Creativity is so important for children’s development and a healthy family life. Often, we think of creativity as producing artistic works, such as paintings or songs. But creativity is less about what you make and more about how you think. We’re all born with creativity, and if it’s protected and preserved, we have a greater chance for joy throughout our lives.
A creative mindset can be applied to anything from cooking to exercise to academia to home repairs. Setting up circumstances that allow our children to explore their curiosity, excitement, wonder and awe is a great way to help them develop their creativity capacity. Encouraging them be open to themselves and aligning their activities with their natural leanings can also protect their well-being. Such endeavors promote autonomy, self-esteem, pride, skill-building and imagination.
Picasso said, “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist when we grow up.” Much of creativity is about the freedom to learn, play and follow the inner cues that lead to discovery, loving something and wanting to be good at it for its own sake. In our book The Creativity Cure, we outline a way to develop this way of thinking. We call it the Five Part Prescription. Let’s take them one at a time.
Insight involves self-awareness, authenticity, knowing who you are and what you love and don’t love. Exposure to lots of possibilities and a bit of pushing is fine, but letting a child’s natural inclinations lead to the design of his days is great for developing creativity capacity. Sometimes because of our own anxiety about schooling, success and judgment or the influences of others, we talk ourselves into or out of things. It’s good to reflect and notice our own tendencies, because then we’ll naturally move toward life-affirming choices.
For children, insight may be achieved by play. They may not process “this is who I am” cognitively, but by heeding inner cues, they consolidate identity, develop curiosity and practice self-awareness. Their leanings and interests can change, but the organic (non-linear) trajectory is important for health and happiness.
In action: Create space, time and permission for children to explore. The insight and self-awareness that can be a ballast in their lives comes from unscheduled time to play with whatever is around and engaging in activities that don’t involve a trophy.
For you to read: Freedom to Learn by Peter Gray
This movement has to allow for the mind to go free. Remember swinging on swing sets? While organized sports do much for the body and mind, they require deep attention to outer direction and rules of competition. But biking, running, skating and walking on even terrain (so you’re less likely to trip while lost in thought) are great for creative capacity. Children might notice a stream or a puppy or a bird in a tree that stimulates something inside them.
In action: Engage in exercises that allow your child’s mind to attend to inner voices. Simple tasks such as family walks can be calming and almost meditational.
For you to read: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
3 Mind Rest
Mindfulness, meditation and deep breathing are wonderful for realignment and regrouping. They’re self-care skills that can be developed with practice, and they involve a methodology. Sometimes though, doing nothing is doing something. Allow the mind to be passive and non-productive – just go where it wants to go. It’s a way to sift through an overstimulating day. We need that to replenish and regenerate – so do our kids. And resting in nature is an added plus. Research shows children who play in green space as opposed to asphalt develop greater imagination.
In action: Don’t worry. Let them have time to just hang out.
For you to read: The William Wordsworth poem “Expostulation and Reply” describes this elevated state of not doing.
4 Your Own Two Hands
Studies show that when our hands are busy raking, sweeping, sewing or baking, good things also happen in our minds. The combination of a concrete task and a wandering mind can elicit joyful aha! moments, realizations or discoveries. If you feel a resistance to having your children do chores – maybe you think they should be a chapter ahead in math instead – remember that time to process what enters our minds leads to innovation, creativity and well-being. Using our own two hands also stimulates our brains in significant ways and promotes cognitive prowess. Immersion in from-scratch projects, from building blocks to forts to potato soup, enhances creative capacity and engenders the satisfaction of completing a task.
In action: Find hand-based activities for your kids. (We’ve been clearing out clutter around here as a family. It starts with groans and ends with good feeling!) Try home improvements, repair broken household items, make sculptures from driftwood or whittle walking sticks from saplings.
For you to read: Play by Stuart Brown
5 Mind Shift
One of the ways we can decrease stress and facilitate creative thought is by training our minds to be less reactive, less in the grip, more able to go where they need and want to go. Mind rest (#3) can help, but the intentional redirection accomplished by mind shift helps our kids honor their inner lives. Emotional forces can be powerful and hard to ignore. The key here is to shift thoughts through skill and practice, because research suggests that changing thoughts can change mood. For example, think about three good things that happened or three friends for whom we are grateful – repeatedly, routinely, even in a mantra-like fashion. We can teach our children to do the same. When mood is better, minds can go free and innovations can occur.
In action: Begin a journal with your child. Each night before bed, let her tell you three good things that happened that day. Write them down or have her write or draw it.
For you to read: Help, Thanks, Wow by Anne Lamott
Creativity is great for health and happiness. If we explore, discover, make and innovate, we feel good. We become who we can be. You might worry that if you encourage your children to follow their bliss, that they may not be able to earn a living. But some experts suggest that success in the future will actually depend on creativity. Austin is all about that, so you have a head start!
Carrie Barron, MD, is director of the Creativity for Resilience Program at Dell Medical School. Alton Barron, MD, is medical director of Pinnacle Surgery Center. Together, they are the authors of The Creativity Cure.