Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

A Child’s Sense of Creative Freedom Is Joyous Yet Fragile

Adults can either help foster it or potentially shut it down.

Key points

  • Children have an unguarded joyousness in their expressions of creativity that's worth protecting.
  • How adults respond to a child's creativity can either help encourage their development or possibly shut it down.
  • Adults don't always realize when they are stifling a child's ability to freely express themselves.

As adults, we don’t always recognize the impact our words and actions have on children. They come into this world with an unguarded exuberance that is a joy to see. They are emotionally free and feel they can express themselves in any way they choose. That’s why children dance so freely, sing at the top of their lungs, and don’t worry about how they look or sound.

While this positive energy is wonderful to see and warrants encouragement, adults have to be really careful not to let their judgments and off-handed remarks shut down this freedom.

How off-handed remarks can affect children

For example: When I was 10 years old, I loved to dance. I would dance with abandon and never worried about how I looked doing so. Then one day, an adult told me that my dancing looked silly and I wasn’t very good at it. That really crushed me. From my 10-year-old point of view, I was clear that adults knew what they were talking about and I felt ashamed that I had embarrassed myself. That day was the last day I was comfortable dancing. From that day on, I made a conscious decision that dancing was something I was not very good at and I stopped doing it. That meant I didn’t participate in dances at school, or anywhere else, for many years.

The sad truth is that it just takes one or two negative comments for many children to make a decision that stifles their freedom of expression. An off-handed remark can sear into their brain and cause them to start feeling self-conscious and guarded. Think about your own childhood and if there were any situations where you were shut down by an adult and then stopped feeling free to do whatever it was you were doing.

One of the saddest parts about this is that adults usually don’t realize or intend to shut down a child’s freedom of expression. They may make an off-handed remark, or maybe they were in a bad mood after a tough day and made an insensitive comment. Yet even without realizing it, the damage can be done.

Understanding children's sensitivity

It is important to realize that children absorb our words and our moods. They can be extremely sensitive even when they don’t act that way. They receive our words and attitudes and interpret them in their own ways. It’s very difficult on children when they feel they are being criticized or ridiculed for being themselves. It often causes them to start second-guessing their behaviors and making decisions to shut down parts of themselves that they may stick with for most of their lives.

The next time you see a child expressing creativity and freedom of expression, it’s important to recognize they are showing you an unguarded side of themselves. They are being joyous and free. At that moment, they are extremely vulnerable because they are not thinking of being judged, they are just being themselves. It is up to us as adults to make sure we don’t judge them for this freedom of expression. It is a wondrous thing that can too easily become shut down. It is something to encourage and appreciate. Whether a child can sing well, or dance well is not the point. The point is to let them know they are accepted and appreciated so they can continue to develop and enjoy this sense of freedom for as long as they can.