Ziyi SuFollow

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

PHD - Doctor of Philosophy


Expressive Therapies

First Advisor

Kelvin Ramirez, PhD

Second Advisor

Peiwei Li, PhD

Third Advisor

Marygrace Berberian, PhD


To explore the attachment of left-behind children (LBC), this mixed-methods study analyzed the Bird’s Nest Drawings (BND) and narratives from 117 fourth graders from Shaanxi and Gansu, China. Overall, the BND of LBC showed less secure-attachment features. These distinctions can be seen in several pictorial elements, and manifest differently across gender groups and rural versus urban groups. Drawings and narratives revealed eight underlying themes of absence, longing, and support from parent and peer attachment. Children creatively communicated complex emotions and attachment experiences through the metaphor of the bird’s nest, ranging from abandonment, loneliness, and vulnerability, to coping, hope, and resilience. Quantitative and qualitative findings provide valuable insight into the psychological impacts of being left behind and children’s need for security, stability, and support. The findings of this study shed light on not just negative psychological outcomes but also resilience in these children. The dichotomy poses a challenge and opportunity to develop effective supportive strategies that honor their complex emotional realities.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.



Number of Pages





The author owns the copyright to this work.