Encouraging Creativity in Children

First of all, is creativity in children even that important?

Consider this:

The way math and foreign languages are taught is constantly changing. New advances in science and technology means that what you learned 30 years ago may not be true anymore, and the incredible pace new information is learned makes textbooks nearly obsolete. Many occupations that exist today did not exist when you were a child, and we don’t know what the careers of the future will look like. 

How do we prepare our children for the world of their future? 

Well, read on to find out!

“Creativity appear[s] to be the ingredient in addition to intelligence that will make up the personality capable of changing the world.” – George Roeper

A few years ago I wrote a whole University essay on encouraging creativity in children, but I’ll save you the headache of reading it by sharing the reader’s digest version here. All this to say, I found a ton of research about why encouraging creativity in children is important, and how to do it! 

And it all comes down to implementing these 4 simple but crucial approaches:

Authoritative Parenting Style

If this isn’t ringing a bell, here’s a quick run-down on parenting styles. The three best known parenting styles are permissive, authoritative, and authoritarian. Authoritarian and permissive parenting has largely negative outcomes in children, so, bing! We have our winner: 

Authoritative Parenting!

And how do you become an authoritative parent?

Chances are you already fall under this category, but here are some guidelines most authoritative parents follow:

-Set clear standards and enforce rules

-Use fair and consistent discipline 

-Allow children to express opinions

-Encourage open discussion and practice active listening

-Express warmth and nurturing

-Foster responsibility, autonomy, and freedom

So if I could sum it up in two words, authoritative parents are firm and kind. 

One of my favourite findings when I researched this topic is that creative children often have parents who do not put a lot of emphasis on social acceptance, but instead on creating friendships with like-minded individuals. So if your little one is a little… out there? That’s great! Encourage their unique talents and interests, and help them find friends who they can relate to.

Encourage Problem Solving

The ability to problem solve and being creative go hand in hand, as new, original solutions are often needed in circumstances requiring problem solving. This process of creating original ideas is often linked to divergent thinking. Divergent thinking is described as the ability to generate a variety of ideas. In contrast, convergent thinking leads to conventionally “correct” answers instead of original solutions.

Unfortunately, divergent thinking in children can be unintentionally hindered by adults. Be careful not to ‘fish’ for one correct answer. Children shouldn’t be so afraid of being wrong that they stop coming up with their own ideas.

The research shows two easy ways to encourage divergent thinking and problem solving:

  1. Use open-ended questions (questions that allow for a variety of answers, instead of just one).
  2. Allow children opportunities to solve real life problems. 

For example, we asked our (then) 5-year-old son to help us solve the problem of how to decrease the mud tracked into our house from our gravel parking pad. While we had already settled on the need for additional gravel, our son came to the conclusion that nailing down tarps would work – and, technically, he was right. Although his solution was not the ‘best’ answer we had already come to, his divergent thinking led him to an alternate, still feasible, idea to solve our real-life problem (we still went with the gravel, however). 

Other examples include asking your child to improve a toy or book they already have, and encouraging them to use building materials, such as blocks or Lego, (or, hey, couch cushions and blankets anyone?) to create new structures or environments. 

But what it really comes down to is focusing on the process instead of the product, or history associated with a problem.  So, although you may have a better solution or idea, intervene as little as possible with regards to your child’s problem-solving attempts. It is not the end result, or the “correctness” of a solution that is important for encouraging creativity with problem solving – it is the process through which the child got there. 

Supportive Environment

An environment supportive of creativity is essential for children – but I’m talking about more than just the physical setting your child is in. Children require healthy emotional development as a foundation to creativity. 

The first step for parents to be able to create an environment supportive of creativity is to reflect on your own perceptions and biases. Do you accept your child as they are, with unconditional worth? Do you understand and meet their emotional and psychological needs? Are you open-minded and accepting of unusual and independent thought?  

Although a difficult balance to maintain, it is essential to realize that intelligence and creativity can and should go hand in hand. Both are important. We may need to change how we think about learning and development within our children in order to create an environment supportive of creativity. 

The creative process may appear to adults as a child being slow or ambiguous, which can be frustrating for parents. Let children take the time they need to come up with their own answers or solutions. 

Once a parent has created a safe place for creativity within themselves, children too can adopt this way of thinking. It is well accepted that young children, like sponges, absorb what they see and hear. The example of a parent’s ability and willingness to accept new ideas and challenge existing ways of thinking will go a long way in preparing a child to do the same. In fact, young children are naturally prone to this, and through practice and exposure, can develop an attitude and internal environment supportive of creativity. 

Child Directed Play

Creativity may not be able to be taught or learned, but maybe it doesn’t have to be.  The research overwhelmingly supports free play as a precursor to creativity. 

Parents can encourage creativity in their children by giving them ample opportunity for pretend play. Allowing autonomy in pretend play, and allowing plenty of time for it, is essential for allowing children to develop their creative potential. The more time a child has for play, the ‘better’ they get at it – that is, the more time they have for pretend play, the more their creativity increases.

Play seems like a simple enough concept, but what is the ‘best’ type of play for creativity? Pretend play, or free play, which allows your child to direct their play, with minimal direction from parents. Examples may be using objects to represent other objects (a stick is a sword), make up stories, use fantasy, role-play  (war, eating, monsters, illness, fun games). Creative, imaginative play will look different for each child, depending on their circumstances, experiences, and personality. 

In contrast, controlled play may include activities such as puzzles or colouring.  Although these activities are still beneficial to children’s development, when compared to controlled play, children who participate in free or pretend play have better imaginations and story organization. 

When it comes to play, the takeaway is this: allow your children to initiate and direct their own activities when possible. In order to promote creativity, children need to be engaged, and find their activities and pursuits enjoyable. Allow ample time for play with minimal direction from adults, provide some unstructured toys, and allow yourself and your child to enjoy themselves.

You’ve Got This!

For most parents, encouraging creativity in children is a lot of “letting go”. Trust your kids! They are the experts at creativity, and most of the time just need us to get out of the way (or jump in and practice being creative ourselves!) Let them play. Let them be bored. Let them come up with their own solutions. And let them know, “You’ve got this!”

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