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Why Does my Toddler Use Only One Color of Crayon or Paint?

There are a number of possible explanations for this behavior.

  • Toddlers frequently feel out of control of their own lives because adults make decisions on their toddlers’ behalves, tell them what to do, and introduce them to rules and environments that they don’t yet understand.  Toddlers may be choosing to limit their color palette to one color simply because it’s something that they can have some control over.
  • Toddlers, like adults, have flights of fancy.  They may be in a purple mood today, for example.
  • Toddlers, like adults, develop favorites when given a variety of options from which they can choose.  Perhaps purple is their favorite color, and they just can’t get enough of it.

This behavior is generally normal.  However, there are circumstances under which this behavior should tip parents off to an underlying problem that may need to be addressed.

  • If the behavior persists for a protracted period of time, the toddlers may have early signs of obsessive compulsive disorder or autism.  (In the latter, the behavior is usually paired with a lack of eye contact, difficulty understanding social cues and non-verbal communication, social disinterest, etc.)
  • If the color chosen (i.e., black or blood red, for example) and/or manner of artistry (i.e., jagged and heavy lines, for example) may be disconcerting, the toddlers may be expressing depression, anger, or other feelings through their art.  Toddlers are not as verbally adept as adults, so toddlers often find it easier to express themselves through their art.

How should parents react?

  • Ask questions in a loving, accepting manner.  For example, “I really like that shade of purple.  You sure have been using your purple crayon a lot lately. What makes you like purple so much?”
  • Allow toddlers to make their own color choices; they may value having control over that choice.
  • Wait and watch.  Toddlers typically don’t stick to any one task or fascination for a protracted period of time.  If you see this behavior enduring, or if the color or manner or artistry is a potential red flag, you may need to visit with a healthcare professional so that proper diagnostics can be performed.

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