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December 12, 2016
by Ruth Gordon, MA, MSW, LCSW

Childhood Revisited

December 12, 2016 02:23 by Ruth Gordon, MA, MSW, LCSW  [About the Author]

What is the one activity of childhood that is, in all likelihood, universally accepted as an effective way to withdraw from the pandemonium of daily life?

What will occupy the mind and restore serenity in less time than one can measure?

What is the diversion that has been adopted by the world of adults and has sold over 12 million units of functional escape from reality as the numbers continue to grow?

Finally, what is the tool that is affordable, simple to find, and not, in any serious way, harmful?

Coloring and coloring books! Since the 2010’s the production of adult-friendly coloring books has blossomed into an impressive trend. At times, adult coloring books occupied 8 of the top selling spots on Amazon’s best-selling lists.

This may have started with the revered psychoanalyst Carl Jung. Originally a disciple of Sigmund Freud, Jung distanced himself from the founder of modern psychotherapy as his attention was drawn to spiritual and universal themes that departed from Freud’s focus on sexuality. Jung was especially drawn to the mandala.

A mandala is a geometric form that, for Jung, represented the center of the psyche. It has been revered as an important symbol of Christianity and as a meditation tool for yoga. Reverence for the mandala is found in Hinduism and Buddhism as well. For Jung it represented the core from which all thought and action originated and returned. The mandala, for Jung, represented the point of both birth and death when considered metaphorically.

A mandala is a commonly-used form in coloring books for children and adults. It can trigger relaxation and may contribute to a meditative state as the colorist is repeatedly drawn to the center.

It is thought that the McLoughlin Brothers, of New York, were the originators of the modern coloring book. They sold their business to Milton Bradley in the 1920’s and a staple of childhood distraction was established.

It is thought that the use of coloring books for children spurs creativity. For adults. It is claimed, the act of coloring is a mitigating factor in assisting adults to shed stress.

There are pros and cons attached to this activity. Some claim that coloring promotes creativity and others believe it inhibits imagination. Regardless of which side has the more valid argument, the fact remains that the belief in the usefulness of coloring is unarguably on the uptick.

Johanna Basford, who calls herself the “inky evangelist” was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth in June of 2016. Ms. Basford’s well-known book,Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book has sold over 1.5 million copies and is a favorite of Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge. She was cited for services to art and entrepreneurship. Ms. Basford is 33 years old.

In 2015 12 million adult coloring books were sold. There are any number of blogs and websites that sell and advise on the purchase of the best colored pencils to use for these books.The days of the popularity of the Crayola big box of 48 colors are long gone.

There are differences between coloring books for children and those for adults. Adult books contain intricate patterns and challenge fine motor skills. It is claimed that they are designed to calm down the amygdala, slow down heart rate and respiration and enhance focus and concentration. There are those who believe that coloring books provide needed boundaries in an unpredictable world and restore a sense of power.

It is claimed that adult coloring books work side by side with the mindfulness movement. There are professionals in the field of mental health who believe the coloring activity can assist in relieving many mental health issues such as self-harm, substance abuse, anxiety and anger management. It is further claimed that this form of enterprise is helpful in overcoming obsessive compulsive disorder and can enable individuals who are on the autism spectrum to communicate more efficiently.

Another theory that has been put forward concerning the interest in these books is that there is what has been called a “Peter Pan” market that has seen a rise in adults ordering children’s books for themselves.

The desire to return to the reportedly simpler times of childhood has also been seen in the proliferation of summer camps for adults. Examples of this are “Camp Grounded” and “Camp No Counselors”.

In Brooklyn, weekly preschool classes for adults are found at Preschool Mastermind. Michelle Joni Lapidos who is an organizer there claims that children who did not have enough play at the appropriate stage of development become “serial killers and stuff”.

Unsurprisingly, numbers of developmental professionals refute these claims. Among this group it is believed that those regressing into a childhood-based fantasy world are doing so to avoid the confrontations and intricacies encountered in the world of adults.

It is hard to analyze what, exactly, constitutes play. Some contend that as soon as an activity becomes competitive, it ceases to become play. One workable definition is that there are three components to play: It is voluntary, it is flexible, and it is fun.

There are those who can see an important evolutionary component to play. Play time is regarded as an opportunity for the imagination to expand without the consequences of “real” life.

Professor Peter Gray of Boston College has pointed out that as parental control over play has increased the mental health of children and adolescents has decreased. The time when a youngster could go out the door in the morning and return at sunset to play and wander at will no longer seems feasible in contemporary society.

Adult coloring books have allowed Walmart to make a profit of over $100,000,000 in 2016. It seems clear, that with this profit margin, as well as the claims that these books enhance mental health that adult coloring books are here to stay. It’s time to order those special colored pencils! 


Colorist, A. (2016, November 29). Adult Coloring Books -- Top 13 Tips for New Colorists. Retrieved December 10, 2016.

Friedman, A. (2016, December 3). This is Kate Middleton's Favorite Adult Coloring Book. Retrieved December 10, 2016.

Harrison, K. (2016, February 2). The Adult Coloring Craze Continues and There is No End in Sight. Retrieved December 10, 2016.

K. (2016, October 25). Health Benefits of Adult Coloring Books. Retrieved December 10, 2016.

Howard, J. (2016, July 19). The Pros and Cons of Your Coloring Book Obsession. Retrieved December 10, 2016.

Krug, N. (2016, May 2). Why Adults Coloring Books are the Latest Trend. Retrieved December 10, 2016.

Martinez, N., Psy.D. (2016, December 24). 7 Reasons Adult Coloring Books are Great for Your Mental, Emotional, and Intellectual Health. Retrieved December 10, 2016.

Raphel, A. (2015, July 12). Why Adults Are Buying Coloring Books (for themselves). Retrieved December 10, 2016.

About the Author

Ruth Gordon Ruth Gordon, MA/MSW/LCSW

I bring with me +30 years of experience as a clinician. My Masters degrees are from: Assumption College, Worcester, MA, Master of Arts in Psychology & Counseling/ and Boston University School of Social Work, Boston, MA, an MSW in Clinical Social Work. This is the 11th year I have written a monthly newsletter that is sent to approximately 500 individuals. The archive can be found on my website,

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