Creative Parents, Creative Kids

girlwithbook

In collaboration with reader Joe Linton, we conducted an informal survey in May asking parents about the role that creativity played in their parenting.

We received over 70 thoughtful, often insightful responses. We’ve selected a few of our favorites and tried to identify some trends. (If you prefer, you can peruse the raw data.)

Why raise creative kids?

While we assumed that parents would all want to nurture creativity in their children, we were surprised by the diverse motivations for doing so.

Many parents felt that the value of creativity extends well beyond visual communication: “Creativity, like math, is an indispensable problem solving tool that you need in every aspect of life.”

Math references popped up more than once:

“Also, I’ve found the ability to think creatively serves you as an adult regardless of your field. Just as taking a calculus class can open your mind to abstract thinking, playing with Legos can push your brain’s powers towards envisioning something that you don’t readily see in front of you.”

For some, creativity paves the path to a fuller, more enriching life.

“More than anything, I want my children to enjoy their time on earth and have fun. Creativity and imagination have always been the superhighway to fun experiences for me, so I want my children to feel the potential thrill of playing in bands, writing novels, drawing characters, and anything they can find within themselves that makes them happy.”

Creativity, an essentially human trait

A handful of parents see creativity as a defining feature of humankind. “It’s the only way to move forward as a species,” said one respondent. In the wake of rapid technological advancement, perhaps creative endeavors will someday become our primary focus.

“Because in the future, society will need less and less human productive work, there will be more room for creative work, and more time for people to enjoy others creativity. Thinking creatively will become the job of humans, machines will eventually do the chores.”

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Boredom: Friend or foe?

Some felt creativity was a great way to stave off boredom for both children and parents alike. As one parent put it, “Creative people are never bored.”

Boredom, however, isn’t always the enemy. Another parent argued that boredom is necessary:

“I also let them get bored. Boredom is an essential part of creativity as a child (and life in general). When you’re bored you find something to occupy your mind.  Some of my best creative moments came from having nothing to do.”

Express yourself

One group of parents felt that creativity gave children new ways to express themselves, which is especially important earlier in life, when the nuances of language aren’t fully grasped by kids.

“Kids need help expressing things. If you can’t understand your kid(s) it leads to frustration on both sides,” said one parent. Another agreed, adding that creativity allows kids “to express themselves and how they are feeling. This helps make them more stable, giving them more control over their emotions.”

How to raise creative kids

When it comes to actually raising creative kids, nearly everyone agreed on the right approach: give them the means to experiment and then get out of the way.

“We converted an old armoire – the kind they used to make for CRT TVs – into a supply cabinet for art and craft supplies. It holds a ton of stuff and sits unassumingly in our living room near a table. We’re still shocked by how many hours our kids spend drawing, cutting, taping, gluing, etc.”

Photo by Dave Meier

Photo by Dave Meier

Ask questions, dig for more answers

Conversation can be a gateway to developing imaginative storytelling skills.

“I ask them questions about what they see or what they’re doing in a way that encourages an imaginative response (Where’s that green recycling truck going?) and follow up with more questions that stimulate storytelling. I accidentally started this with my first child (because I talk a lot) and noticed he quickly got great with detailed imaginative storytelling.”

Include them in your work

One parent holds informal critiques of works in progress:

“On a practical level, I try to show them my work regularly. I’m in motion graphics, so it’s not hard to convince them to look at “daddy’s new movie project.” But I try to show them that I have fun with my job. I work from home, so I invite them in when I have a render ready, and let them ask questions and watch it a few times through. It’s something I need to do more of, honestly. “

Drop the “creativity” label?

At least one parent felt that forcing certain activities to be “creative” adds the wrong kind of pressure to parenting:

“I think fixating on this adds too much pressure to being a parent. It’s almost like you’re doing it to make yourself feel good. As I mention above, when I’m not at work, and when I’m not doing chores, I just try and get off social media or email or whatever (I don’t always achieve this) and do stuff with the boys; Play Dough, wrestle, lego, draw, run on the beach, look for crabs, whatever. It doesn’t have to come with the ‘creative’ stamp of approval.”

Learning from your kids

Every parent will tell you that children are surprisingly good teachers — usually of lessons you didn’t anticipate. We asked parents what they’ve learned from their kids and how that’s impacted their creative practice.

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Practically speaking, kids force a certain degree of structure onto parents’ lives.

“The first thing I learned is how to prioritize my life! The time constraints and exhaustion of early parenting gave me a laser focus on my creative time because I knew I had only a limited opportunity to keep it up. “

One set of parents’ entrepreneurial spirit was ignited by playtime.

“My wife and I were frustrated with the lack of original, non-branded coloring books for our girls (ones that weren’t full of princesses or tied to movie merchandising), so we decided to start a company that produces fun, original coloring books. A lot of the illustrations are inspired by drawings from our daughters. Their perspective is refreshing and magical.”

Pint-sized philosophers

Children don’t suffer from the anxieties of adulthood. Many parents found this natural state of open-mindedness to be deeply refreshing:

“Adults are so logic- and rule-oriented; I’ve re-learned ‘how to play’ from watching my kids play. Stop thinking about what is correct and mix it up — throw a disparate element in and force yourself to work it into your project in a creative way.”

One father has noticed that his two-and-half-year old boy “truly lives in the present. There’s no yesterday (regret) and no tomorrow (worry). There’s only the now. This is the mindset for the most fertile creative ideas. I fight daily to turn off the noise and be present and open just like my son Nathanael does so naturally.”

Expanding on the same general ideas, another parent said:

“I think innocence, naivety, and a complete lack of cynicism are all traits that could improve my work and my approach to telling a story, regardless of the client.

Those are traits I need to borrow from my kids.”

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About the author

Justin Cone

/ justincone.com
Together with Carlos El Asmar, Justin co-founded Motionographer and F5. He currently lives in Austin, Texas with is wife, son and fluffball of a dog. Before taking on Motionographer full-time, Justin worked in various capacities at Psyop, NBC-Universal, Apple, Adobe and SCAD.

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  • Thanks to everyone that participated in the survey! This is a great article with lots of inspiring information That I will use with my grandsons.

  • GG

    Thanks for writing this, good article. Me and my wife are a designer/art historian couple, so we try to influence him the opposite way, into being a more engineering/accountant (which is what the rest of our relatives are) minded person, as we believe that the creativeness will come naturally because he i surrounded by it, its the other side that would be harder for him to grasp….I don’t know, but I guess we will see if this was a bad decision or not…the joys of parenting

    • That approach makes total sense to me. With our child, my wife and I try to push science and math as hard (or harder) than fields traditionally regarded as creative. (They’re all creative, in my opinion.)

  • I’m not sure how much I enjoy being in a creative occupation. When I’m with the kids, we kick the footy, tell stupid jokes, game and, for the most part, just ‘muck’ about. It’s probably not that useful for them in their professional future but I would rather have fun with them than force creativity upon them. Human connection is the main focus for me when I am spending time with my kids. They are not super orientated towards creative activities.

    • I guess we may kill creativity by using too much rules, prejudice or violence. I also like to play soccer, tell jokes, etc. I don’t stress too much on offering creative activities to my kid. Open-mind and self-confidence are a good base for a creative person.

  • Christopher Lawson

    Great article! I don’t want you to disrespect anyone’s privacy – but is it possible to get a link to the coloring book entrepreneurs’ books?

    • Yeah, I’d like that, too. Unfortunately, we didn’t capture any names from the survey. You’d think after running this site for 9 years, we’d get better at this stuff. DOH!

      Sorry. I’ll see if I can track them down some other way.

      • UPDATE: The coloring books are created by none other than the man who instigated this entire post, Joseph Linton, and his wife. They’re called Nice Tomato, and they look fantastic.

  • Good bit of research and thanks for putting it all together in this ’round up’ post. Creativity, hmmm. Well, I myself am in the advertising / motion graphics industry and my wife is in education. Do I interact more creatively with the kids than her? No, not really. Do I feel more guilty about not doing more creative stuff than she does? Yes, certainly. Honestly, I do what I can. But often I find my boys playing games together that are naturally way more creative than I could ever have devised. Role play things and imaginative things that are so nuanced and silly and sweet that the adult mind simply couldn’t design them. I often only hear these games from another room, as were I in the same room, the boys would probably be distracted by me being there and stop playing them. What’s my point? Well, it’s that un-guided free play can often see kids naturally coming up with way more intricate and creative games than we could ever construct for them. There’s a time for adults’ involvement and there’s a time for letting kids just go at it alone. I aspire to striking the balance and not sweating it when I feel I’m not being creative enough.