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10 Ways You Can Boost Your Child’s Creative Development

Being creative helps your child thrive in every way.

Key points

  • Creativity can be seen as a habit of mind that questions convention, open to the surprising possibilities inherent in every moment.
  • Children who learn to be creative have a stronger sense of well-being, are less anxious, more resilient, and have stronger immune systems.
  • Parents can support their child in thinking and acting creatively by helping them experience a state of flow.
Junior Ferreira/Unsplash
Source: Junior Ferreira/Unsplash

There are as many definitions of creativity as there are people who try to define it. I’m using the term here to describe a habit of mind that questions convention and is open to the surprising possibilities inherent in every moment and every experience. I’ve written elsewhere about what that means in practice and how it develops in humans. Here I’m addressing two practical questions parents often ask.

How Can Creativity Help Your Child Thrive?

Children (and adults) who learn to think creatively are better at problem-solving and coping with challenges. They’re happier, have a stronger sense of well-being, are less anxious, more resilient, and have stronger immune systems.

Engaging in creative self-expression is a wellness practice, as beneficial to your child as spending time in nature, good nutrition, sleep, and physical exercise. The more challenging your child’s circumstances, and the more trauma they’ve experienced, the more important it is that you support them in finding avenues for creative self-expression. Although conventional wisdom suggests they should explore their problems and fears through their self-expression, newer research findings show the importance of a positive focus.

How Can You Boost Your Child’s Creative Development?

Creatively productive people in every field—science, art, sports, engineering, humanities, and all the rest—have described the experience of being in a state of “flow.” These people describe being totally absorbed in their activity, so energized by their focus that they lose the sense of time, hunger, cold, etc. They associate flow with happiness, calm, and fulfillment. Here are some suggestions for parents that emerge out of the research on flow.

  1. Listen and watch. Creativity begins when your child finds something that engages their interest, so pay attention to your child’s curiosities and enthusiasms.
  2. Take it slow. Depending on your child’s temperament and on the nature of your relationship, your enthusiasm can be encouraging or it can discourage your child’s interest. Monitor their responses to any observations you make, and wait until you think they’re ready to hear your suggestions.
  3. Share your observations. When your child is ready, talk with them about how they might take their interests further.
  4. Define realistic goals, both short-term and long-term. If your child is seriously interested in learning more about something, whether it’s dinosaurs, drawing, or computer engineering, help them think about what they’d like to do next in their learning, and where they might like to go with it further along the line.
  5. Let the goals, activities, and products belong to your child. You can provide valuable support with your interest and enthusiasm, but you’ll rob your child of their sense of autonomy and ownership if you get too involved, and sooner or later that will kill their passion for the endeavor.
  6. Help your child find tasks that match their ability level. To feel a sense of flow, the task must be hard enough that it feels challenging and easy enough that it feels doable. If your child attempts something too difficult, they’ll become frustrated. If they find something too easy, they’ll be bored.
  7. Ensure your child is getting immediate and constructive feedback. To achieve a state of flow, you need ongoing evidence that you are mastering your short-term goals, as well as supportive redirection when you’re going off track. Some tasks have built-in progress indicators—if you’re designing a computer game, you know when it doesn’t work—but most tasks don’t. Most of the time, your child will need supportive and critical feedback from a teacher, a coach, an interest group, or some other expert. They need to know when they’re getting better, and how they can continue to improve.
  8. Give your child the tools they need for creative self-expression. Every child yearns to be listened to, heard, and understood, but they don’t yet have the insight or perspective they need to make sense of their painful experiences, much less communicate that to others. By giving your child opportunities for creative self-expression—whether writing, painting, drama, role-playing, music, puppetry, dance, or something else—you support their mental health and well-being.
  9. Encourage your child’s school to support each child’s creative abilities. Sandra Kay’s Talent Record System describes why and how teachers can compile comprehensive, cumulative records of each child's interests, strengths, and achievements. By cataloging a child’s developing strengths, the Talent Record shows where to foster the child's curiosity, wonder, and joy in the learning process, such that their interests develop into strengths. Not only is this transformative for kids, but Kay also shows how teachers who move from focusing on content and curriculum to seeing themselves as talent scouts and instructional strategists—basing their teaching strategies on students’ strengths, proclivities, and interests—experience the joys and rewards of creative teaching.
  10. Pay attention to your child’s sleep. Sleep is essential to a child’s health, happiness, well-being, academic success, and creativity. If you have a child whose curiosity and creativity keep them up at night, here are some ideas for settling them down to an essential and peaceful night of sleep.

Creativity is so much more than drawing pretty pictures or playing the piano. When you support your child’s creative development, you nurture their best possibilities, and enable them to thrive in ways you can’t imagine or predict.

More from Dona Matthews Ph.D.
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