We think of creativity as a child’s natural resource. What we don’t realize is creativity has a broader meaning for kids than pretend play and spending time with glitter and glue. Creativity is a drive to seek solutions to a problem, and possessing that spark of curiosity to start the quest and see it through. If we as parents encourage it, a highly developed sense of creativity helps our kids develop traits that workplaces of the future are looking for.
But sometimes, in today’s intense academic climate and an after-school schedule packed with activities, creativity gets neglected and pushed aside. Here are four things you can do to cultivate it — but they may surprise you.
Follow their lead: Curiosity comes to kids naturally. Take a step back and notice what seems to be “speaking” to your child these days. Sometimes, moments of curiosity come up at inconvenient times, especially when you want to move on to the next thing. When you can, pause and patiently let them explore in a safe way. Let your toddler take his time examining the insect, or find a safe way for your grade-schooler to pull apart and peek inside about-to-be discarded devices and small appliances.
Give them unstructured free time: Next time the kids say they’re bored, don’t make it your problem. This is their chance to solve it with creativity. As the saying goes, play is a child’s work. Time to play gives kids a place to create and build on their own terms, teaches them valuable social skills and helps them make sense of the world around them.
Watch yourself: We get it, parenthood is busy and crazy and it’s hard to find time for yourself. You may have heard that finding time to pursue your passions is good for you. It’s also good for your kids to see you pursuing something you love. Schedule time for something you love, whether it’s playing the guitar, designing your garden or tinkering in your workshop.
Surprise! Ramp up the conflict: According to one recent perspective, we go overboard in protecting kids from conflict. That’s actually a huge creativity inhibitor, because then kids can’t deal with the obstacles.
“If we rarely see a spat, we learn to shy away from the threat of conflict. Witnessing arguments — and participating in them — helps us grow a thicker skin. We develop the will to fight uphill battles and the skill to win those battles, and the resilience to lose a battle today without losing our resolve tomorrow,” says best-selling author and Wharton professor Adam Grant.
So go ahead and debate with your partner over weekend plans — just keep the conversation focused on the issues, and don’t get personal. And the next time the kids bicker and quarrel with siblings, cousins and friends, try giving them extra time to work through it on their own. They may surprise you!