How Color Affects Kids

Kids’ Corner | By Patrick Biron –

Before my first son was born, my wife and I labored over what color to paint his room. We went back and forth but finally decided upon a yellow shade. His room had a lovely bay window that overlooked a park across the street, and the large oak trees in our yard cast playful shadows with the sun’s rays, giving the room a bright and warm feeling. We felt that the room was joyful. Who knew that what we were feeling could be backed by science?

The colors in a child’s environment play a larger role than one might think. In fact, studies have repetitively shown that a child’s physical and emotional responses are affected by the colors around them. For example, being in a room that is mostly red will increase a child’s heart rate and blood pressure and lead to a heightened sense of smell. Conversely, a predominantly blue environment will lower a child’s pulse and body temperature and even reduce a child’s appetite (Engelbrect, 2003).

Children with asthma and other breathing problems have been scientifically shown to react favorably to yellow, and exposure to it is associated with an increase in honesty and optimism (Karp and Karp, 2001). Green was shown to benefit a child’s vocal chords and speech development and be the most restful for the child’s eyes. Orange has been shown to greatly increase a person’s sensitivity to tonic effects – such as music notes – and is associated with urgency, while violet corresponds to high cerebral activity, such as non-verbal communication (Torrice and Logrippo, 1989). Pink lowers aggression, even in male prison inmates (Morton, 1998), while black, brown and gray are all associated with negative emotions (Boyatzis and Varghese, 1993).

What is the craziest part about all of this? Children don’t need to even see the colors to experience the effects. Since color wavelengths are absorbed by the skin, children who are blindfolded – and even children who are blind – are all still impacted by colors as described above (Wohlforth and Sam, 1982).

So what does this mean to parents and educators? Well, for one thing, too much of anything is not good for a child’s development. Even though most colors are associated with positive responses, if a child is overly stimulated with a single color or pattern, it has been shown to negatively impact the child’s focus and learning. The best environments give a balanced palate with each color perhaps helping identify a certain aspect, classroom or area that relates to that wavelength’s benefits. For example, my center’s new Pre-K 3 and Pre-K 4 has each early childhood center colorized by benefit: The high activity stations are red, the calming book nook station is blue, the story telling puppet center is green and the music station is orange.

Parents should also keep in mind how colors may impact child in day to day life. For example, if you take your family to a restaurant that is predominantly orange and red, a child may seem antsy and have a higher sensitivity to a food’s smell.

In the end, I know our son loved his yellow room, but he would have loved it just as much if it was any other bright and happy color. So, don’t sweat your paint swatches too much, Mom and Dad. There’s a whole rainbow of good choices out there.