Ten Suggestions for Raising Creative Kids
By Jeffrey Paul Baumgartner | Aug 02, 2012
If creativity is important to you, it is surely doubly important to you that your children have creative minds. As their parent (or teacher or caregiver) you can do a lot to ensure your children maintain and grow their creative minds.
Research is demonstrating that children rapidly lose their creative thinking skills as they grow older. Moreover, by the time children reach adolescence, the way they think is largely fixed. So the more you encourage your children to use more of their minds in order to think more creatively, the more likely you are to raise exceptionally creative children.
Here are suggestions for encouraging and maintaining creativity in your children.
1. Answer Questions with Questions.
Children ask lots of questions. As parents, we tend to give them direct answers. “What does ‘invertebrate’ mean?” a child might ask while watching a television documentary. A typical parent response is: “It means an animal that does not have a backbone.” There is nothing wrong with such an answer. It is correct. It provides your child with the information she seeks. But, why not ask: “What do you think ‘invertebrate’ means?” Your child has just watched a documentary about animals and has a lot of context in her mind. Very likely she can put that context together and hazard a good guess. Indeed, she has possibly done this already and is simply seeking confirmation. If her answer is correct, reward her and ask her how why she felt it was the correct answer. If her answer is wrong, reward her and ask her why she thought this was the answer. Then, reward her thinking and explain the correct answer. If you are not sure about the correct answer, see the next suggestion. Encouraging your child to gather information and make deductions based on that information is a form of creative problem solving. Make it a habit!
2. Find Answers Together
As your children grow older, they will increasingly often ask questions that you cannot answer. As a parent, you may occasionally feel the need to cover up your ignorance. After all, your children look to you as the ultimate source of knowledge. At other times one of your children will ask a question in which you believe you know the correct answer, but are not sure.
Rather than hazard a guess at the answer, a better response is, “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure. I believe the answer is....” and then add, “Let’s find out the correct answer.” Then do some research with your child in order to find that answer. That research may be a simple matter of searching on the web. But do not neglect other possibilities. Perhaps you have a book on the subject. Fetch it and look it up. Your child might be interested in reading the book. Go to the library. Before the age of the web and Google, libraries were the best information resource available. They are still wonderful places of reference with the added benefit that you often find interesting information that you were not seeking.
You might also try experiments and illustration. When my science loving son asked why, if you drive a car around a curve too fast and lose control, you should turn into the skid, I drew a sketch showing how the different forces were at work in a car accelerating around a curve. This made it very clear.
3. Reward Failure
We all talk about the importance of accepting and rewarding failure in business. Yet all too many parents punish failure directly or indirectly. Your son enters a swimming competition and comes in last. How do you respond? “Maybe swimming isn’t for you?” “I told you that you had to practice more!” “Ralph took second place and he’s two years younger than you!”. Even a caring parent is likely to say something dismissive: “It doesn’t matter. I love you the way you are.”
Sadly, all of these responses are likely to discourage your son from ever entering a swimming competition again. Worse, they might discourage him from trying other things in which he is unsure of his capability.
A far better response is, “I am so proud of you for entering the swimming competition and trying so hard.” And if your son feels badly, do not immediately tell him it doesn’t matter. Instead ask him, "Why do you think you came in last?” This gives him and you a chance to analyse the problem so he can do better next time. Maybe he became too nervous and wasn’t breathing correctly. That’s great! Now you can talk about how he can deal with nervousness and breathing next time.
4. Teach Them to Cook
Cooking and especially baking, is an incredible creative process. Think about a cake. You start with flour, eggs, sugar and a handful of other ingredients. Mix them and bake them and you have a wonderful cake. An ex-girlfriend of mine, who trained as a chemist (but is now a leading virologist), went so far as to explain to my sons some of the chemical processes that occur when cooking.
Once your kids learn the basics of baking a cook, making cookies or frying an omelet, let them experiment. And do not correct them beforehand unless they are endangering themselves, others or your kitchen. If they want to put twice as much chocolate in the cake, let them. If they want to see what happens if they use a brown sugar instead of white sugar, let them. Chances are, they will not ruin the cake. But by experimenting and seeing what happens, they learn a valuable creative process. Moreover, when things go wrong, they can often be fixed. The cake is too dry? Make a moist frosting.
This is creative problem solving at its best!
5. Feed Your Children a Healthy, Balanced Diet
A healthy mind and body feel better, deliver more energy and think better. Moreover, if you get your children in the habit of eating healthy food from an early age, it will form a life-long habit. They will be far less likely to have weight problems or health problems as they grow older. They will look better, have more energy and smell better. And most importantly, in the context of creativity, they will think better.
The amazing thing is, eating a healthy diet is remarkably easy. It is a simple matter of getting a suitable balance of the key food groups while minimising the amount of sugary and fatty foods you eat. Britain’s National Health Service has a nifty diagram of a balanced diet here.
In addition to eating a balanced diet, allow kids to stop eating when they are full and restrict the amount of sweets and non-healthy snacks they can eat (though let them eat healthy snacks, such as fruit, when they are hungry between meals). Forcing children to eat all the food on their plates and rewarding them with a huge dessert if they do so only encourages overeating.
6. Fix Things Yourself
According to Clay Christensen, who has done some research on the topic, a common factor he found in creative children in America is that they inevitably had parents who fixed things themselves. When faced with a leaking pipe, they did not immediately call the plumber. Rather, they attempted to fix the pipe themselves. Christensen believes that this action empowers children to feel that they can solve problems themselves which, in turn, creates a creative mind-set.
He also points out, rightly, that when you try to fix something yourself, especially as a non-expert, the repair often does not work the first time. So, you have to try again. He likened this to business innovation where creative ideas also often fail the first time around. Rather than giving up, you need to learn from your mistakes and try again.
Clearly then, as a parent, you need to adopt this habit too. Fortunately, in this day and age, you can find all kinds of information on the web about how to repair broken household items. But do be careful. Electricity, for instance, can be very dangerous. Be sure you know what you are doing and follow safety precautions when attempting any work that involves electricity! Frying yourself on the household mains will do neither you nor your children any good!
7. Don’t Correct. Ask Why
When your children make a mistake, such as using a word incorrectly or use bad manners at the table. Do not immediately correct them. Rather talk about what they have done and ask “why did you do that?” or “Why do you think that?”
For instance, if your daughter picks up a soup bowl and starts noisily slurping her soup (and assuming you are not from a culture where this is considered polite behaviour), do not scold her and tell her how to eat soup properly. Rather ask her if she thinks that is an appropriate way to eat soup. If she says “yes”, ask her why. If she says “no”, ask her why she is eating her soup like that.
Very likely she will say that she is in a hurry or very hungry or her friends eat their soup that way at school. Now you have opened yourself up to have a conversation about table manners, enjoying food, respecting others and more.
Moreover, in the case where your daughter tells you this is what her friends are doing at school, you have empowered her to have a similar conversation with her friends.
But most importantly, you have taught your daughter to question things. And this is important for the creative mind.
8. Reward Effort More than Results
When your daughter comes home from school with an excellent score on her biology test, you will be tempted to reward that score. A far better approach is not to say, “You got 100% on your biology test! That’s wonderful! You are so clever!!” Rather, say “Wow. You worked so hard studying last night and look at the results! That’s magnificent. I am really proud of the effort you made. And see, it paid off!”
The next day when she comes home with a poor mark on her French test, say. “I am not so concerned about that score. I know that yesterday you worked long and hard studying for that test. That is far more important to me than your score on the test. But tell me, why do you think you did poorly? How do you think you can do better next time?”
Creativity and knowledge come from learning, making an effort to understand things and trying various solutions to solve problems. By motivating children to make the effort to learn, to study and to solve problems, you give them valuable skills for life and encourage them to use their minds.
The irony is that when you reward for results, exceptionally bright children suffer. When they are young, they are rewarded for doing very little. But as they grow older and school becomes more challenging, they are not motivated to make the effort to study and learn the material.
9. Open-Use Toys
Many popular toys in recent years seem to offer a very controlled experience to the child. For instance, a Lego ® kit to make a ship basically allows kids to make a ship with it. Most electronic games give kids a precise task to perform. Such toys are not bad, but they are limited.
So be sure also to buy for your children open-use toys, such as Lego kits with lots of pieces so kids can use their imaginations more. Toys like building blocks, dolls and trucks require imagination to build towers, create realities for the dolls and imagine highways and building sites for trucks. This regular exercise for the imagination keeps it strong!
Better still, you need not limit toys to things you boy in the toyshop. A large cardboard box can provide kids with hours of fun. Long sticks are great – when my boys were younger, I’d encourage them to join me for walks in the woods by reminding them there would be lots of sticks. Paper, pens, crayons and other items around the house can readily become toys to inspire the imagination.
In fairness, I should point out that recent research seems to indicate that electronic games are good for creativity. Most such games involve performing a series of feats in exchange for rewards. Working out how to perform those feats requires trial and error and a bit of creativity. So, if your kids are spending a lot of time on electronic games, don’t worry that they are hampering their creativity. But do worry that they are not getting enough fresh air and exercise!
10. Solving Relationship Problems
Every marriage goes though rough patches. Most couples argue from time to time and have disagreements. When you and your spouse have an argument near the children, your natural reaction is either to move away from the children or to send the children away. You rightfully worry that your arguments will upset the children.
However, when you do this, you present children with a conflict or a problem and then hide from your children your solving of the problem. Creativity, of course, is about solving problems.
If you start an argument in front of your children it is indeed a good idea to move away from them. But once you have resolved the problem, it is important to talk to the children. “I think you heard mummy and I having an argument about household chores. We went upstairs to talk about it and our feelings. We have tried to understand each other’s feelings and will try to share the household chores more fairly in the future. Most important, we have kissed each other and promised to try and understand the family’s needs better. Because although we argue with each other, we are usually angry about what the other person has said or done and not about the other person.”
You do not need to go into detail of course. The important thing you need to communicate to your children is that when you and your spouse have problems, you collaborate to solve those problems.
There will be more suggestions for raising creative children soon. Meanwhile, if you have any thoughts or tips, tell me about them!
This article is a compilation of two blog posts: Five Suggestions for Raising Creative Kids and Five More Suggestions for Raising Creative Kids . They originally appeared at Jeffrey’s website AntiConventional Thinking
Article Featured Image @Anna Wojnarowska