By Vicki Little
There is something so amazing about a young child’s creativity and curiosity. The joyous and free way in which they look at the world around them inspires out-of-the-box solutions and stories that would make even the best children’s authors jealous. As they grow, those creative juices tend to flow less and less, and our children start to conform to what they think is expected of them. Perhaps it is our education system, perhaps it is simply the process of growing up, or perhaps it is a combination of things. As parents, we want to foster this as long as we can, but sometimes we can unknowingly sabotage our children’s creativity. Here are 5 ways you might be squashing your child’s creativity – and solutions on how to foster it instead.
1)Prohibiting messes. It can be absolutely exhausting to clean up after our creative little monsters. But many times, learning is in the process – not the final result. And that process can be messy. You may see a messy pile of feathers, glue, paint, and buttons, but they see a masterpiece fit to be framed. After a while, we find ourselves telling our kids they can only use one or two craft items, or we avoid letting them paint because we don’t want to deal with the mess.
Get Creative: Let your child get as messy as he or she wants, but make sure your child helps you clean up. Teach your child how to do it correctly so you aren’t tempted to just do it by yourself. This way, you are teaching responsibility while fostering their creativity. Keep old sheets and shower curtains on hand to help with quick clean-up, and try to find time to allow your child to explore their creativity outside, where the mess won’t be so bothersome.
2) Scheduling too many activities. It is easy to allow your family to get bogged down with activities. Everyone wants to try different things, and there are so many options that will help them later in life. But too many activities can be detrimental, as there is simply no time to let children just play and use their imaginations.
Get Creative: If scheduling is what makes your family work, schedule a block of time each day for free time. Arts and crafts, music, playing outside … anything that doesn’t involve screens or organized activities. Start collecting a bin of random art supplies for your artsy kiddo, find multiple instruments for your musical child to tinker around with, and sharpen some pencils with a new notebook for the writer in your family. Then let them simply create.
3) Offering too many suggestions. There is a thin line between guiding our children and thinking for them. It is easy to do. You are interested in your child, and as you look over their shoulder at a drawing of the ocean, you suggest they color their sand brown instead of purple and add some buckets and starfish. Or you gently tell your child to play the song like they are supposed to instead of adding their own flair. Or you help your little thespian by telling him that their particular character does not have a British accent. When they are stuck on a problem, you tell them what to do, instead of encouraging creativity. It is easy to do because it is part of being a parent. But when it comes to being creative, these suggestions box them in and keep them from exploring.
Get Creative: As hard as it may be, offer less and encourage more. If they ask what you think they should draw, tell them you want to be surprised. When you see that they have a horse swimming in their ocean, simply praise how creative it is to see an actual “seahorse.” When their “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” sounds more like a rap song, dance along with it. When they are stuck, ask how they think they can fix whatever they are stuck on. Encourage them to think outside the box instead of showing them how to do things. It will be amazing for their creativity.
4) Sticking to your plan. You spend a lot of time finding things to do with your family and planning the perfect day. Sometimes those plans go on without a hitch. But sometimes everything seems to be getting in the way, and it feels almost impossible to accomplish what you planned. But you are so determined to accomplish the plans you had, by the time you get home, you wish you hadn’t bothered.
Get Creative: Be flexible. Ask your kids what they think you should do instead. You wanted a perfect picnic, but it started raining? Your child’s suggestion of sitting in the back of the car may sound silly, but it may end up being more fun than you imagined. You may really want your child to see the new exhibit at the museum, but he just wants to go to the space exhibit. Your child will most likely learn more there anyway because he is excited about it.
5) You keep them from being bored. In today’s busy world, we try to keep our children busy at all times, and when they aren’t, we tend to let them play on electronics to keep them from getting bored (and potentially bugging us or causing trouble!). The problem with this is that they never figure out how to occupy themselves. They never have time to just sit and think – or create.
Get Creative: Your kids are bored? Great! Don’t offer suggestions or jump up to occupy them, but instead simply tell them to find something to do. We used to do it, so they can, too. My kids have done the coolest things as a result of being bored and me ignoring their pleas. My son even created one of our family’s favorite card games when he was bored once. Let them figure it out. Their creativity may surprise you!
Vicki Little is a preschool teacher with two children. A Colorado native, she spends her time writing, sitting in the bleachers for her daughter’s gymnastics, and engaging in spirited debates with her son. In her free time…well, she is still waiting for some of that.
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