Imagination is not a talent of some men, but is the health of every man. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Within each of us, whether child or adult, lies a rich reservoir of creative energy. Using your imagination actively has many potential benefits—including enjoyment, communication, catharsis, transformation, empowerment, reduced anxiety and pain, relaxation, and healing. Being creative does not entail becoming a professional “Artist,” only tapping the well of imagination to explore divergent thinking and express oneself uniquely. In young children, imaginative play and creativity usually come easily. But as they grow, children may become increasingly self critical and constrict their creativity. For adults, even those who were once very creative as kids, embracing and using their imaginations may require a reset of attitude and perspective.
Psychologists have long pointed to the relation between creative expression and cognitive development, problem solving, and communication. Studies in a variety of creative fields also connect creative expression and healing. Increasingly, hospitals and clinics are providing dedicated expressive play and art areas for their child patients. Arts in medicine programs are now well established throughout the country, for medical students as well as patients. For example, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston runs the Artful Healing Program which brings art workshops to young patients and artworks from the Museum to Boston Children’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Many child-focused cancer (and other illness specific) nonprofits offer art programs and materials for both patients and their siblings.
Parents and teachers play very significant roles in the nurturing of creativity in children, from early childhood onward. Especially in this day and age of excessive “screen” time and the near constant impingement of disturbing events, parents need to model and reinforce creative expression for their children. Slowing down to sense, feel, and express oneself can calm and enrich. The mere act of expressing oneself through a creative medium—be it dance, play, painting, drawing, singing, writing, or making music—can validate the individual and increase self esteem.
Strategies to Promote Creativity in Your Children
Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. – Lewis Carroll
Imagination is like a muscle. I found out that the more I wrote, the bigger it got. – Philip José Farmer
Parents can foster and value creativity on a daily basis in their children without excessive cost—through encouragement, modeling, and reinforcement of imaginative thinking, play, and art. But remember that despite your good intentions, stifling imaginative play is often easier than cultivating it. An adult’s critical word, expectation of perfection, or intolerance for different ideas can make children hesitate to explore their imaginations.
Here is a cornucopia of strategies to help you gently cultivate your children’s creativity. These will, in turn, trigger other ideas than can uniquely fit and benefit your family.
- Foster curiosity, hypothesis making, and exploring new activities, foods, and ideas.
- Encourage and praise creative expression in many modalities, such as dance, painting, play, and music.
- Emphasize enjoyment and exploration.
- Don’t interpret creative expression as right or wrong; don’t insist a child stay within the “lines.”
- Find and enjoy a creative outlet yourself; when possible, let your child try your modality in parallel.
- Yet don’t expect your child to follow in your footsteps; give each space to find their own passion.
- Don’t tell your children how to be creative.
- Always have art materials available and a dedicated space to be messy.
- Have simple instruments accessible and dedicate a “music” time as necessary, so that noise does not become a disruption or annoyance.
- Praise your child for trying out new things and ideas and discourage self criticism.
- Try communicating without words by using movement, gesture, sound, expressions, and so forth.
- Provide safe, expressive outlets for your children when they are upset, such as drawing, running, making noise, stamping feet, and so forth.
- Read with your children regularly; ask them to guess what will happen next and explore alternative endings.
- Encourage your children to make up and share stories; invite them to continue a story you initiate.
- Monitor your child’s screen time and use videos as take off points for conversations; for example, a nature video can lead to a discussion and exploration of nature (plants and creatures) in the child’s own back yard.
- Make a distinction between creative expression and misbehavior: the first does not justify the second.
- Encourage divergent thought, such as alternative endings to a story or a movie.
- Play collaborative and problem-solving games.
- Let children display their artwork, play their music, tell their stories, and perform their plays.
- Allow children to make mistakes and help them see errors as learning opportunities.
- Share your own mistakes, laugh about them, and show how you learnt from them.
- Invite your children to decorate food dishes, with fruit, vegetables, or nuts.
- Make gifts and notecards for others together rather than always buying things.
- Go to interactive children’s art and science museums, art exhibits, and plays.
- Share children’s books about artists, musicians, actors, and so forth.
- Participate in hands-on arts opportunities for children.
- Encourage your children to consider the world from the perspective of others as well as animals and plants.
Kids need space to be themselves. Facilitating creativity is not something you can force or should push. It’s about providing an atmosphere and conveying an attitude that values curiosity, imaginative thinking, cognitive flexibility, and creative expression. Children who grow up in such an environment will be more resilient, imaginative problem- solvers as adults. And everyone will have lots of fun in the process!
I like nonsense; it wakes up the brain cells. – Dr. Seuss
You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have. – Maya Angelou
Get Dr. Greene's Wellness Recommendations
Sign up now for a delightful weekly email with insights for the whole family.