Creativity is not an inborn talent, it is an attribute that can be grown and developed, like a muscle.
Sure, it’s true that some people are born with spectacular abilities—what else can you say about the likes of Picasso, Michelangelo, Jimi Hendrix, or Timothee Chalamet?
But that doesn’t mean that everyone can’t be creative. Creativity simply means the ability to create, to think out of the box, and to allow the mind to wander to places not often explored.
Nor is it solely about producing a work of art. Creativity is required for scientific inquiry, math, finding solutions to everyday problems, and even social and emotional intelligence. Creative people are, therefore, better equipped to take advantage of the many opportunities they will be faced with in life.
Besides, creativity is an essential component of health and happiness overall. That makes it a core skill to develop in children.
Don’t worry, you don’t need to send your kids to “creativity class” or force them into an activity they don’t like. Children are naturally creative, so a large part of what you have to do to help them develop that attribute is just let it grow.
This post is going to give a few tips on how you can help grow creativity in your kids at home.
1. Give them the resources they need to be creative
It isn’t just about getting your kids “things” that can help them be creative, it’s about giving them a time and space for unstructured exploration.
A lot of what they will learn in school is structured education, and all of that stuff is very important because it lays the base for them to understand the world around them.
But creativity requires a lack of boundaries and structures, and yes a few simple tools can help. Give your kids a time, and if possible a space, that is dedicated for them to do what they like without any parental guidance. Let them paint, play with Legos, tinker with an old camera, and so on. Resist the urge to “show them how it’s done” and let them stretch their imagination.
2. Slowly add more tools to their inventory
You don’t need to dump every kind of art medium and toy on your kids at once. But access to a wide variety of tools gives them a chance to stretch their mind in different directions.
Besides, you’ll be able to see what they take to quite easily. If you’ve bought a clay set and you don’t see them using it after a few days, then you know you don’t need to invest in that later. But they will show an affinity to certain other things, and you’ll know that’s where you need to focus.
Also, it’s a good idea to convince at least your family and close friends that birthday gifts ought to be art supplies, cheap electronics, building supplies, and other raw materials that can be “worked on” rather than toys to simply be played with and forgotten.
3. Tell your kids that it’s OK to fail
The fear of failure is perhaps the single greatest threat to any creative effort. This fear starts developing early in a child’s life. But if a child can’t mess around and figure out what works and what doesn’t, then who can?
In fact, the greatest young entrepreneurs of the current age who went on to start some of the world’s biggest companies—Uber, Spotify, Amazon, and more—are certain that the key to success is to “fail fast and often”. That is, to try things out quickly, see if they are working, and move on if they aren’t. Maybe 1 out of 10 ideas will come to something, but it’s that one that launches them and their business to the next level.
So tell your kids not to worry too much about the output. Tell them to go ahead and start that painting, put those blocks together, write that story, and not worry how it will turn out. It’s the process of the activity that is more important than the outcome.
4. Ask them to share
Kids are always eager to show what they’ve done, so this probably won’t take that much encouraging. But be sure that they also share what went wrong with you. Again, it’s important to emphasize process over outcome.
Ask questions that will probe into their creative process. Something as simple as “How did you come up with the idea for this?” has the potential to turn into a very insightful conversation.
And remember, conversation is a two-way street. Be open about your feelings, and feel free to share your opinions. Give your kids the benefit of your years of knowledge and insight. Make sure that they know what you are thinking as this will encourage them to be more open.
5. Let them disagree with you
That is not to say that you should let them disobey you!
Rather, it helps to allow them to display divergent thoughts. So instead of outright saying “no, it’s like this…”, indulge them. Talk it out with them. Avoid thinking “it’s quicker to get them to listen right now, I’ll talk it out with them next time” because that next time doesn’t come.
Differences of opinion should be celebrated, not shot down. If children are scolded every time they have a divergent thought, they internalize this response and are less likely to question things later as an adult. This leads to conformity, doing what the herd is doing, and ultimately is the death of creativity.
6. Get involved in their creative pursuits
Nothing encourages creativity like getting your hands dirty with your kids—figuratively or literally, as required.
It shows them that you are interested and that being creative is OK. As far as possible, and as far as your child desires, get involved in their projects. You don’t need to be an expert in whatever they are doing, that isn’t what the creative process is about—it’s about being in the process of creation.
You may even find some benefits of this exercise rubbing off on you!
7. Encourage, don’t reward creativity
Lest they begin to see it as an easy way to get goodies and kudos, you don’t need to reward your kids every time they exhibit creativity. After all, as adults we know that the result of creativity is often its own reward.
Or at least, that’s the perception we want to set up. Our output-focused culture often robs us of the sheer joy of creating something for its own sake. Hobbies are seen as a waste of time unless they can somehow be turned into a money-making enterprise, but that was never supposed to be the point of being creative. That is not to say that one shouldn’t profit from their creativity if they can, but it shouldn’t be the sole motivation.
As a closing thought, let it be reiterated that the outcome of a creative project is not that important. Not everyone is going to be able to make a sustainable career out of their creative pursuits, but that is not the point of creativity anyway.
The point of creativity is to be in the process of creating something. It is about experiencing those emotional ups and downs that occur in that process, and about allowing your mind to wander into new territory. That’s what creativity is at the end of the day—a mind game, one of the most important your kids will learn to play.