Thanks to the creative and thoughtful Jillian who sent this to me the other day. Read the full article by clicking here.
Research is demonstrating that children rapidly lose their creative thinking skills as they grow older. Moreover, by the time children reach adolescence, the way they think is largely fixed. So the more you encourage your children to use more of their minds in order to think more creatively, the more likely you are to raise exceptionally creative children.
Here are suggestions for encouraging and maintaining creativity in your children.
1. Answer Questions with Questions.
Children ask lots of questions. As parents, we tend to give them direct answers. “What does ‘invertebrate’ mean?” a child might ask while watching a television documentary. A typical parent response is: “It means an animal that does not have a backbone.” There is nothing wrong with such an answer. It is correct. It provides your child with the information she seeks. But, why not ask: “What do you think ‘invertebrate’ means?” Your child has just watched a documentary about animals and has a lot of context in her mind. Very likely she can put that context together and hazard a good guess. Indeed, she has possibly done this already and is simply seeking confirmation. If her answer is correct, reward her and ask her how why she felt it was the correct answer. If her answer is wrong, reward her and ask her why she thought this was the answer. Then, reward her thinking and explain the correct answer. If you are not sure about the correct answer, see the next suggestion. Encouraging your child to gather information and make deductions based on that information is a form of creative problem solving. Make it a habit!
2. Find Answers Together
As your children grow older, they will increasingly often ask questions that you cannot answer. As a parent, you may occasionally feel the need to cover up your ignorance. After all, your children look to you as the ultimate source of knowledge. At other times one of your children will ask a question in which you believe you know the correct answer, but are not sure.
Rather than hazard a guess at the answer, a better response is, “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure. I believe the answer is….” and then add, “Let’s find out the correct answer.” Then do some research with your child in order to find that answer. That research may be a simple matter of searching on the web. But do not neglect other possibilities. Perhaps you have a book on the subject. Fetch it and look it up. Your child might be interested in reading the book. Go to the library. Before the age of the web and Google, libraries were the best information resource available. They are still wonderful places of reference with the added benefit that you often find interesting information that you were not seeking.
You might also try experiments and illustration. When my science loving son asked why, if you drive a car around a curve too fast and lose control, you should turn into the skid, I drew a sketch showing how the different forces were at work in a car accelerating around a curve. This made it very clear.
3. Reward Failure
We all talk about the importance of accepting and rewarding failure in business. Yet all too many parents punish failure directly or indirectly. Your son enters a swimming competition and comes in last. How do you respond? “Maybe swimming isn’t for you?” “I told you that you had to practice more!” “Ralph took second place and he’s two years younger than you!”. Even a caring parent is likely to say something dismissive: “It doesn’t matter. I love you the way you are.”
Sadly, all of these responses are likely to discourage your son from ever entering a swimming competition again. Worse, they might discourage him from trying other things in which he is unsure of his capability.
A far better response is, “I am so proud of you for entering the swimming competition and trying so hard.” And if your son feels badly, do not immediately tell him it doesn’t matter. Instead ask him, “Why do you think you came in last?” This gives him and you a chance to analyse the problem so he can do better next time. Maybe he became too nervous and wasn’t breathing correctly. That’s great! Now you can talk about how he can deal with nervousness and breathing next time.
4. Teach Them to Cook
Cooking and especially baking, is an incredible creative process. Think about a cake. You start with flour, eggs, sugar and a handful of other ingredients. Mix them and bake them and you have a wonderful cake. An ex-girlfriend of mine, who trained as a chemist (but is now a leading virologist), went so far as to explain to my sons some of the chemical processes that occur when cooking.
Once your kids learn the basics of baking a cook, making cookies or frying an omelet, let them experiment. And do not correct them beforehand unless they are endangering themselves, others or your kitchen. If they want to put twice as much chocolate in the cake, let them. If they want to see what happens if they use a brown sugar instead of white sugar, let them. Chances are, they will not ruin the cake. But by experimenting and seeing what happens, they learn a valuable creative process. Moreover, when things go wrong, they can often be fixed. The cake is too dry? Make a moist frosting.
This is creative problem solving at its best!
5. Feed Your Children a Healthy, Balanced Diet
A healthy mind and body feel better, deliver more energy and think better. Moreover, if you get your children in the habit of eating healthy food from an early age, it will form a life-long habit. They will be far less likely to have weight problems or health problems as they grow older. They will look better, have more energy and smell better. And most importantly, in the context of creativity, they will think better.
The amazing thing is, eating a healthy diet is remarkably easy. It is a simple matter of getting a suitable balance of the key food groups while minimising the amount of sugary and fatty foods you eat. Britain’s National Health Service has a nifty diagram of a balanced diet here.
In addition to eating a balanced diet, allow kids to stop eating when they are full and restrict the amount of sweets and non-healthy snacks they can eat (though let them eat healthy snacks, such as fruit, when they are hungry between meals). Forcing children to eat all the food on their plates and rewarding them with a huge dessert if they do so only encourages overeating.