How Parents Can Support Creative Thinking in Kids and Build Confidence
“Do you think he has talent?”
I am standing on my porch with Sheryl, the mother of 10 year old Dalton, with whom I have just finished a piano lesson. He has been taking lessons for the past six months.
Once a week, we sit in front of my piano deciphering a series of black circles and lines on a piece of paper. He pecks away on ivory and ebony, and occasionally we take a break to talk about Pokémon or Harry Potter.
Sheryl, with Dalton in a piano lesson, slips around the corner to catch a quick yoga class. She is standing on the porch now in full yoga attire, hair a little tossed, holding a water bottle and a mysterious energy bar.
“So do you think he has talent?”
This is the question I am asked over and over as a music and creative arts teacher by eager and concerned parents. It never fails to remind me that the myth of a natural born talent and its assumed requisite for a child becoming an artist still lives on.
I look into her flushed and hopeful face and with a shrug of the shoulders and a little laugh say, “Well, he is no Mozart”. It is a bit cruel I admit, but she gets a little tough love because I need her to hear what I am about to say next.
“Every child is naturally curious. This is the heart of being an artist.”
“Forget talent. Learning an art is like going to the gym. It is less about how much muscle you are born with and more about how often and effectively you train the muscles you have.”
If we speak in terms of nature vs nurture, then in the world of the arts I would give you this breakdown: a professional artist’s success is based on 5% talent, 65% skill, and 30% luck.
The most critical and measurable of these is skill, and this is where parents can have the most influence in the life of a young artist. Nurture in this instance has far more impact than nature. So parents, relax. Your child’s future prospects of becoming the next concert pianist or Van Gogh has little to do with your DNA.
The more meaningful question is: “How can I help support my child in developing the skills needed to be a successful artist?”
This is the question parents should be asking and one which I hope to shed some light on.
Creativity is not an invisible static trait that humans either have or do not have. It is a practice which focuses on intentional exploration and thrives with structure and repetition.
In what follows, I will share a few tips for parents when engaging and communicating with their child around his/her craft.
Then, with these tips in mind, I will outline three fun exercises that parents can do alongside their budding artist. These exercises will help develop explorative thinking and essential traits for creative character and perspective.
Four Tips I have for Parents with Creative Children
PPPP (Punctual, Prepared, Play, Positive)
With over ten years experience teaching children ages four to eighteen, I have met a lot of parents.
You come from all walks of life and essentially want the same thing for your children: health and happiness. Both of these begin with you.
Below are a few tips I want to bring to your attention that I consider to be critical in helping create both health and happiness in your child’s artistic journey.
In the professional world of the arts the curtain rises at 7:00pm and the actors must be in place. The concert starts at 6:30pm and every member of the orchestra is seated, instrument in hand.
Artists who show up on time and meet deadlines get the next job, show, gig, or grant for their project.
Not to mention the unspoken favorable opinion of their peers.
Give your child the full advantage of receiving the maximum amount of instruction at music/dance/art/film classes by being punctual.
Your child is experiencing vicariously how you value time. For the young ones, make it fun, set a timer or purchase a fun wristwatch and enlist them as a timekeeper.
When Dalton showed up for his first piano lesson Sheryl had not yet purchased his first keyboard.
She showed me a picture on her mobile of what she was considering.
Unfortunately, it equated to a toy keyboard with a miniature set of 37 keys with a name like JamKeyz. It was something you might find at your local Wal-mart. I steered her towards an entry level, semi weighted, 61 key Yamaha.
Providing the necessary quality equipment for a young artist is very important.
This is his/her introduction to a craft and it should be positive, unhampered by frustration due to improper equipment. Not to mention, that pair of soft pink ballet shoes or sparkling red electric guitar is a source of pride for your child.
I always invite parents to join a lesson with the consent of the student. But at times I have experienced the overzealous, good meaning, but intrusive adult. This is more often the case with parents who have studied the craft their child is now undertaking.
Comments can vary from performance pressure to corrective critiques:
“Show Mrs. Aimee that song you came up with. You played it perfectly yesterday! Come and show her now."
“No, stop. That’s a whole note, remember?” (and a parent’s hand leaps on to the piano to correct).
These sorts of comments can create pressure on your learner in the long run.
Your role as a parent of a young artist is to encourage play not perfection. The designated teacher is there to guide. You are there to have fun witnessing his/her growth.
Always praise effort even if poorly executed. Positive reinforcement is key in strengthening confidence. It is also a way of saying that mistakes are allowed and there is nothing to sweat.
One of the best ways for a parent to engage in a dialogue about a craft is to ask “how,” “what,” and “why” questions. Then, give the child a chance to respond without filling in the blanks.
For example, nine year old Christina shares a portrait of her dog with you. All you see is a giant blue circle. Instead of asking where the ears, eyes and nose are, focus on the specific choices made and ask questions that feel “open”.
“Wow! Why did you choose blue?”
“What is it about this circle shape that attracts you?”
“How did you make this?”
“Can you tell me more about this?”
3 Creative Thinking Exercises to Boost Confidence and Have Fun
Exercise #1: Super Power Object
1. Select an object that you are attracted to in your home/room.
2. Endow this object with a super power.
3. Set this object near you when you are creating.
4. Look at it often when you are working and remind yourself of the super power it gives you.
Here are some ideas: a blanket, a shirt, a rock, a pen/pencil, a hat, a small piece of paper with an inspirational quote you have written on it, a picture, a charm, a pair of glasses, a cape, a sweater, a piece of jewelry.
I will let you in on a secret.
Every time I sit down to create something I put on a pair of glasses.
They have fake diamonds on the edges and have a fancy inscription on the side that says “Made in Italy” (that makes me feel cool and exotic). They are made of simple plastic and have no lenses in them. I remember buying them in a second-hand store in Nashville, TN on one of my very first tours.
Why do I wear these silly glasses?
Because it divides time for me. My time for creation becomes separate and free from all that “other” time used for studying, working, family, and running errands.
The glasses are a physical object that symbolize power for me.
When I have my glasses on I feel confident and in my zone. I tell myself that when I wear them anything and everything is possible. Whatever I create will be magnificent because my glasses have the super power of making it so.
When I am done writing or practicing I take them off and step back into my everyday life. I have even made a dedicated spot on my shelf where my glasses sit when not in use, like a little special spot that I only know about.
Exercise #2: Collaborative Drawing
Goals: Letting Go Control | Collaboration
1. Use either a sheet of paper or a digital drawing app like Magma Studio’s Aggie.io App.
2. Select who will begin the drawing.
3. Anyone can draw at any time.
4. Anyone can draw over anyone else’s work.
5. Drawing must be done in complete silence--no talking to one another.
5. Decide together when the drawing is complete.
When you make something independently you are in complete control.
Sometimes it is curious to see what happens if you step out of this comfort zone and let go of making all the choices alone. Collaborative drawing is a practice anyone can do even if you do not consider yourself to have drawing skills.
When co-creating you must have a “yes” attitude and continually accept the other person’s choices as well as respond to those choices.
Be aware of any reactions that arise when someone draws over or changes what you just drew...
Are you excited? Are you disappointed? Are you neutral? Realize that at the end of your drawing session you will have made something together that neither one of you alone would have imagined.
Exercise #3: Spontaneous Sculptures
Goals: Relating Found Objects | Working with a Time Limit | Making Something from Nothing
1. Set a timer for three minutes and gather 10-20 objects in your household.
2. Place all the objects in a group on a table top or open space on the floor.
3. Set a timer for five minutes
4. Compose a found object spontaneous sculpture by selecting multiple objects from your pile and relating them to one another.
5. Snap a picture when the sculpture is complete
6. Repeat again and make a new sculpture with objects from your pile or you may decide to create variations with the objects you just used
7. Snap a picture when the sculpture is complete.
8. Repeat until your five minutes is up. How many sculptures did you make?
You can use everyday household objects to practice creative thinking.
Spontaneous sculptures are a simple and inspiring way to make “something from nothing”. We easily take for granted the objects in our daily space.
This is an opportunity to reinvent a paper clip, a ribbon, a pair of scissors, a glove, a fork, a candle holder and more. The challenge is to keep your hands moving. Do not overthink the composition.
Simply have fun and see how many sculptures you can make.
Explore placing objects at different angles, in piles, in a line, in shapes, etc. There are no limits, except time or your own willingness to explore.
Join Aimee at Galileo where she facilitates Clubs and Learning Experiences that center around creativity, expression, and artistry.