Our kids’, and our own, creativity is being stifled, and with that society is also stifling our creative journeys, giving rise to overwhelm and depression, boredom, lack of motivation, disappointment and the feeling of never being good enough.
Creativity. A word that encapsulates so much. In context, it refers to idea generation, problem solving, innovation, creation, free-thinking, and risk-taking. It does not necessarily mean rebellion, anarchy or discord. Creative people can be the boundary-pushers, the problem solvers, the leaders. But mostly they are the entertainers, the creators, the developers, the motivation speakers, the chefs. If you stimulate your imagination you can creatively find solutions to almost anything. It is a marvellous skill to have, and one that it seems all children are born with. So when do they lose it, and why do we allow it?
If you take the time to watch children play, especially younger kids, you will notice that they are constantly busy thinking and doing. Sometimes it seems as if they are doing more than thinking, but that just shows you how seamless the process of idea-generation is to them. I watched my kids the other day. They were playing outside, with 2 plastic spoons and a plastic push car. They were knights with swords, on a horse (the spoons and push car), then pirates, then gold diggers. Then they tried to get our tortoise to stay still so that they could paint his shell – he was going to be their shield or something. Amazing, they kept themselves busy for hours, and all that they had were the 2 spoons and the car. We are born as uniquely creative beings, with a gift and talent to innovate and create, unlike any of the other living beings on this planet. Then we grow up and only a small fraction of the population keeps this gift. Fear, time, passive entertainment, technology, to name a few, get in the way and we lose our creativity.
In most of our minds, creativity is associated with the arts, with few people realizing that without creativity, there would be no exploration and discovery; inspired by our senses, it nurtures innovation and development. Everybody is capable of being creative within their own capabilities, framework, abilities and skills. For some, being creative means being able to convey an abstract idea to a group of people, for others it might be the development of a new app or the writing of a novel. Finding new ways of doing old things, with a better outcome, is creative. Developing something new from scratch is creative.
Developmental experts believe that having a creative childhood can rewire a child’s brain to thinking outside the box. This gives kids better coping skills, problem-solving skills, as well as making abstract concepts easier to understand. Being creative helps us to adapt and thrive in these increasingly complex and uncertain times. Creativity fosters happiness and wellbeing, which is needed for intrinsic motivation and mental health.
Creativity can be broken down into individual factors, i.e. originality, self-expression, risk-taking, intelligence, autonomy, collaboration, and imagination. Contrary to popular belief, creativity is not limited to the right hemisphere of the brain – the entire process of being creative rests on the interaction of both cognitive processes (left hemisphere) as well as emotions (right hemisphere). Seeing something strange can tickle our curiosity, which then leads to exploration, development and creation. See how the sense of sight could stimulate a feeling (curiosity) and lead to cognitive actions? Interaction.
So you want a creative child. But how can you encourage and boost your child’s creativity? There are many things that you, as a parent, can do to nurture your children’s creativity. Each of the following ways are about you nurturing your children’s creativity, but they can just as easily be used for yourself:
1. Encourage your kids to ask questions, and ask questions back
Yes, it is highly irritating when your 3-year-old responds to everything you say with a “why?” It is not these questions that I am talking about, but rather the ones that you will mostly classify as them being challenging. E.g. asking why they have to go to bed, or why they need to eat their veggies if they don’t like them. Give them full and well-thought-out answers. And when they come to you with a statement or request, ask why back. In your everyday life, make a point of asking your kids about the things around you – “What is this and what does it do?” or “What can I do with this?” and listen to their answers.
Give your kids the space to feel, think, and be themselves, without any judgment or critique. Kids need boundaries, but if you keep them wide they will have enough space to explore and create without straying too far into harm’s way. Actively encourage your kids to colour outside of the lines – they should have the artistic freedom to create their own masterpiece. Furthermore, detach yourself from your kid’s outcome – their success (and failures) is not yours, and vice versa.
3. Nurture your child’s interests.
Find out what your child likes doing, and allow them to do that. Allow them to choose their own after-school activities. Encourage them to explore the activity in all of its aspects, i.e. if your child loves playing soccer, encourage them to learn all the rules, the names of the players in their favourite team, the mechanics of the team composition, the financials, etc.
Being able to understand and describe emotions is critical to the creative process. Teach them how to handle their emotions, how to express them healthily and how to guard them when necessary. Also teach your child how to self-regulate, especially if he/she is prone to anxiety and overwhelm. Try leading a less rushed life, as constant rush inhibits creativity by inducing stress.
5. Play, play, play!
Old-fashioned, unstructured play is the best thing we can do to foster our children’s creative spirit. Through unstructured play, children explore their ideas and create meaning of the world around them. Limit electronic toys. Allow kids the opportunity to make their own sounds, push their own trucks and sing their own songs. Even better, give them “toys” that act more as cues than toys (open-ended toys) – things that will lead their minds to something else, like a stick, or a cape, or a ball. Let them climb and jump and swing and enough of the “be careful!”
6. Encourage the arts, including music and dance
Art is a great opportunity for children to learn. It allows them the chance to create something from inherent chaos and disorder, which opens to them an underlying and often invisible well of creative ideas. Allow your kids to play with the VERY irritating and noisy guitar, drum or whatever instrument they like. These games can build the foundation for further musical exploration later in life. Expose your child to as many different genres of music as possible and do not tease them for the genre that they like. Allow them to be themselves. Encourage inquisitiveness and a sense of wonder.
“I have no special gift, I am only passionately curious.” Albert Einstein
Appreciating and acknowledging your children’s creative attempts and endeavours fosters more of the same.
7. Explore the beauty of nature.
Where children and nature meet there is magic! Being outside, experiencing life develops children’s’ critical thinking skills as they learn to make inferences and draw conclusions. They learn by tasting, touching, and seeing fauna and flora in ways they cannot experience from books or television. Being in nature has a calming effect on otherwise busy bodies that further encourages an open and approachable mind, ready for learning, thinking, and creating.
8. Ask questions about their creations.
Kids have their own thought processes, and we can’t always see what they are thinking just by looking at something they’ve made. Having them articulate their process and the ideas behind what they were going for helps you and them understand how they think. Asking questions also shows greater interest in what they’re doing than a simple, “Wow, that’s cool!”
9. Offer encouraging feedback, not criticism.
Sure, kids will need to learn to deal with criticism, but not from their parents and not about something they’ve created. Our role here is cheerleader, not judge. Kids’ creations are not always stellar, but if they’ve put time and effort into something, and if they’re proud of it, that should be honoured. “Look at that! You worked really hard on that! How wonderful!” is one way of complimenting a child’s creation without critiquing the content. Always find something positive to say. Encouragement is a much better teacher than criticism.
10. Be an example of a creative person in action
You are your children’s primary role model. Let them see what it looks like to be creative. Explain to them what you are doing, why you are doing it and why you like doing it. You can even involve them to a certain extent. Show them also when you struggle, how you do not give up. Having a creative hobby means continuously learning and trying new things, but loving every moment of it. This will also teach your kids that they too are capable of doing great, creative things.
11. Advocate for the daydreamer!
Contrary to conventional thinking, daydreaming has many advantages! When kids daydream, they explore associations, make connections, and search for possibilities. Research shows that both daydreaming and the use of solitude for reflection are among the attributes of highly creative people. Remember the self-fulfilling prophecy is a strong influence on your child’s behaviour – if you tell them that they are dreaming their life away, that is exactly what will happen. Rather tell them they are dreaming of how to make a better tomorrow!
12. Develop healthy habits of mind.
Research done by Jane Piirto, Distinguished Professor at Ashland University in Ohio, suggests there are five core attitudes of creative people:
- Openness to experience
- Tolerance for ambiguity
- Group trust
Develop and nurture these core attitudes in your kids.
13. See the funny in everything
Laugh, have fun, laugh, have fun, laugh a lot. Did I mention laugh?! 🙂 Humour is a key ingredient in creativity. Laugh at situations, events, yourself. Lighten up and get silly!
Remember, creativity is not just found in the pages of a book, or on a canvas, or in the pencil of a sketch artist. It can be found in website design, a beautifully made cupboard, perfectly landscaped gardens, a new medicine, a new way of training for a marathon. Being creative means coming up with a new idea or putting things together in a way that hasn’t been done before. We can encourage that kind of ingenuity and creative thinking by sharing and building on ideas with our kids in different aspects of life. Encourage your kids to think outside the box, to think of new ways to help humanity, and help kids see that sharing ideas isn’t scary.
To recap, here are my tips to nurture your kids’ creativity:
- Encourage your kids to ask questions, and ask questions back
- Nurture your child’s interests.
- Play, play, play!
- Encourage the arts, including music and dance
- Explore the beauty of nature.
- Ask questions about their creations.
- Offer encouraging feedback, not criticism.
- Be an example of a creative person in action
- Advocate for the daydreamer!
- Develop healthy habits of mind.
- See the funny in everything
Hope you have a very creative and fulfilling day!