Doodling is a practice as old as time. From ancient hieroglyphics to the margins of your old school notebook, doodling has cemented its place in our lives.
Doodling has long been misunderstood and historically perceived as an idle activity that reflects distraction and inattention. But with more research into the psychology behind doodling emerging, we are starting to learn just how powerful a tool it can be.
And by harnessing this long-overlooked tool, we are able to create a more supportive environment for our children to learn, create, and develop.
Before we delve into the incredible benefits doodling can provide your child, let’s get specific on what doodling actually is.
What is doodling?
The common consensus is that doodling is unconscious thoughts coming out as drawings, shapes and lines.
The great thing about doodling is that there are no rules. So kids are free to doodle and sketch anything that comes to mind.
And contrary to popular belief, doodles aren’t confined to random little sketches on notebooks or worksheets. Mind maps are a commonly used doodle encouraged in schools to allow students to understand learning topics better.
And in recent years, the sketch note has become a popular evolution of the mind map. It involves adding random words and pictures on a page to help develop ideas.
Parting ways from the traditional mind map, this version does not require a structured middle focal word or drawing with lines coming out. Instead, the distribution of words and pictures is entirely up to the designer.
You can see some great examples of sketch notes here.
Five reasons to get children doodling and the benefits
1. Mental health
According to a study by Young Minds, one in six children between the ages of five to 16 are thought to suffer from mental health problems.
This has long-lasting consequences, as the same study highlighted that one in three adults with mental illness have psychological problems that stem from adverse childhood experience (ACE)
We have to do more to protect our young ones from mental health problems where we can, and doodling has been found to have some significant benefits in this regard.
Firstly, Dr Robert Burns researched the usefulness of doodling in diagnosing mental health problems in children. He found that having children doodle during therapy sessions provided a valuable way to diagnose mental health and emotional issues.
This is because doodles allow children to express what is inside their minds and create a story even when they don’t have the vocabulary to explain it.
Secondly, doodling allows children to process their emotions.
We are all aware of the incredible benefits journaling has on our mental health. It allows us to understand better what is going on in our minds and work towards making connections and healing negative emotions.
For children, doodling can work in the same way. The world can be confusing to a young person whose brain hasn’t fully developed enough to understand the complexities of life. This can understandably contribute to anxiety.
By doodling as a way of journaling to cope, children can make connections and revelations about the world in a way that is accessible to them and makes sense in their heads. Finally, similar to mindfulness, doodling helps to improve blood pressure and lower heart rate.
We know that when we suffer from anxiety, we get a rush of adrenaline which can cause a lot of unpleasant physical symptoms, including heart palpitations, high blood pressure and dizziness.
Doodling can be a soothing mindfulness activity to help children calm down and manage any anxiety, negative emotion, or other mental health problem they may be experiencing.
Teaching children to manage their anxiety in a productive way will help them for the rest of their life, so starting a doodling habit now is a brilliant gift to give your child.
2. Improve memory
It might surprise you, but it has been scientifically proven that doodling helps to improve memory and information recall.
According to a 2009 study by Jackie Andrade, when asked to recall information from a short speech, the children that were asked to doodle retained 29% more information than their non-doodling counterparts.
It is commonly accepted that in order to retain information, you need to engage at least two types of information input systems in the brain.
Doodling requires visual, auditory, reading/writing and kinaesthetic input. This is most likely the reason it works so well to help improve memory.
It activates parts of the brain that aren’t usually active when processing word-heavy information, which allows your brain to cement the information and make it easier to process from the short-term memory to the long-term memory.
This is one of the main reasons doodling helps students retain information in class. And encouragingly, some teachers are starting to see the benefits and are incorporating it into their lessons.
3. Increases alertness
Did you ever catch yourself mindlessly doodling in class only to be told off by your teacher for not paying attention? Even though you had heard every word they said?
That’s because, despite old beliefs, doodling actually increases alertness. And there are quite a few reasons why.
A lot of teaching can be quite word heavy. And when one part of the brain is overstimulated, it quickly loses the energy to be able to stay alert. We know that doodling uses multiple parts of the brain, and this alleviates information fatigue.
In turn, this stops students from drifting off into daydreams as they remain more engaged with the information they are experiencing. So if you ever see doodles lining a young person’s notebook, chances are, they are paying attention to you.
As school progresses, the lesson content gets more complex. For developing minds, this can be a lot to take on board. However, research suggests that doodling allows children to learn how to understand difficult concepts from the outside world by finding links that make sense to them.
Finally, doodling works as a form of fidgeting to help stay alert when children are forced to sit still in the classroom.
4. Improves creativity
Doodling allows freedom of expression. Being a set of random shapes and lines, there is no “correct” way to do it. Free from rules, children are able to develop their creativity without boundaries and learn to be innovative thinkers that can confidently problem solve.
It can help kids creatively find links between two or more concepts that previously didn’t make sense to them, paving the way to independent learners who take charge of their education and are inspired to learn more about the world around them.
This is because doodles can help children creatively represent each concept in a more palatable way.
Furthermore, as doodles are created entirely by the child, they get to fully express how they feel and create their own narrative around it. This also helps children understand themselves better and begin to learn who they are while developing their own identity.
5. Improves mood
School can be stressful for children, as can life in general.
We’ve already seen just how much our young people are suffering with their mental health, and in the aftermath of the pandemic, numbers are set to rise. As such, it is vital to help children find ways to improve their moods so they can build resilience.
According to research, doodling helps creative self-expression. In turn, this helps evoke positive emotions leading to more innovative, happier and more productive individuals.
Doodling is also suitable for relaxation and unwinding. It is the equivalent of an adult colouring book in its therapeutic quality. As it helps kids feel more in control of their activities, the freedom can help young people to switch off from the stresses of everyday life.
How to get your children to start doodling
Great! So we now know how beneficial doodling is for our children. So how can we support our kids in creating a doodling habit without impeding on their creative freedom?
- Doodle with your child so that they can follow your example
Your child might be a bit unsure what to do when presented with paper and crayons for the first time. However, if they see you casually drawing without a care in the world, they will feel more confident to take chances and explore on their own.
After all, young children tend to emulate adults and look to them for reassurance.
- Have the necessary tools readily available for your kid to pick up and use when inspiration strikes them
Set up a little table and chair in your child’s room with paper and drawing instruments that they can pick up and use when they want. This shows your child that you trust them to freely create when the mood takes them and allows them to express themselves better when they feel unable to use words.
If you are worried about your young one painting on the walls spontaneously, consider investing in washable paints.
- Get them to try and doodle while they are engaged in something else like listening to music or watching tv
We know that doodling works as an excellent supplement for memory and alertness.
To allow your children to discover this, hand them some paper and pencils while they are watching something on tv and encourage them to doodle at the same time.
Make sure not to pressure them, though. If they don’t want to sketch anything, don’t force them to. It’s crucial for them to learn that doodling is a choice they can act on when they want to, but there is no obligation.
- Give them prompts to get their creative juices flowing
Children learn from an early age to do as their told. So if you give them the freedom to sketch whatever they want, they may be at a loss as to what to draw.
To be honest, it probably still happens to you as an adult!
To help your child get over this, give them some loose doodling ideas on what they could draw. Don’t get too specific, though; you don’t want to place too many parameters on their creativity.
- Don’t impose any rules on it – it is a personal expression
As much as you want to help your child develop their skills, giving your child the space to grow is essential. This means trying to avoid the impulse to tell them what to do or when to do it when it comes to doodling.
- Let them explore
Finally, it is vital to allow your child to explore their mind through their sketching. Engage them and ask them to explain their doodles to you. Show interest and intrigue in their work.
This will indicate to your young one that you support their creative expression and encourage them to continue their pursuit.
Make sure you don’t impose your own thoughts on the doodles on your child, as this may set them back. Your child highly values your opinion, so what you say will shape how they explore their creativity.
Gone are the days when we mistakenly tell off our children for doodling. With the new research into the powerful advantages children get from doodling, now is the perfect time to incorporate it into the everyday experience of our young ones.
As mental health awareness increases in the U.K, and indeed around the world, it is important to build a toolkit of as many activities as possible to help young people deal with mental health problems, in the hopes that they will be better equipped to deal with them in later life.
By teaching your child that doodling is a good form of expression, you open up a new form of communication to express themselves more freely, which is only a good thing for the future of young mental health everywhere.
And with schools starting to accept and incorporate doodling into the classroom, it looks like this great tool is here to stay, so why not start your child doodling today?