How To Unlock Your Child's Creativity

Lessons in originality and resourcefulness

16/06/2016 09:20 | Updated 22 June 2016

We assume that creativity is an innate talent that only some children possess. But actually, all children have the ability to be creative, and it is a skill parents can help develop.

Creativity isn't limited to art, music and writing. Being creative is about thinking in an original way; challenging, questioning, and exploring different possibilities. So you can be creative in sport, in business, in technology, in maths. People who have practised creativity from a young age are more emotionally intelligent, better problem solvers, more flexible thinkers, better able to express themselves, more mentally resilient and happier. Result!

So, just how can parents help to bring out their child's creativity?

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Keep it simple

Today, children are fed the belief they need the latest action figure, elaborate play set-up or the newest gadget. But children are happiest and use their imagination most when playing with the simplest toys. For example, a stick can be a sword, a light sabre, a magic wand, the box that expensive toy came in can be a bus, a spaceship, a den and a sheet thrown over two chairs can be a tent, a cave, a house or just somewhere to hang out and daydream.

Give your child free time

Today children can spend their days ricocheting from school to after-school activity to homework to sitting in a zombie state in front of the TV, so - surreal as it sounds - it's important to make time for free time. It's those times when nothing is scheduled or organised, when children can give their minds free rein to create something.

Playing isn't pointless

Spending time without specific goals is when children can let their imaginations go wild - and when the best ideas occur. Creativity is often more about the process - writing a story, coming up with an invention, creating a new game with a complicated set of rules - than the finished product. In using their creativity, children develop self-confidence and discover their own talents and strengths.

Try not to care what your child achieves

One way to do this is to ask questions about the process of being creative. Did you have fun? What did you enjoy most about doing that? What are you going to do next?

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Expose your child to lots of different sensory experiences

This doesn't mean expensive, organised trips but could be something like taking children to the library or for a walk. Encourage them to think about travelling to somewhere totally different, like the Sahara or North Pole. What would it feel like being there? What animals would they encounter? What adventures might they have?

Don't micro-manage

Children have an amazing ability to be creative when they play on their own. But over-parenting can stifle that creativity. Keep a space just for them in your home - a corner of the living room with paper, different coloured pens and pencils, a section of the garage for building new inventions, a bedroom for dress-up. Fight the urge to tidy up too much or direct what they 'should' be making.

But do help your child pursue their passion

If your child is mad about dinosaurs or the zodiac or manga, find books on the subject and encourage them to talk about their interests. Up to the age of eight, your child's brain is sucking up information and experiences so the more they are presented with a smorgasbord of possibilities, the better chance something will ignite their interest long-term.  

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Take time to be creative yourself

It is fun and absorbing to take time out from the work-home routine and just sit and draw (even if your horses have bandy legs) or build a bonkers Lego tower. It can be a lovely time to bond with your child, as long as you don't turn bossy.

Encourage reading for pleasure

The ability to mentally move into a different world (non-fiction and fiction, the world of ancient Romans to the latest dystopian fantasy) is a wonderful source of creativity. Insist screens are switched off at least half an hour before bedtime. 

Give your home a creative atmosphere

Spend time talking at the dinner table about new plans and encourage your children to come up with ideas for what to do at the weekend. Don't squash ideas or decide which is best; it's about the process of generating new ideas.

Allow your children to hold different opinions from you - and encourage them to explain their reasoning and think up different solutions to problems.

Cover your walls with art (your children's art, that magazine photograph you loved, a postcard of your favourite painting, a picture of a famous scientist). Share your passions - they might not actually like that new band but they'll enjoy your enthusiasm. Embrace new technology and social media platforms, like Twitter and Instagram, so your children grow up knowing change and innovation are exciting, not intimidating.

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