Kids’ Creativity, It’s a Love-hate Thing

3 May 2017

kids creativity blog

Since Skilly-do is all about your preschooler’s creativity, I feel it’s important to take a closer look at the research and theories that tell us more about creativity in general.  

The theorist that is considered the “Father of Creativity” is Paul Torrance.  In his many years studying creativity, he frequently emphasized that the kind of behavior parents and teachers identify as desirable in children does not always coincide with characteristics typically associated with the creative personality. For example, parents and even teachers who think they value uniqueness may find that, when a child has spilled her milk because she tried an original method of holding the cup with her teeth, they don’t like creative exploration as much as they thought they did!

This lack of conformity, a characteristic of creativity, can be inconvenient, but parents should realize that some creative children possess character traits that aren’t always your favorites. According to Torrance, some of these less attractive qualities include stubbornness, fault-finding, overconfidence or thinking they know more than everyone, and tendency to be discontented.  Think of the character Sheldon on the TV show, The Big Bang Theory, he’s likable but then he’s not likable at all.

At the same time, it is easy to see that stubbornness might be a valuable quality when carrying through a new idea. Or, that finding fault and being dissatisfied could result in questioning and analyzing a situation in order to come up with suggestions for improving it. That said, research has proven a relationship to these characteristics and creativity, but not guaranteed outcome. Just because your child has negative attitudes or is constantly contrary does not equate creativity, it indicates the possibility of creativity.   

At the same time, perhaps some of these qualities and "unpleasant reactions" are the result of parents, teachers, or peers not understanding a child’s creative leanings and giving them negative feedback--“Why can’t you just be happy like the other kids?” “Just do it the normal way, why are you so weird?”-- which then reinforces their negativity. On the other hand, Torrance also found that creative children possess many likable qualities, such as determination, curiosity, intuition, a willingness to take risks, a preference for complex ideas, and a sense of humor.

I've pointed out these possible problems of encouraging a child's creativity not to support unhealthy or damaging behaviors.  Instead, I want you to understand this love-hate relationship that parents can have with their child’s creativity.  I hope that you will be less likely to subtly reject or discourage creative responses out of failure to recognize the positive, creative side of these not always pleasant behaviors. Ideally, understanding the spectrum of your preschooler's creativity can help you accept and value it. Our acceptance is vitally important because it will encourage our young children to develop and value their own creativity further.

Let’s now look at some simple ways to encourage creativity in your child:

  • Help your child accept change. A child who becomes overly worried or upset in new situations is unlikely to express creative potential. Talk about changes as they occur.  Calmly explain when, what, and why there is a change. Make change a normal part of life, and not a big deal.
  • Encourage your preschooler to recognize that many problems have a number of possible answers. Encourage your child to search for more than one answer. Then let your child evaluate all the different answers to see which ones fit the situation best. “I see you found that the red, blue, and green legos work for a bridge, which one do you think works best?”
  • Teach them to accept their own feelings. Your child should not feel guilty for having feelings about things. Create an environment where judgment is deferred and all ideas are respected, where discussion and debate are a means of trying out ideas in a non-threatening atmosphere. “I know you’re angry, but we don’t throw things.Tell me in words instead.”
  • Reward your child for being creative. Let your child know that their creative ideas are valued. “I know how hard you worked on your drawing. Did you have fun doing it?” Try to talk about what you see in creative work instead of judging it.  For example, “I see so many bright colors” is commenting on what you see instead of “I like your picture” which is judging. To learn more tips about reacting to and supporting your preschooler’s art, check out our blog, Talking with Young Children About Their Creations.
  • Support your young one in feeling joy through their creative projects and working through problems. Your child should find that doing things and finding answers for themselves is fun. "How does it feel to make your own circle print? You figured out how to make a pattern!”   
  • Teach your child to appreciate themselves for being different. Too often there is a tendency to reward children for conforming. This discourages creativity. Children need to learn to like themselves because they are unique. “You make such colorful finger paintings. They are always so special and different.”
  • Encourage your preschooler to develop perseverance.  Help your child follow through. Provide chances for them to stick with an activity that doesn't go as planned. For example, “That glue didn’t work, how about we try a different kind and see what happens?”

We have a multitude of Skilly-do activities that you can use to put our suggestions in practice.  Check out our activity collection, Beyond the Fridge for ways to encourage creative uses of everyday items. And find out about your own creativity in our blog, Yes, You Are Creative. Which of these suggestions worked the best for you?