Almost all parents would like to see their children to be smart and creative. So,what we can do as parents to support and encourage more creativity in our children. It has been said by many thought leaders that creativity is the literacy of today’s day and age. Personally, I tend to really agree with that. Now, many of us have a fixed mindset with regards to creativity. We think that you either have it, or you don’t. And many of us box creativity into one specific area of life, usually the arts.
Creativity is something that we can grow in. We need to adopt a growth mindset with regards to it. Thinking that it is something you can develop and learn all your life. Plus, we need to apply creativity as a skill to all areas of life, not just the arts.
So, don’t think of creativity as something that you develop just in the field of art and music and theater. Think of it as a creative outlook on life, that permeates all areas of activity. Certainly, STEM, such creativity can be developed through Science, through Technology, through Engineering, through Maths. It’s important that we adopt that mindset in all the things that our children do.
However, even more interesting, creativity can be applied to relationships. I see creativity as one of the main things that I need to teach my children in their relationship with each other, because what I meant here is that, they need to be able to creatively problem-solve. Ken Robinson defines creativity as the ability to come up with new ideas that have value.
So how can we support this skill in our children? Well, we can turn our home into a playground of creativity. Into a space that is all about brainstorming and coming up with new ideas. The first thing is to open up the dialog of creativity with your children. That means inviting them to brainstorm with you on coming up with ideas and solutions for day-to-day situations. Such as, what to make for dinner, how to set the table, how to build that tower for their baby sister, how to fix something, how to arrange a room, what type of card to make for a gift.
The second thing we want to do is to encourage kids to make mistakes and allow them to fail. Creativity is nothing without trial and error. No great masters in any space reach really novel, new, and valuable ideas without failing miserably hundreds of times. You simply cannot make it to those goals and to those achievements without going through a lot of failure. And in fact, the failures are the key learning points. If you want your child to develop a truly creative mind, embrace failure and mistakes as something that we learn from.
Every time your child makes a mistake, you can dissect it with them by looking at it as a learning opportunity. Rather than punishing them or telling them off, shaming them or making them guilty. Instead, we look at it and say, “Hmm, that didn’t work, I wonder why?” and then we can think, “I wonder what would work next time?” So, instead of getting personal and insulted and defeated by our mistakes and failures, we look at them as springboards for our next great idea.
The third thing is, you need to provide some resources for creativity. Just going outside and playing with what nature provides – sticks and rocks and mud and water, can often be the most fulfilling and rich creative playground there is. But if you guys are inside, they need to have things that they can do inside, to stretch those creative muscles.
For me, the easiest place to go, and for many of us the default is artistic creativity. So, if you want to provide your child with artistic creativity opportunities, you’re going to have to have open-ended materials. Often, we see that in preschools, in art classes and at home, we are providing our children with predetermined projects. Something that needs to come out looking like “This”, right? In preschool they want to make the cultural or holiday artifacts to bring home and for the parents to put on the refrigerator, such as the turkey hand, or the Christmas ornament, or the Mother’s Day card, right? They are all predetermined, and the teacher is sitting there and directing the child, if they are not actually doing it for them, to this predetermined outcome.
But, when you want to encourage creativity, and this is the fourth thing, you need to have an open-ended exploration. That means that you are not at all focused on the end goal, and entirely focused on the process. The process of discovering the materials, qualities and characteristics. We let experience in all ways by stretching and exploring, splashing, spilling , or rubbing it on your fingers, on your hands, on your face, and if there’s some kind of option for it, then on the walls as well. You need to have an open-ended space where no one is sitting there, waiting for you to create this very specific thing. True creativity and true achievement in creativity always comes from open-ended exploration. Never have a predetermined answer in mind ahead of the game.
So when you’re playing play-dough with your child, clay, anything, building a tower, you need to let them be in the director’s seat and in the driver’s seat, and taking it to wherever it leads them, wherever their process goes. Not to where you want to see it go. On the other hand, if you are part of a preschool or an art class, voice the opinion. Discuss it with the teacher, say, “I don’t want to see a “perfectly drawn body from my three-year-old. That isn’t developmentally appropriate, and it’s not honest or true to his creative process. It doesn’t serve him in any way. I don’t need that for my fridge, thank you very much. Please, let my child explore, let my child try out different things and get creative on their own.”
Another pitfall that we have as adults, when we have a predetermined outcome is that we don’t value what our children are capable of. Children usually can’t produce the types of objects and pictures that we recognize easily. At young ages, we don’t see their train or their sun or their dinosaur as a train, a sun, or dinosaur, and therefore we devalue it. We don’t appreciate it, and this discourages the creative process in them. If, instead, we see that whatever they do, and whatever they come up with, and whatever they see is true to them and their process, and we value that, then they will stick to their work. They will improve, they will be focused, and they will love what they are doing.
Really, and this is number five, it is about instilling the passion of creativity rather than any outcome. So, we need to remove any focus on achievement. The way that we do this is that we pay no attention to the final outcome, except for just mirroring back and reflecting and encouraging the child in what they’ve produced.
So if they have come up with some kind of painting and they say, “Look, Mummy, it’s a dinosaur,” and we don’t see a dinosaur there at all, or we think it’s an amazing dinosaur, and our child is clearly gifted and the next Picasso, we put both of those reactions to one side, and we simply mirror back, “A dinosaur, a green one! “Hmm, is he scary or nice?” And we engage with the child in what they have created, where it is right now, not where we would like for it to be.
The next point is, don’t praise creativity. When you praise something, you remove its intrinsic value, and the intrinsic motivation. So, if you are praising your child for drawing, for being creative, for coming up with an idea, then you are removing their intrinsic motivation to do that. That is so counter-productive, because now what happens is the child wants to fulfill your praise. So, if you’ve said to the child, “Wow, you are such a good artist, “you made such a beautiful horse,” the next time the child sits down to draw they’re not going to want to risk that label that you’ve given them, of being a good artist. They might fail, right? and they are not going to try drawing a house or a flower. They will just stick with what they know, so that they are sure to get the same praise.
The next thing is to encourage creativity in our child by not shooting down any of their ideas. When they are brainstorming and coming up with solutions to a problem, we need to accept that all ideas are valid.
Now, if there’s some crazy idea that isn’t going to work, say they want to build a robot that really works and right now, you just don’t have the parts to make that, go down the path with them, allow them, lead them a little bit, but allow them to reach those conclusions on their own. Because you might be very surprised by what they mean.
If your child wants to build a robot that works, how about just saying, instead of saying, “We don’t have the materials for that,” or “I don’t know how to do that,” or “we can’t do that,” you could say, “Okay, how do you suggest we go about that?” And at each step of the way, you say, “Hmm okay, so what should we do now?” or “Okay, what would you like to use?” or “How should we build it?” and allow them to reach their own conclusions of what will and will not work.
Another absolutely key thing for developing the creative process in your child is to allow them a lot of time. Creative processes necessarily take time. They involve many failures and mistakes along the way. They involve getting into a deep state of flow when no one is interrupting us. If your child only has five minutes to draw before they are running off to school in the morning then they can’t ever develop that flow and reach that space when they are really letting their creative juices flow. So, as hard as it might be, there need to be chunks of time. Ensure that your child has creative materials available to them, and where they can just play and explore in an open-ended environment.