Getting Your Hands Dirty Is Good for Creativity
It’s natural for children to be creative, and parents only need to encourage the little ones to do what they love. Lately, I’ve learned that the most challenging part of keeping this creativity going is to let the children be themselves — even when the impulse is to set limits.
With a 10-year age gap between my kids and two different parenting methods, I got to see often how children lose and win back creativity at different ages, and how restrictions can influence this process.
"I was pretty close to killing the creativity of my older son with too many rules and guidelines."
Studies have shown that children are born creative. They’re natural explorers who can make a toy out of anything and enjoy something as simple as putting rocks together in a sort of casual puzzle.
I was pretty close to killing the creativity of my older son with too many rules and guidelines. Now, I like to think that I know better and try to make different mistakes with the little one.
Winning Back Creativity as a Teenager
Like many first-time parents, I thought kids needed rules for all aspects of their lives, and I tried to “force” creativity on my first son. I wanted him to read the “right” books, color between the lines, and follow the instructions when he played with Lego blocks. Now I know it was foolish, but back then, I had no idea that pushing the “right” things was slowly eliminating his natural ability to think outside the box.
Now he’s a teenager, and I’ve learned my lesson. Most of the time, my son gets to do what he wants when he wants it. He decided he liked origami, so we bought him special paper and several books for guidance. He also watches tutorials on YouTube and finds inspiration on Instagram and Pinterest.
I also encourage him to play the piano, which is known to stimulate both parts of the brain and, implicitly, boost creativity. Besides his studies, he dedicates plenty of time to improvise on the piano. The instrument was a blessing during the lockdown when the days were getting longer with every week spent inside. He was a different person after 30 minutes of improvisation.
Encouraging Creativity for Toddlers
I took a different approach with my second son. I decided to let him engage in the activities that he likes with minimum instructions. This time, limits are meant to keep the kid safe, no longer to show him the way.
So, besides hitting random keys on his brother’s piano, the little one loves getting his hands dirty. His favorite activities are playing with bread dough and colors. Usually, it ends with him in the bathtub and me mopping floors.
"It might seem crazy, but we now have a wall in the kitchen where the little one can paint whenever he doesn’t like paper."
Painting is the most challenging. The kid isn’t very good at it; sometimes, all I can say about his drawing is related to the hard work he’d put into mixing all possible colors. I must be pretty convincing, because he keeps doing it on walls, floors, and furniture. And I’m okay with it — as long as he remains in the designated areas. It might seem crazy, but we now have a wall in the kitchen where the little one can paint whenever he doesn’t like paper. It’s a creative corner where drawing random lines with his painted little fingers is allowed. And he loves it.
It’s still hard to tell how the little one will grow and whether he’ll continue to remain a natural explorer as he grows up. Maybe this new approach comes with consequences that we’ll discover later. For now, it seems to be working.