Most people think of artists and musicians when they think about creativity; however, creativity is much more than that. Our ability to be creative plays a role in our communication and relationships. By definition, it determines our ability to create.
It’s no secret that a creative mind can go places. Just look at Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, and Steve Jobs. The creative thinkers of the world are the ones who make amazing discoveries, find solutions to society’s problems, and develop the inventions we all wonder how we ever lived without. When you look at it that way, there’s no denying that creativity is important. And it’s easy to see why helping your child explore his (or her) creative side is a lot like planting the seeds of greatness.
What makes someone creative?
Is it something that a lucky few are born with, or can anyone be creative? Most people say you’re either born creative or you’re not. They don’t think you can become creative. But what if I told you that just about all children are born creative and it is something that they lose over time due to the environments they spend their time in?
Think about it for a moment. It is hard to deny that young children are creative. Young children say just about anything that comes to their minds. They see things differently. They don’t stop to worry about getting things wrong. In fact they are always creating interesting games, jokes or sayings that make little or no sense to the rest of us. This is how creativity begins—with imagination.
What happens to this creativity?
There are three things that stifle imagination and rob children of their creativity. Those things are fear, lack of opportunity and distraction. In order to be creative a child must have an opportunity to be creative. He must not be distracted by other things and he must not worry about how he will be judged.
Kids today are inundated with electronic gadgets, toys that do their own thing and a relentless schedule of activities. Over the years I have met many children who never have the opportunity to sit and let their minds wander, or even wonder. Every moment of their day is either scheduled or spent with something electronic. That is not to say that electronic gadgets, battery operated toys and scheduled activities are bad. They all have their place. However, they do distract and take away the opportunity to be truly creative.
While distraction and lack of opportunity do harm a child’s ability to be creative, nothing is more damaging than fear. While most young children are looking for approval they do not initially fear negative feedback. That is something they learn. Most parents and caregivers praise small children for being creative. Some don’t. Some parents criticize imperfections and stifle any attempt their child makes to think differently from adults.
School is another place where children learn to fear being creative. For many children this happens when they start getting evaluated in a school environment. Evaluation that is connected to negative consequences will curb creativity due to fear of failure. When the sole purpose of performance is to receive positive feedback or avoid negative consequences there is absolutely no room for a creative mind. School today seems to be all about testing and is getting more so by the year. In school it becomes clear that there is only one answer and all other answers are wrong. So instead of thinking creatively children learn to give the right answer for the test. Too often these answers have been given to them; so they didn’t even have the opportunity to find a creative way to get to the answer. In many instances they are even being told the “right” and “wrong” way to find an answer – no matter if the answer is the same. This stifles their ability to think critically.
So what can be done about this? How do we honor creativity and teach our children not to fear failure?
While we don’t have much control over what happens in school, we do control what happens outside of school. So, first and foremost, always remember to encourage your children’s creative minds. Set aside time for them to turn off all their gadgets and let their minds wander. They’ll complain at first (maybe always), but it is good for them to figure out other ways to entertain themselves. This is important. Never have the attitude that they are just wasting time. They are not. Great thinkers have always taken time to let their minds wander, and it often plays an important role in their inventions.
You should also let your child fail. Don’t rush to give them answers to the problems they are having. Let them find their own solutions. When they get things wrong help them view the problem differently. This is something I always do with my kids at home and with kids in therapy. For example, if we are trying to find two words in common out of a group of four and the child doesn’t pick the two I was thinking of I will still give them credit if they can come up with a creative reason as to how they got their answer. We often do this in our social skills classes because finding creative associations is also a skill necessary for conversations.
When it comes to school make sure your children know that school and grades are not who they are. Grades are only symbols of how they are doing in that environment. It is okay to expect them to do their best, but it’s not okay to let their grades define them. That also means that you shouldn’t get sucked into the mindset that all that matters are the state tests. Those tests may be important, but more and more universities are putting less weight on tests. They are looking at the bigger picture. One of the things they’re looking at is creative problem solving.
Remember, a creative mind is powerful. It may go on to create an app that changes how we do things. It may create an ad that moves people, or it may create the solution to one of the many problems mankind faces. Wherever a creative mind may go, we will never know if we crush it before it blooms!