Five Small Steps to Encourage Your Child’s Creativity

In addition to being valuable in any career field, creativity is incredibly useful in everyday life. Encouraging your child’s creativity will help them solve problems, combat negative emotions and even recover from trauma.

Imaginative or artistic activities also inspire self-expression. When kids use their feelings and experiences to create something, they feel validated. This validation helps them solidify an identity and celebrate their own uniqueness.

While some kids are creatively inclined, others may need a little push. Here are a few ways to bring out your child’s inner O’Keeffe, Edison or Rowling.

Give them space

Technology writer Pagan Kennedy interviewed several inventors for a book. She discovered a childhood commonality: They all had a physical space where they were allowed, and even encouraged, to experiment and make a mess. Once you have an area your kid can get creative in, you also must give them the unstructured time to play there. Do your best not to manage their imaginary or artistic endeavors.

Encourage observation

Jim Kwik, founder of Kwik Learning, says that observation is critical to creativity. He explains that creativity comes from connecting dissimilar ideas in non-obvious ways. So if your child isn’t paying attention, they’ll never see the dots, let alone connect them. Scavenger hunts and “I Spy” are great for encouraging observation with young kids. For older kids and teens, try to get them in the moment by limiting phone and tablet use, especially outside the home. Meditation, yoga and nature walks will help restore their ability to truly tune in to their surroundings.

Practice imperfection

Kids who fear making mistakes stick to what they know they’ll be good at because they can control the outcome. They shy from any risk that may result in failure. This keeps them safe from judgment but seriously inhibits their creativity. Shelley Carson, Ph.D., a psychology researcher and lecturer at Harvard University, says to combat self-criticism by continuously encouraging the exploration of new hobbies and interests. Focus your child on the process rather than the product. And if they aren’t satisfied with the end result, help them see the perceived imperfection in what they’ve made or done as useable data for future creative endeavors.

Produce, produce, produce

Artist and author Danny Gregory believes the best way to combat perfectionism is to continuously create. As he sees it, the more your kid makes, the less they’ll worry about whether the work is any good. And the more they make, the more likely they’ll land on something that is indeed good. Gregory says it is far more important to make a lot of bad work than it is to make no good work at all. Illustrator Wendy MacNaughton agrees: “It’s a practice, and who you are at the end of that six months is not the same person you were when you started.”

Foster imagination

Carson says to use the time between activities (e.g., in the car to soccer practice, clearing the dinner table, waiting in line for movie tickets) for small mental challenges. “What if” scenarios are a fun way to engage your child’s observation and invention skills.

Ask your elementary-aged child questions like, “What if people walked on their hands instead of their feet? What would change?” or “What if you could invent a new fruit. What would it be called and what would it taste like?” For older kids and teens, try to focus the hypotheticals around their interests. For example, “What if you could be in any pop star’s head for five minutes. Who do you choose and what do you hear?” or “What if I let you redo any room in the house? Which room would you pick and what would you do to it?”

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