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Excerpt from Raising Happiness by Christine Carter


F i v e  W a y s  t o  T e a c h  C r e a t i v i t y  
(from pages 142-144 of Raising Happiness by Christine Carter, CLICK HERE to read our Q&A with Carter)

In addition to imaginative play for healthy development, kids need creativity. Many people assume that creativity is an inborn talent that their kids either do or do not have— that just as all children are not equally intelligent, all children are not equally creative. Actually, creativity is more of a skill than an inborn talent, and it is a skill that parents can help their kids develop.

Because it is key to success in nearly everything we do, creativity is a fundamental component of health and happiness and a core skill to practice with kids. Creativity is not limited to artistic and musical expression; it is also essential for science, math, and even social and emotional intelligence. Creative people are more flexible and better problem solvers, which makes them more able to adapt to technological advances and deal with change, as well as benefit from new opportunities.

Many researchers believe that we have fundamentally changed the experience of childhood in a way that impairs creative development. Toy and entertainment companies feed kids an endless stream of prefab characters, images, props, and plot lines that make imaginative play unnecessary and even outmoded. Children no longer need to imagine that a stick is a sword in a game or story they’ve invented. They can act out scripted Star Wars scenes with plastic toy light sabers in costumes designed for the
role they are playing.

Here are some ideas for fostering creativity in your kids.

1. Make your home a petri dish for creativity. At dinnertime, for example, brainstorm activities for the upcoming weekend, encouraging the kids to come up with things they’ve never done before. Resist pointing out which ideas aren’t possible or deciding which ideas are best. The focus should be on the process, generating (versus evaluating) new ideas.
Another way to nurture a creative atmosphere at home is to encourage kids to take risks, make mistakes, and fail. Yes, fail. In her book Mindset, Stanford researcher Carol Dweck shows that kids who are afraid of failure and judgment curb their own creative thought. Share the mistakes you’ve made recently so the kids get the idea that it’s okay to flub up.

2. Allow kids the freedom and autonomy to explore their ideas. For me, this means not always being so bossy. External constraints—making kids color within the lines, so to speak—can reduce creative thinking. In one study, when researchers first showed kids how to make a plane or a truck with Legos, kids showed less creativity on their own than when they were let loose to make whatever they wanted with the same Lego set.

3. Encourage kids to read for pleasure and participate in the arts rather than watch TV. Studies by children’s health researcher Dimitri Christakis have found that TV viewing before the age of three can harm language development and attention span later in life. Studies by Dutch researcher T. H. van der Voort suggest that watching TV might dampen kids’ creative imagination, and violent TV shows are associated with a decrease in fantasy play and an increase in aggressiveness. Less screen time means more time for creative activities, such as rehearsing a play, learning to draw, or reading every book by a favorite author.

4. Resist the temptation to reward kids for their creativity. A study led by child development researcher Melissa Groves found that incentives interfere with the creative process, reducing the flexibility of children’s thinking. Instead of trying to motivate kids with rewards and incentives, we parents sometimes need to back off so that kids can work on the creative activities that they’re intrinsically motivated to do.

5. Try to stop caring how much your kids achieve. I think this is one of the greatest challenges we parents face in today’s ultracompetitive world. But Dweck’s research is clear: kids gain confidence from an emphasis on process rather than product. This can be hard advice to follow when our kids come home from school with just the end product of an art project. But whether they’re working at home or at school, we can emphasize the creative process by asking questions. How did you make that? Are you finished? What did you like about that activity? Did you have fun?

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