the most (it’s on the kitchen wall just now, and will end up in a box to be kept)is the one which has squares of gold and silver, and a thick red band across the top. That’s it. That’s all. When I asked him about it, he said “that’s all the gold and money in the bank, and someone has tried to steal it, and that (pointing at the red) is the alarm going off”.

    Sorry. Monopolising your comments box with my own story.

  14. Oh why is five so hard?
    Coloring lessons may be the ticket.
    Maybe he just wants to be able to draw, learn to draw books always helped.
    A full minute of silence WOW thats hard, I’m still trying to be a good listener!!
    Hope the days are joyful.

  15. We’ve had that conversation around here on various topics; coloring included. I work in the classroom so I’ve seen what else is going on w/the other kids. Mine is pretty much in the middle on most things. At our parent/teacher conference I was actually surprised when she told me Big was Above Average in several areas. I think my child holds back w/ME. I told the teacher this as well. Anyway, to relate to your post (yes, I did actually have a point here) I usually respond to this type of thing w/a question; “Why do you think you don’t color so well?” It usually has more to do w/something someone said than anything else. In that case, I can nip that one in the bud (so far) & self-esteem is preserved.

  16. Oh, and tonight at dinner I mentioned that there’s an Andy Warhol exhibit at the museum and there’s a kids area, so maybe we would take them this week. My FIL responded w/a “Why, so they can see a bunch of cartoons?” I suggested that one might argue that Warhol was one of the inspirations for Anime (not sure that’s true, but I could see that). And that the point at this age (5 & 2) is just to expose them to as many things as possible. You don’t have to like it for it to be valuable. I thought that was a timely topic considering your post and your love of art.

  17. I have one that is a perfectionist and wants every color in the right lines and cries if it is not, and one that is happy if his crayon touches any portion of the paper and produces scribbles. He has no desire or interest in coloring like anybody else.

    I fight the urge regularly to correct his, because I know he sees much more in the “art” than I do.

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