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How We Influence Our Childrens' Creativity

Parents are a potent force in the creative development of children.

Key points

  • Parental comments often determine how creative children will be.
  • Parental comments often determine how creative children will be.
  • What we say to our kids can positively and negatively affect their creative development.

As parents, our advice, discipline, and counsel profoundly affect how our children develop social, personal, and academic skills.

Child psychologists agree that emotionally-charged comments, over time, can actually change the structure of children’s brains. Ultimately, those comments can also significantly impact our children’s creative spirit. Here are some of the things parents sometimes say to their children—common comments that have a decided influence on kids’ innate creativity.

Positive Comments

“You’re so smart.” When your child does well on a homework assignment, gets 100 percent on a spelling test, or submits a paper with glowing comments and a big bold A+ at the top, you want to verbally reward her by commenting on how smart she is.

Your intent is to boost her self-esteem and let her know that she has been positively recognized for her efforts. Actually, the opposite is usually true. When a child is told she is smart, she tends to internalize that label, and, as a result, she feels compelled to defend this label. As a result, she may shy away from challenging academic tasks simply because if she did poorly on those tasks, she wouldn’t be deserving of the “smart” label. As a result, her creativity suffers because she is less likely to take risks and more apt to play it safe.

“Good job.” Variations on this include “Well done,” “Excellent work,” “You are a terrific student,” and “That’s what I mean by good work.” In small doses, these are not particularly detrimental to a child’s creative spirit. But, they are frequently so overused that they send the wrong signal–a feeling of always being judged by others.

Instead of pleasing themselves, children who receive a lot of these judgmental comments often feel an obligation to please others. Doing something that gets the approval and praise of others becomes more important than doing something according to one’s own initiative.

Questioning Comments

“Why didn’t you get an A?” It’s perfectly OK to have high expectations for our children, but we shouldn’t expect perfection every time they are engaged in a learning opportunity. When parents utter this comment, what children hear is something like, “I guess I’m never going to be good enough in my parents' eyes. Every time I try something, I’ll probably disappoint them.” Their creativity suffers greatly because the message they hear is “Learning about something implies mastery of that subject.” On the other hand, creativity is all about exploring possibilities, not necessarily becoming an expert in those topics when first encountered.

“Why can’t you be more like your brother/sister?” Comparisons are always dangerous, particularly for young children. When a child is compared to a sibling, neighbor child, or classmate, it usually sets up the other child as an ideal model–a model that your child will never emulate or aspire to. This, as you might expect, instills a sense of inadequacy in your child and typically makes her feel as if she will never be good enough. Fostering creativity is more successful when children are invited to work towards their own unique potential, not the “standards” of other children.

Source: ddimitrova./Pixabay

Negative Comments

“That’s not good enough.” Imposing our own standards of performance on children can be detrimental to their initiative and drive. It tells kids that perfection can only be achieved when we satisfy the wishes of others rather than satisfying our own self-initiated objectives. Kids quickly get the idea that others’ expectations are more important than their own. As a result, creativity diminishes exponentially.

“You’re smarter than that.” A certain way to tell kids they aren’t good enough is to equate intelligence with creativity (If you’re not smart, then you can’t be creative.). Telling kids that they aren’t smart enough restricts their self-concept as well as their willingness to try new things. It imposes a synthetic label on children that frequently lasts throughout their lifetimes.

“You’re doing that wrong.” Learning is not about achieving perfection; it’s all about becoming engaged in an experience, including experiencing all its attendant mistakes, gaffes, boo-boos, stumbles, and misdirections. Creativity is not about being right the first time we try something. It’s also about persistence in the face of the inevitable “hiccups” that naturally and normally occur when we try something new. Creative people are not perfectionists; rather, they are persistent to a fault. They’ll keep trying in spite of the hurdles along the way.

“I really don’t think you can do it.” This effectively stops any creative effort in its tracks. Kids hear, “I don’t believe in you,” or “I don’t have any faith in your abilities.” This comment effectively saps their strength, promotes discouragement, shuts down their determination, cancels their motivation, quashes their tenacity, and nullifies their creative spirit. In essence, it tells kids that creative expression is not important and will, most likely, go unrecognized.

“Can’t you do anything right?” Learning is often a bumpy road. We fall down a few times when learning how to walk, tap (or hit) things when learning to drive, and make inappropriate comments in the early chapters of our personal relationships.

Eventually, we learn from those mistakes. However, when children hear words like “never,” “everything,” and “anything,” they get the message that not only did they mess up in one activity, but they also mess up all activities. As you might imagine, this sublimates their desire to investigate, explore, and examine the world around them.

Inadvertently and often unconsciously, we use statements such as those above as ways of helping our children develop into productive and successful adults. The reality, however, is that statements such as these are often detrimental in terms of initiative, developing personalities, self-concepts, and educational success.

In many ways, these statements place a label (or a series of labels) on children–labels that have a long-term impact on their creativity and innovative thinking.

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