We all know the importance of creativity when it comes to nourish our children’s personality, promote independence of mind and self-esteem.
Our western educational system though, in spite of constantly declaring the opposite, does not always agree. Research suggests that in elementary school, the creative child can be among the least favorite of the teacher: on a study, “Teachers were asked to rate their favorite and least favorite students (…) Judgments for the favorite student were negatively correlated with creativity; judgments for the least favorite student were positively correlated with creativity. Students displaying creative characteristics appear to be unappealing to teachers”.
You can’t force a child to be creative. Often, school and society around us do not help either. But I do have some tricks up my sleeve, when it comes to encourage creativity in my children.
Do abstract painting* with them. Use big brushes. Take a big blob of coloured modelling clay and improvise shapes. Messy, non figurative, playful! Open a packet of dry pasta and toss it on the table, playing at making shapes with it. Go outside and look very closely at the bark of the nearest tree. Collect leaves of very different colours, a yellow one, a red one, a brown one, a green one, and use it to make a crown.
But most important of all, let them get bored sometimes.
Don’t soothe their occasional boredom with instant relief – a video, a game, keen assistance from your part. It is often in the space of not–knowing–what–to–do that their best ideas come alive. Feeling bored and being able to deal with it independently is one great step for a child. Resilience, flexibility, friendship, creativity are all possible byproducts of feeling blah!
My second golden rule for creativity is: no rules.
Too many rules kill independence of mind and discourage the child to think with his own head, apart from putting a huge strain on the parent that has to reinforce all of them. I honestly think that our children don’t need us constantly stating specific rules at them.
I am not advocating a wild lifestyle where everybody does whatever comes to mind – what I mean is: our children just need to know where our ethical stances are. We need to guide them applying that ethic into their lives – without necessary proclaiming a long list of dry rules.
The New York Times cites a study that “compared the families of children who were rated among the most creative 5 percent in their school system with those who were not unusually creative. The parents of ordinary children had an average of six rules, like specific schedules for homework and bedtime. Parents of highly creative children had an average of fewer than one rule”.
The article concludes: “Creativity may be hard to nurture, but it’s easy to thwart. By limiting rules, parents encouraged their children to think for themselves. They tended to place emphasis on moral values, rather than on specific rules, the Harvard psychologist Teresa Amabile reports”.
If you can play an instrument, even if you feel rusty and not too talented, play to your child. Instead of forcing them to take music lessons before they are ready and ask for it themselves, just show them the joy you feel playing. Let them know the big underlying reason of what you do – joy, satisfaction, fun – and the big underlying significance – beauty, gentleness, kindness.
They will see with their eyes that creativity means first of all that, adding joy and significance to our lives.
My third golden rule for creativity is: do not enter!
From roughly the age of five (obviously every child is different so you will know when she’s ready) I found that leaving them playing by their own for as long as they like, immersed in their magical world, was one of the best activities I could possible give them. And they were giving it to themselves! Inventing it, engineering it, imagining it. In these blissful moments, when they play nicely and happily and are all absorbed by it, I always do my best not to intervene. Not to break the magic by reminding homework or tidying up or dinner. I try to let them play freely without ranging the toys every hour: once at the end of the day is going to be enough.
I sometimes have the feeling that behind the insistent attentions of tiger moms and helicopter dads, it might lie a basic mistrust in their children’s inner abilities. Filling their days with piano lessons, chess lessons, French lessons, and not really having the time to go for a walk or have a casual chat while doing something together. I recently wrote about the fantastic benefits of meditating together with our children, instead of sending them out to many activities per week.
I rather like to see my children as lucky, intelligent little beings, protected and guided from above, full of energy and talents.
I decide to trust them. I want to believe they will creatively and freely make their good choices.
Hope this serves you and your child.
*A.C.I.M. less n. 161: “Complete Abstraction is the natural condition of the mind”.