Children are naturally creative. Before the world tells them that some things just aren’t possible and that their imagination needs to be limited, children have a huge capacity for creativity. As they age up, academic rigors, peer pressure, and other factors may seem to tamp down this natural creativity and imaginativeness, but most children hold on to a sense of creativity and imaginative play into the teen years and adulthood. It is where their dreams and desires locate as they age up.
Staying creative as you get older has a wide range of benefits, from being a more successful problem solver to staying mentally and physically healthier. By supporting your child’s creativity from a young age, parents increase the chances that these children will become creative adults and reap the benefits that come from this. Here is how to support your child’s creativity in six simple steps.
1. Provide unstructured time
One of the biggest killers of creativity is too much structure and overscheduling. This is not to say a young child’s life should be a 24-hour a day free for all, but providing long periods of free, unstructured play is important to foster creativity.
Allowing your child to be free or even to be bored is a great way to support creativity. Having periods of time with no screens (this is important) and no other restrictions is a great way for creativity to thrive. If your child has to create and imagine on their own or with others during free play, you are helping them foster creativity and their own imaginative capacity.
2. Create a space to be creative
Supporting creativity is also about offering a space to be creative and not just carving out the time to do so. The reason this is so hard at times is that creativity can be messy. This is why it is important to give a child a space where they can make a mess and are comfortable being creative.
This space should also have the tools for creativity. It should be stocked with paper, coloring utensils, books, toys, and costumes. It can also be outdoors, where children can roam and play and imagine without any “keep it clean” constraints. When kids have spaces like these that they can take ownership of and feel comfortable freely playing in, you will see creativity thrive.
3. Encourage creative solutions
Creativity is not just about drawing or painting or making music; there can be creativity in problem-solving or general thinking as well. When your child finds a solution to a problem that is outside the box, this is something that should be encouraged, even if it is not what you had in mind.
When you ask a child to put their toys away where they belong so they are not all over the living room floor and your child piles them all up in their wagon so they are off the floor but they can also pull them around the house, this is creative. It may be maddening to a parent trying to tidy up for guests but it is still creative. This is where parents have to strike a balance between maintaining discipline (which is also important) but also praising and even rewarding creative problem-solving.
4. Stimulate all five senses
All five senses can help jumpstart the creative process. That is why it is so essential to expose your child to creativity in all forms that touch the five senses. Seeing creativity in action, touching different mediums, listening to music, and tasting and smelling and even making creative food combinations can all give your child an idea of what is possible with their own creativity.
This can be difficult for some kids who aren’t as adventurous as others, but what’s important is that they are given the opportunity to engage all of their senses in activities. And, if your child won’t run their fingers through homemade slime or eat something (ANYTHING!) other than PB&J for lunch, that’s ok. Keep providing them with the opportunities, and the stimulation and creativity will at least have the possibility of coming through.
5. Focus on the creativity, not the results
Let’s be honest. The things that most kids produce with their creativity is not, objectively, that great. The music will give you a headache, the art is often undecipherable, and you might find chocolate chips on your pepperoni pizza downright disgusting. That is why you should focus on and praise the act of creativity and the thought process and not focus on only the results.
Even if the results are good, the creativity and the process they used should still be the focus. The message is, no matter what you produce, the important part is the creative way you got there. If the result is bad and you fail, that’s ok. It’s important even in the process of getting better. The creativity was awesome! If the results are good, that’s nice but if the results aren’t as good the next time, that’s ok too as long as your child is being encouraged to approach the world in a creative manner. Praise the process and the hard work they’ve engaged in, not the results.
6. Be creative yourself
One major way that children learn is by modeling behavior. They model the behavior of their peers, older siblings, adults, and most of all, their parents. If you want to raise creative children, you need to try and be creative yourself. Even if you don’t think of yourself as an overly creative person, you can still model creative behavior.
To do this, all you need to do is follow many of the tips above for yourself. It can be hard with all of life’s responsibilities, but you need to give yourself unstructured time to be creative. You need to have a space to be creative. You need to give yourself credit for creative solutions and not worry so much about results. If you can give yourself the permission you need to be creative, that will surely trickle down to your children.
Supporting creativity in your children is something parents should all strive to do. It helps children develop life skills they will use down the road and makes for happier, more fulfilled kids. By following the six steps above, you will be well on your way to supporting your child’s creativity and–you never know, you may even find creativity in yourself you haven’t seen since you were a child.
Sandra Chiu works as Director at Ladybug & Friends Daycare and Preschool.