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Secrets of Creative Families: 10 Ways to Encourage Expressive Kids

Think the arts are frivolous, impractical and over-priced? Then why not watch the film, Billy Elliot, and discuss it with your spouse afterward. Ask yourself whether your biases toward the arts prevent your children from pursuing hopes and dreams that could bring more satisfaction and joy into their lives.

Sometimes a parent’s ‘the-arts-just-aren’t-necessary’ attitude can tragically squelch a young person’s creative aspirations, whereas a parent who is too gung-ho about a child’s talents may not realize that hijacking dreams robs a child of healthy feelings of ownership and independence. To witness some particularly inappropriate behavior, just tune in to any episode of the popular Lifetime dramatization, Dance Moms.

As parents of creative kids, it’s clear we don’t want to be Billy Elliot’s father or one of those absurd dance moms. But how should we behave? How can we banish black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking about the arts and tap into our expressive parenting power instead?

Fortunately, many parents find the balanced middle. They figure out how to quietly stand behind a young person’s aspirations without taking over, and learn how to steadily, supportively usher children toward painting their own colorful future.

Here are 10 tips that will help you encourage your kids to create the future that suits them best:

1. Be creative yourself. Before you can encourage your child to pursue their creative dreams, you have to nurture your own dreams. I am a writer, an author and a writing coach. My home office is an explosion of creative accomplishments. My husband is a theatre actor, director and producer. His program mounts three or four theatrical productions a year. Our daughter has no idea that exercising this much creative energy on a daily basis isn’t typical. She has also developed her own creative hobbies over the years like singing, dancing, acting, designing and drawing. Want creative kids? Then start by being creative yourself.

2. Encourage hobbies. If last year’s hobby was knitting and this year’s hobby is painting, that’s fine. Never force your kids to continue hobbies that no longer interest them. As long as the supplies are affordable and the experience is enriching, variety is good. And when a hobby sticks around, that works too. Hobbies need to be about the joy of doing. The last thing a hobby should be about is outcome or competition. If you are overly involved in your child’s hobbies, take a step back. That’s their thing. Find your own.

3. Expose your family to the arts. Art appreciation can be a family affair and does not have to be expensive. Surely you are not the only family in the neighborhood interested in exposing your family to culture. Team up with families in your neighborhood to attend shows and events at group discount rates. Check local museums for free days and local theatres for meet-the-actors shows. You can also find cultural opportunities through a public library, in local theatres, at a local community centre, via local schools and universities, and by taking advantage of special broadcasts at a local movie theatre.

4. Make room for imagination. The magic of creativity often happens in private. How often do you all scatter to your own corners of the house to read, create or simply have some space for imagination? Forget the idea that positive results only come from measured formulas and strictly followed recipes. Heights of beauty and transformation in art are often achieved through immersion in an imaginative process. Structured arts and crafts projects are fine, but practice releasing your kids to their own creative devices too.

5. Explore a range of forms. Art has many types. A partial list includes dancing, singing, fine art (painting, sculpture, architecture, music and poetry), theatre arts, photography, collage, film, printmaking, mosaics, crafts and calligraphy. If your local school district has cut back on arts programming, see if you can counterbalance the shortage inexpensively by joining a local cultural centre or picking up classes through a local library or art supply shop. Don’t be shy about asking about scholarship programs if costs exceed your budget.

6. Relax about messes. Your perfectionism may cost your kids in creative growth. Artists often have to try something dozens of times before they get the hang of even a simple brushstroke. Adopt a practice-makes-proud attitude. If you notice your child craving space to spread out and practice work, try to create some. Make room for projects to be spread out for several days or however long they take. Find nooks and crannies of your home that can support ongoing creative messes. Drop the pressure to immediately clean up after every sitting. Take care of art tools but also allow for a bit of creative chaos.

7. Test-drive a variety of techniques. Within so many approaches to one art form, you will constantly face lots of choices. So why not let your little artist explore a variety of methods as deeply as they like over time? For example, your local dance studio probably offers ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical, acrobatics and hip-hop. Within theatre, you will find plays, musicals, ballet and opera. Within painting, you will find oil, pastel, acrylic, watercolor, ink and many more forms. Technique classes for kids can provide a solid foundation for more in-depth study later in life.

8. Bankroll dreams gradually. Don’t drop a lot of cash up-front or you may inadvertently set the stage for, “You’ll like it because I paid for it,” which is always unfortunate. Go for low-commitment opportunities initially and then streamline along lines of interest as kids mature. For a dancer, you could start with tap dancing then add a new style each year according to your child’s tastes and talents. If you expand as your child’s abilities grow, your child will be ready for a more intensive level of participation around middle school, which often benefits kids at this developmental juncture. Dabble first, then practice a bit before you commit.

9. Seek out appropriate mentors. Parents can’t be everything to every child they raise. As kids get older, they need real-life mentors to help teach them lessons about living happily in the world. Kids benefit from having multiple mentors - beyond the usual teachers, coaches and instructors - who can stretch and challenge them in a particular pursuit. Explore apprenticeships, tutoring or private lessons with safe, knowledgeable professionals who can serve as living, breathing examples of success.

10. Banish pressure. Creativity and pressure are like oil and water. They don’t mix well in young children who are more likely to benefit from variety and flexibility in self-expression. As a parent, work hard to be that supportive, guiding presence so you can help your children make choices that are expressive and sensible. And while they are occupied, get out your own journal or your own knitting or your own paints, and remind yourself that that is your child’s creative journey, and this is yours. Then get busy figuring out what is in you that longs to be expressed.

Books to instil creativity in parents

Books that can help you become more creative yourself:

• How You Do Anything Is How You Do Everything, A Workbook by Cheri Huber

• The Artist’s Way, A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron

• Living Out Loud: Activities to Fuel a Creative Life by Keri Smith

Books to instil creativity in kids

Books that can help your kids become more creative:

• The Artist’s Way For Parents: Raising Creative Children by Julia Cameron

• The Artful Parent: Simple Ways to Fill Your Family’s Life with Art & Creativity by Jean Van’t Hul

• Young at Art: Teaching Toddlers Self-Expression, Problem-Solving Skills, and An Appreciation For Art by Susan Striker

Christina was a big reader as a kid, which probably explains why she is a big writer today. Her latest book is Permission Granted, 45 Reasons To Micro-Publish.


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