Give your child the tools to explore their natural curiosity of the world and themselves, and in the process help them to develop their creativity – with these tips.
Novelty-seeking, tenacity, and self-transcendence (defined as “a capacity to get lost in the moment doing what you love to do, to feel a connection to nature and humanity and the universe”) are all traits associated with creativity. These also sound like very common characteristics of toddlers! It turns out that these traits are also associated with having the best health, the most friends, and the greatest life satisfaction, according to a study by professor of psychiatry at Washington University at St. Louis, C. Robert Cloninger.
While this seems like a bold statement, the benefits of creativity have long been acknowledged by many experts. Sociologist and author of Raising Happiness (2010) and The Sweet Spot (2015) Dr Christine Carter agrees when she says that creativity is not only required by artists, but can be used beneficially in all facets of life, including in one’s career, and in one’s own social and emotional matters. This is likely because creativity also teaches problem solving, self-discipline and self-motivation.
Fortunately, she adds, creativity is not something you are born with, but a skill that can be nurtured and developed. Let’s look at what you can do to help your child develop their creativity, so they can reap these benefits.
1. Schedule free time
Julia Cameron, the author of the best seller The Artist’s Way (1992) and The Artist’s Way for Parents: A Spiritual Approach to Raising Creative Children (2013), advocates giving your child regular unstructured free time to play, explore, create and just have fun. She explains that parents are increasingly putting more pressure on their children by over-scheduling their time, packing in extra-curricular lessons and planned activities. While it is good for your child to learn how to follow instructions, she recommends you remove some of this pressure and let them have at least an hour each day for free, unstructured play. This hour needs to be protected throughout their childhood, and not only during their toddler years.
While your child must be free to choose what they want to do during this time, it’s essential that it doesn’t involve screens. Watching TV or playing computer games are both fairly passive activities, where your child can sit back and be entertained. Certified play therapist Kathy Eugster points out that creative pursuits, on the other hand, require actively using large and small muscles, engaging the senses, using both verbal and non-verbal expression, not to mention the imagination. All of this helps your child to learn about themselves and the world around them.
2. Create the space
Says Cameron, “Creativity thrives within structure. Creating safe havens where our children are allowed to dream, play, make a mess and, yes, clean it up, we teach them respect for themselves and others.”
This is something everyone seems to agree is very important – that you give your child their own space in which to be creative. This means setting aside an area in your home where your child can play and (importantly) make a mess. It doesn’t need to be a whole room, it could just be a corner. But this is where you’ll store all the creative goodies that they can have fun with, in an easily accessible way.
It’s important that you instil the rule of tidying up from a young age. You will need to supervise your child – and help them, too – to make sure the space is left clean for the next time. Keeping things tidy makes it easier to be creative, not to mention less stressful for mom!
3. Banish (most) toys
There are lots of exciting new toys constantly being put on the market, many of which claim to help stimulate your child’s physical, emotional or mental development. However, Dr Carter warns, “Many researchers believe we have fundamentally changed the experience of childhood in such a way that impairs creative development. Toy and entertainment companies feed kids an endless stream of prefab characters, images, props and plot lines that allow children to put their imaginations to rest. Children no longer need to imagine a stick is a sword in a game or story they’ve imagined; they can play Star Wars with a specific light saber in costumes designed for the specific role they are playing.”
So rather than giving your child fancy toys, give them arts and crafts items – paper, glue, glitter, felt, paint, loo rolls, crayons, string, cardboard boxes, etc. Toys that still encourage imaginative play and creativity – like simple dress-up clothes, building blocks or musical instruments – are the exceptions to this rule. Give your child things that they will need to transform or act upon, as these are the things that will encourage thinking, engagement
4. Don’t take the lead
“Children have an amazing innate ability to be creative when they play freely on their own, and unfortunately, the act of over-parenting dampens or even wipes out that innate ability,” says Mike Lanza, author of Playborhood: Turn Your Neighborhood into a Place for Play (2012). This means that as a parent you need to step back and let your child suggest what to do and how to do it. They may need some coaxing with gentle questions, like, “Maybe we can paint today. Is there something you’d like to paint?” The aim is to get your child to make all of the decisions while you provide minimal guidance to the process.
5. Encourage– – don’t criticise
Even if your child’s creative ideas are terrible, try not to say no or intervene, but go along with them. In Adam Grant’s TED Talk, The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers, he argues that creative people are not afraid to fail. He says, “The greatest originals are those that have failed the most, because they are the ones who tried the most things.” Trying things that haven’t been done before carries risk, and failure is part of this. Build up your child’s creative confidence. Let them try and fail, and offer encouragement to try again. Teach your child that failure is normal and not to be feared. Dr Laura Markham reiterates this when she says, “Children who experience frequent limits train themselves to think inside the box.” Quite simply, try to say yes more often than not. Even if you don’t like an idea, let your child have it and play it out to its conclusion.