All children are creative and wonderful. There is something magical about their combination of curiosity, inhibition and daring that impresses every adult I know. Yet somehow at some stage as they grow, most of our children become like the rest of us – wishing we were creative, deciding that we are not.
What happens along the way to make them lose their creative spark? Where does all that daring go?
Much like our general confidence, most of our creativity gets pushed down by all the ‘can’ts’ and ‘shoulds’. We put boundaries on our kids’ ability to create whether intentionally or not and any boundary we leave open, their peer group is quick to put up instead. Once all the comparisons with others start to enter their heads, their desire to freely express themselves quickly deserts them.
It’s such a shame, I could honestly weep. Instead of putting up boundaries, I’m interested in setting my kids’ imaginations free. Free to roam all their lives so they can be innovative, confident and fearless. As the world moves more and more towards invention, I want my kids to be keen to put their hands up and join in the conversation.
Here are 10 ways to raise creative kids who are ready to conquer the world:
1. Be creative yourself
It’s hard to be creative when you don’t think you are, but see my notes above. We are all creative beings inside – some of us just have more boundaries to leap than others. Creativity can be expressed in so many ways so don’t be fooled into thinking that you have to break out the craft items or start painting a canvas. Writing, music, fashion, decorating, poetry, baking, dancing, gardening, clever new business ideas – the canvas for creativity is vast. Be free with your ideas and allow lots of flexibility within household routines and you might surprise yourself as well as the kids.
2. Help them cultivate new interests
Encourage your children to try new things as often as possible. This is usually not a problem as most kids are bubbling over with new ideas of things to try; the key is to say yes a little more often. Try doing new things together – go horse riding one weekend, try pottery on another. Look through books and scroll through websites together and decide what you’ll have a go at next.
3. Visit new places together
It’s too easy to get stuck in the rut of routine, but as much as children thrive on routine, they also thrive when you break it. Skip netball and take an after-school trip to a new suburb or town for a milkshake and a new taste experience. Visit an historic site you’ve never been to, take a walk in a new bush area, go down a road you’ve never taken. Open your kids’ eyes to new sites, smells and tastes to inspire their imaginations.
4. Read, read, read
Don’t stop reading aloud to your children until they are old enough to beg you to get out of their room. Being together and sharing a story is a wonderful way to bond and a story read aloud is ripe for discussion and embellishment. Read stories that your child wouldn’t ordinarily tackle on their own and bring the stories to life with ideas for games and craft activities.
5. Leave them be
Instead of over-scheduling the kids, build in plenty of down time. My mother used to always say that the best games always followed at least five sighs of “I’m bored”. Once kids are genuinely, utterly bored, they start to work out that they need to come up with a plan if they are ever going to have fun again. Allow your children the space to become bored and do absolutely nothing to help them once they are. You will be amazed at what they come up with.
6. Embrace mistakes
Make sure your children are given ample opportunity to make mistakes and welcome those mistakes with open arms. Kids who are afraid to be wrong won’t try anything new in the first place. Ask questions like, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” and “What can you do to change this outcome?”. Let them know that it’s trying that matters, not being right or wrong. When my disappointed son bemoaned coming last in the 800 metres race at school, I said to him, “No one will ever care how fast you can run around in a circle but everyone will care that you are the kind of person who gave it a go in the first place.”
7. Let them take the lead
Kids love being independent and it’s important to allow them to grow in their own way. Don’t set up too many rules and regulations – stick to the ones that genuinely matter. Other things can be managed by kids in their own way, in their own time. Let them be in charge of the way their bedroom is decorated and run. They might decide to be less tidy than you’d like them to be, but they’ll quickly sort out their own systems and we need to step back and allow them to mange them. Let your kids be in charge of different aspects of family life from time to time and ask them how they would like things to operate.
8. Be clever with screen time
Screens can enhance our child’s creativity with apps especially providing inspiration and stimulation for busy minds. So much of television has also morphed into an interactive, creative place to be. All things in moderation, of course – be careful of the types of programs and apps your child is using and make sure that the balance between watching and creating is tipped strongly in favour of creating. Let screens enhance your child’s lifestyle, not become their life.
9. Open your home
Bringing people together to talk and play is one of the most inspiring things you can do for your kids. Host people at your home as often as you can and invite your children to share in the conversation. You can go to as much or as little trouble as you like, but allowing the kids to create the menu and decorate a few things here and there makes any event a party. Sharing good food and lots of laughter with a variety of friends is a beautiful way to nurture family creativity. Turn the music up and dance, sing and be a kid for a while. Bed time negotiable.
10. Ask questions
Being open to every question the kids ask is such an important aspect to keeping their creativity alive. It can be tiring being asked hundreds of questions, but questions mean curiosity and curiosity means creativity. Remember, too, that it’s up to you to keep asking them loads of questions too. Lots of parents fall into the trap of making statements rather than asking questions. Statements try to raise the kind of child we think we want, but only questions will open us to the child we actually have. Believe in your child and all that they stand for – don’t squash them, ask them.
“Curiosity about life in all its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people” – Leo Burnett.
How do you stay curious?