(Originally published in Ladies Home Journal, October, 1993)
(c) Meredith Corporation, 1993
When Julia was nine, she created an imaginary world of “weepals.” There were one hundred sixty-four of these fantasy creatures, each related to the others in some way, and each with its own name, personality and physical characteristics. She even designed houses and furniture for them. Now, at the age of twenty-three, Julia manages a real-life social system. She coordinates the activities of several departments in a law firm. Childhood creativity was a key ingredient in Julia’s grown-up success. In the same way, the seemingly innocent, aimless activities that your child engages in–making up funny songs, inventing strange contraptions made of household odds and ends, drawing crazy cartoons–may be instrumental in helping to prepare the way for later accomplishments.Childhood is a time of natural creativity and curiosity. But while many people grow up and lose this precious gift in the “reasonable” world of adulthood, those who maintain a connection with their creative self find a world of satisfaction and richness that can’t be measured. What can you do to foster this vital capacity in your own kids?
1. Nourish your own creativity. If a child grows up in a household where the adults around him suffer from psychosclerosis (hardening of the mind), then he will likely come down with a bad case of it, too. Share with your child your own creations–poems, drawings, stories, even ones from your own childhood,if you still have them. Every day, vow to be a little bit whimsical and spontaneous: Create a funny voice, make up a silly dance, point out something around the house or in the neighborhood that you hadn’t noticed before. Encourage new ways of seeing the world and novel ways of doing conventional things.
2. Avoid judgments, criticisms and comparisons. Evaluation kills creativity. If a child feels that his creations will inevitably be subject to judgments (“You forgot to put a door on that house”) or comparisons (“Put more color in your drawings, like your brother does”), he will either stop producing altogether or will simply make what other people want him to make. Uniqueness will be replaced by cliches.
3. Honor your child’s individuality. Accept her creations with an open mind, even if they seem flawed or incomplete. Remember that the creative process is an uneven one, consisting of dead ends, misconceptions, errors and the occasional brilliant flash of insight. By allowing the entire process to occur unimpeded by your prejudices, you can honor your child’s creativity and make it that much easier for her to find the right way to express herself.
4. Don’t force her to do something. There are those who prefer to package creativity and market it like a new toy. But creativity can’t be pushed and prodded. In fact, pressure can cause creativity to go into a permanent state of decline. Your child may go through long periods of seeming stagnation only to burst through with renewed vitality. Be patient!
5. Provide the resources they need. You can’t be creative in a vacuum: Children must be exposed to materials and experiences that trigger ideas and feelings. But remember, it doesn’t take much to spark a child’s creativity–building blocks, a cardboard box, a puppet, paper and crayons are often much better than the latest superhero action figure or electronic doll in encouraging creativity. Try the following simple-to-do activities at home:
For more information, read Thomas Armstrong, Awakening Your Child’s Natural Genius (Putnam, 1991). Visit Thomas Armstrong’s website: www.institute4learning.com.