Am I a creative parent?

Last week I had a shoulder operation.

After years of discomfort and restricted movement following a swimming injury, it finally seized up and I could not move it at all. The x-rays showed a large calcification in my tendon which was causing inflammation and stopping movement. No wonder I couldn’t swim faster!

I am relieved that I finally know what was wrong and that I was able to have the obstruction removed and the bone shaved to make more room in there. However, I am also frustrated that I’ve spent so much time and money over the last few years seeing physiotherapists, biokineticists, and chiropractors whose hard work was not going to solve my problem.

The intention was good, but the solutions were not helping.

When it comes to my kids, I don’t want to have those kinds of regrets. I don’t want to look back when they’ve grown up and think: Oh dear, my intention was good, but all along I was applying the wrong kind of parenting!

Parenting is tough, especially if you are keeping one eye on a rapidly changing world and trying to prepare your kids for the blurry, moving target called The Future. Things seem to be getting increasingly complex and different. My husband has this t-shirt which says:

The future is not what it used to be.

Hmmm. Quite.

Trying to be a perfect parent is just going to get my proverbial knickers in a knot. So, I’m aiming to get back to simple principles that have stood the test of time. My goal is not to try to do everything at once, but to make small course corrections and little changes that are manageable and can incorporated into our family culture.

Am I helping or hindering my kids’ creativity?

There are lots of things that influence your children’s creativity and many of them are out of your control. However, here are some that are in your control:

  1. Who you are
  2. What you say
  3. What you do

Let’s look at these one by one.

1. Who you are:

Be a role model for creativity

“Before you try to assist fellow passengers, please put your own oxygen mask on yourself.”

A great way to build creative thinking kids is to develop your own creativity. Whether we like it or not we are role models to our offspring. They are always watching us, learning from us and, consciously or unconsciously, mimicking our behaviour. This is rather terrifying to me, especially when I think about all the behaviours that I am not proud of.

You don’t need to worry exactly how you are going to ‘role model’ this. Just make the decision to intentionally develop your creativity and know that this will rub off on your kids. As you grow your creative mindset and develop your creative skillset, the changes will become evident in your interests, your conversations, your demeanour, your curiosity.

Your kids will do what you do. Immerse yourself in some creative pursuits. Wake up your inner child. Stop taking yourself so seriously! Unplug. Put on some music that lights you up inside. Set aside the schedule and the to-do list for a short while and take the lead from your kids. Make a mess. Be silly. Get involved with your hands. Use your imagination. Remember what fascinated you when you were young and explore that.

For more on how to get more creative yourself why not take our free quiz to find out what could be killing your creativity and enrol in our 5 Day Creative Wake-Up online course which will give you a step-by-step, practical process for reviving your creativity and taking it to the next level. (Best done over five days, it’s around 2.5 hours of video-based learning — not five full days!)

2. What you say:

Try to avoid these creativity squashers

“The words you speak become the house you live in.”

Written in fourteenth century Iran by esteemed poet Hafiz, this saying still applies today. Take a moment to think about the words that you speak to your children? What kinds of words do you use? What phrases do you say every day? What house are you building with your words?

In a recent study* of the effects of parenting on creativity in Chinese employees, it was found that a parent’s strong interest in and advice with studies had a positive effect on creativity. However, overparenting in the way of overinvolvement in daily affairs, excessive reminding of what to do when and overprotection from trials or failure had an adverse effect on creativity.

My daughter, Saskia, taking a creative risk😆

Though the intention is to help our kids, if we are not careful, the outcome could be that we train the creativity out of them.

Here are some creatively deadly phrases to avoid.

  • “No, do it this way.” Implying that there is a ‘right’ way to do something will keep your child from taking creative risks.
  • “That’s weird.” Creative expressions by definition often don’t conform to the norms and customs that we are used to. Rather cheer your child on for doing something you’ve never seen before.
  • “Look how s/he did it!” or “Can you do x like so-and-so?” Comparisons tend to steer children away from confidence in their own way of doing things and makes them try to imitate their peers. Let them be inspired by others but watch where you might be comparing. (I’m sorry to say I think I inadvertently do this with my two daughters.)
  • “And the winner is…!” When adults give awards and excessive praise for the best pictures, the best dance, the best poem, etc. children begin working for the award rather than using their creativity. When they don’t get the award or praise, the subliminal message is that “you are not creative enough.”
  • “Just make this a bit more…” or “Just point your toes a little more…” There is a place for creative critique. However, we can undermine our children’s creative efforts, especially when they are starting out, if we become too nit picky about what they have produced or performed. We should not nudge them to get it to our standards when they are still building creative confidence.
  • “You’re making a mess! Stop that!” Now, there is a time for this phrase. (Hubbie, I’m talking to you.) However, when used every time a child tries a creative project, it is going to crush creativity. Help your child find safe places to be free and make a mess or a noise without worrying about the wrath of you coming down on their heads.

Managers take note: You can apply most of this thinking to how you speak to your team members!

3. What you do: Create an environment where their creativity can thrive

1. It’s okay to copy when you start out.

Tony Buzan used tell a story of kindergarten school teacher in an art class. The teacher asks the children to draw an aeroplane. They get going on their blank pages, but one child is uncertain. He’s not drawn an aeroplane before. He leans over to see what the boy next to him is drawing. The teacher notices and barks: “No copying!” Yet, how else do we learn than by copying? Imagine a baby says its first word: “Dada!” and we said: “No copying! Make up your own words!” Let your child copy to start out, but then encourage them to try a little iteration of their own. From there they can try another, and soon they will have the confidence to go off on their own creative tangent.

Gabriella, as a pre-schooler, undaunted by a blank canvas

2. Imagine with your hands

Imagination is central to creativity, but you don’t only imagine with your mind. Your hands help too. When you get stuck in and start building or drawing or writing, your mind gets feedback that sparks more ideas and new thinking. This is why rough prototyping is such an important part of design thinking. If your child is stuck for ideas, give them some craft materials or LEGO bricks to tinker with and new ideas will emerge.

3. Give them lots of different materials to make stuff with

Children are influenced by the toys and materials they have on hand. Take stock of what they have access to. Is it mostly pre-packaged toys and games, or do you have a wide variety of materials they can get creative with? Collect and make available fabric and threads, wood and nails, glue and tape, newspaper and birdseed, sand and sacking, programming tools and apps, paints and sponges, and so on. The more different types of materials they can work with, the more they can stretch their imaginations.

My daughters exploring whether hair makes a good paintbrush😂

4. Do longer projects as well as quick projects

Sometimes ideas need to ruminate. Not all creative projects should be completed in one sitting. When my girls were toddlers, I was dismayed at how quickly they finished creative projects. It would take me five times as long to set up the project as it took for them to finish it! Now that they are older (9 and 14), there should be some projects that they work on over time. This encourages deeper thought and experimentation, even time to dream over night about a project and bring new ideas to it.

5. Help them to collaborate with other kids

Collaboration is a key part of creativity. The most innovative teams know this. When it comes to creativity, there is an exponential multiplier effect from new perspectives and ideas, when collaboration is done in a positive way. When egos, mistrust or poor communication take over collaboration can fail. Help your child to learn to collaborate by helping them to find other kids to work with. Whether it is the neighbours, cousins or children overseas that they meet online (with your guidance), they will benefit from practice in working collaboratively. Sometimes you might lead them to other children with similar interests, but also look for opportunities to meet and work with children with different interests or from different cultures or backgrounds. Diversity is the secret sauce of creativity.

6. It’s important for them to reflect

It is helpful for children to step back and think about the creative work that they are doing. Encourage them to apply their minds to their creative process. Ask them questions like: “What has been most surprising to you?” “What inspired you to try this?” If the project hasn’t worked out, ask them: “What were you hoping would happen?” As they describe their process to you, they may realise where they went wrong and come up with another solution.

Gaby is now in Grade 3 and is taking her creativity to new heights with mind maps

7. Talk about your failures

Take time to share your thinking with them. Talk about projects you are working on, ideas you have and how you are coming up with solutions. When things don’t work out for you, share your failures. Explain what went wrong and how it makes you feel. Talk about what you plan to do differently. Help your children become comfortable with trying hard things, being brave and moving on when things don’t work out. Frame new endeavours as experiments. Perseverance, self-belief and courage are vital for creative confidence.

Loris Malaguzzi was an Italian educator believed that children are powerful and capable, able to individuals who construct their own learning. He founded the Reggio approach which highlighted the creative arts; the involvement of parents and community; and respect for young children’s learning. His philosophy is summed up in his poem “The Hundred


The child has

a hundred languages

(and a hundred hundred hundred more)

but they steal ninety-nine.

The school and the culture

separate the head from the body.

They tell the child:

to think without hands

to do without head

to listen and not to speak

to understand without joy

to love and to marvel

only at Easter and at Christmas.

The road to creative confidence can be a long one. Don’t expect it to materialise overnight and certainly don’t overburden yourself with expectations. This is where you cast perfectionism aside, set down your worry pot and just try one small thing at a time.

“Ever since happiness heard your name,

it has been running through the streets trying to find you.”


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*Is overparenting harmful to creativity? Wenzhi Zheng, Yenchun Jim Wu, Zhanjie Ma and Yingping Mai, Huaqiao University, Fujian, China and National Taiwan Normal University, Taipei City, Taiwan. (2019)

Ideas for creating a creative environment from Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity through Projects, Passion, Peers, and Play. Mitchel Resnick, MIT Media Lab, Published by MIT Press (2017)



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