color photo of child pointing a long stick at the large drawn image of a monster on a brick wall

Parents have a wonderful opportunity during this interval when their kids are at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic to nurture their kids creativity.  This isn’t something that the schools really put an big emphasis on (in fact, studies suggest that teachers would prefer not to teach creative kids because their outspokeness and out-of-the-box thinking interferes with the orderly flow of a classroom schedule).[1]  Now’s your chance to give your child the gift of creative expression.  But there are some important caveats to this invitation, or ways in which parents can go wrong, which I’ve put into 5 creativity killers.  I should preface this account by pointing out that children are naturally creative – it’s built into their genes.  The great work on the part of parents is to see that society doesn’t wipe it out completely.  Here are the 5 C’s of killing creativity:

  • Conformity.  What makes something creative is that it doesn’t fit into the same old same old customs and conventions that society imposes on its citizens.  That’s why they call it ”out-of-the-box thinking” (although this expression itself has become a little too ”in-the-box”).  So when your child dramatizes something or creates a picture that doesn’t look like anything that you’ve seen before, you should cheer!  Custom and conformity are anathema to the creative urge.
  • Comparison.  Stay away from statements like:  ”Just look at the clay sculpture that Billy is doing!” or ”Can you dance like Martha?”  These type of injunctions tear kids away from their own unique products and performances, cause them to mistrust their own efforts, and instead result in their trying to imitate what their peers are doing.  Creativity goes out the window as a result (this is not to say that kids can’t be influenced by others in their creativity quest, but you have to be very careful that you don’t instigate this yourself unless it’s simply being a creative role model to your child).
  • Competition.  This is comparison on steroids.  When adults organize events that involve giving awards to kids who draw the best pictures, create the most beautiful greeting cards, dance the best dances, do the best job of dramatizing a play, write the most creative essay, etc. this may all sound great, but it kills creativity because kids are producing things that they think will win the award, not  because they’re creating from their heart.  Moreover, instead of appreciating their fellow contestants’ efforts, there’s often less honorable emotions going on under the surface of things such as envy, mistrust, and aggression.  And for all the kids who don’t win, you’ve sent a strong message:  ”Sorry, but you’re just not creative, or creative enough.”
  • Control.   This killer is when you as a parent come up to your child’s creative product or performance and say, ”I think you could have done a little better here,” or ”Lift your leg a little higher when you do that kick in the middle of the dance.” There will be plenty of time in art or dance school when critique becomes an important part of the creative process.  But for kids who are just starting out, any type of control or judgment of their work serves to undermine the integrity of what they’re doing.  Even praise can be debilitating (”oh, that’s so cute!”) because kids will then try to win future praise from you by making a similar product.
  • Constraints. I shouldn’t have to put this killer down, but it’s often true that parents will yell at kids for being creative when they’re not supposed to be creative, or for being creative in a place where they’re not supposed to be creative.  I remember having a lot of fun drawing with crayons on the bottom of our living room coffee table as a 4 year old (who’s going to look there?).  Well, my dad somehow saw it and yelled at me and my Michelangelo experiment went up in flames (metaphorically speaking).  Make sure to provide your kids with a ”make-a-mess” corner somewhere in the house, garage, or outside, where there are no limits as to what they can do, how they can do it, and even when they can do it.  If kids are worrying about creating something because of their fear that they’ll spill something, make too much noise, or otherwise rouse the ire of their parents, then they’ll keep their creative impulse to themselves.

The creative instinct is a delicate little butterfly for many kids.  A sudden disturbance can cause it to flutter away, never to return.  As adults, we need to honor the dignity of the child when she creates, value it as among the most important things human beings do, and help create both the inner psychological and outer structural conditions where creative work can flourish.

[1] ‘’Teachers Conceptions of Creativity and Creative Students,’’ Journal of Creative Behavior, 39, no. 1 (March 2005): 17-34.

For more information about nurturing creativity in your child, see the chapter on creativity in my book If Einstein Ran the Schools: Revitalizing U.S. Education.

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I’m the author of 20 books including my latest, a novel called Childless, which you can order from Amazon.

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