How to raise a creative child

Many parents hope for their children grow to be artistic and talented. Even if you don't feel particularly creative yourself, it's easy to help your child grow up to be creative. 

Creativity might be defined as putting things together in novel ways, or seeing the world, or a given problem, with fresh eyes. While some people are born with talent in certain mediums, an artist’s eye, for instance, or perfect pitch, or a writer’s way with words. I believe that everyone has the capacity to be creative. All of us need access to creativity to solve the problems of daily life, and all of us need creative outlets to live fully.

We can’t give people talent, but we can train the eye and the ear and the mind, and we can help our children gain access to a creative way of seeing. Here are a few ways of doing so:

1. One study compared the families of children who were rated among the most creative 5 percent in their school system with those who were not unusually creative. The parents of ordinary children had an average of six rules, like specific schedules for homework and bedtime. Parents of highly creative children had an average of fewer than one rule. Creativity may be hard to nurture, but it’s easy to thwart. By limiting rules, parents encouraged their children to think for themselves. They tended to “place emphasis on moral values, rather than on specific rules,” the Harvard psychologist Teresa Amabile reports.

2. Model creativity. What’s your creative outlet? Where do you enjoy putting your creative energy? Cooking, singing, gardening, drawing, dancing? Children who watch their parents engage in creative activities are more likely to embrace these activities themselves. If it’s been a while since you’ve done something creative, think about what made you happy in your own childhood and spend half an hour doing that activity with your child. How did it feel? Could you try it again tomorrow? And the next day?

3. Give your child permission to be different: Inventive, original kids are often seen as different by other kids. A little wacky, perhaps, or just plain odd. Make it okay for your child to be out of step with the norms of her peer group, to be unique, to see the world through her own glasses. To develop her individuality, she needs your support against the pressures of popular culture. You’ll probably have to start by confronting your own fears about her not being “popular.” Don’t worry, at the high school reunion, it’s commonplace to find that the nerd has become a self-made millionaire, and that odd, silent girl is now a famous novelist. In fact, popularity is a risk factor for peer-pressure related problems. As long as your child has a good friend or two, that's healthier than being "popular."

4. Reduce screen time. It can be hard for some families to remove screen time altogether, but we can all make an effort to spend less time in front of the screen. Time spent watching videos or cartoons could be spent drawing, making a robot, or setting up an obstacle course. What could you do to reduce screen time?

5. Encourage Inquisitiveness: OK, it can be a little irritating when your child asks, "why?!" for the 10,000th time, but whenever you can, let him be free to question everything. Give him the chance to safely explore his surroundings and make new connections without limiting his freedom. Understanding his environment and knowing how things fit together will help him have a great foundation to let his creativity grow from.

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