A bored child is usually ripe for self-discovery, someone waiting to find where her interests and enthusiasms might lie. In this posting to Parents Space, I describe 100 good responses to a child’s saying, ‘I’m bored!’ (Sometimes, however, boredom can be a mask for serious problems—sadness, loneliness, fear, anger, insecurity, or other troubling concerns. I discuss that situation elsewhere.) For 100 great boredom busters: http://www.parents-space.com/100-great-boredom-busters-what-to-do-when-your-child-says-im-bored/
Happy people make different choices than others, and the good news is that their habits can be learned–kindness, seeing problems as opportunities, expressing gratitude , and more. These behaviours are all choices that parents can teach their kids to make. No matter a child’s temperament–and yes! some kids are a lot more difficult than others!–she can learn to choose happiness.
Making plays together: a way to stimulate children’s imaginations and performance skills. It’s also a way to get family members communicating and interacting creatively. I can see some hazards–parents have to be willing to hear tough truths about their children’s perceptions and experiences–but when it’s done in a spirit of warmth and respect, playmaking can be transformative and pleasurable. I’d be careful about using this without professional help in a situation of serious trouble in the family, but for most families, I think it’s a simple, delightful and brilliant idea:
thank you to Rebecca McMillan and the Brain Cafe for one more great idea!
Real creativity starts with passion, with a keen interest in learning something, and then taking it farther. So the starting place for parents who want to encourage creativity in a child is to expose her to as many different kinds of experience as possible—scientific, musical, visual, physical, etc., —so she has enough knowledge to figure out what really interests her.
From there, it’s about giving her what she needs to take her interests as far as she can. If it’s painting, see if she’d like art classes, and try to make that happen. Get an easel if that’s helpful, and enough paints or crayons or pencils, and paper so she can explore and develop her skills. It doesn’t have to be expensive. You and your child can exercise your creativity in solving the problem of getting the right kinds of supplies. What you need to do is provide as much support and encouragement as you can.
Give her the opportunities, challenges, and support she needs to work hard at what interests her, and discover if she wants to take it farther. Your belief in her ability to go forward is what’s important in the early stages. Do what you can to help her learn as much as she can possibly learn about her area of interest. The more a person knows, the more they have with which to be creative.
As your child gets farther along in her mastery, she’ll discover conflicts and ambiguities, the way that ‘truths’ appear to contradict other ‘truths’. It’s good to start by understanding the rules in the domain—e.g., musical scales, or grammatical standards—but then it’s good to break those rules. This is confusing and difficult until she’s learned to tolerate ambiguity, and can let it be okay that apparently opposing ideas are both valid.
Although knowledge is essential to creativity, it is also a double-edged sword—too much knowledge can limit creativity. So help your child keep growing, keep moving forward in her learning, thinking, exploring, and developing. That means generating lots of ideas, reframing problems as they’re encountered, and it also means learning to critically analyze her ideas. Nobody has good ideas all the time. Some are worth pursuing. Some aren’t. Help her learn to think about her ideas, and ask herself and others if they’re worth developing before she proceeds.
Once she’s far enough along to have a reasonable level of proficiency, help her learn to share her creative work with others. Communicating her work with others—whether it’s dance, writing, or math problem-solving—allows her to take it to the next stage, and opens up further possibilities for growth and learning. When others start reacting to what she produces—her ideas, her songs, her inventions—she’ll learn more about where it might need more work, and where she wants to invest more effort.
Every innovator encounters opposition, so as she moves farther along in her creativity, your child also needs to learn how to believe in her ideas, take sensible risks, surmount obstacles, and stay strong in the face of opposition.
The very best thing you can do to encourage your child’s creativity is to apply all these recommendations to yourself. Find your passion, and pursue it as far as you can. Learn more about it, develop skills and expertise, decide what rules you want to break, and share your ideas and products with others. Challenge yourself to keep growing. Find ways to believe in yourself, to surmount the inevitable obstacles, to look for ways to sell your ideas. By engaging in creative activity yourself, you’ll be a great role model for your child. She’ll see how good it feels to engage in creativity.
If you’re a parent or a teacher, you’ve got chances every day to encourage the creativity of the children in your life. There’s no more exciting or important work you can do!
For more on these ideas, go to www.raisingsmarterkids.net
Sources: book in progress with Joanne Foster on raising smarter kids; Dan Keating’s work on defining creativity, specifically his article entitled ‘The Four Faces of Creativity’; Bob Sternberg’s work on deciding for creativity, especially his article called ‘Identifying and Developing Creative Giftedness.’
I loved Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. I read it only because two reviewers have compared my work with Joanne Foster to it. One described our work as an ‘antidote to the Tiger Mother’; the other commented that we provide a good balance between the Tiger Mother approach and laissez-faire parenting. We write about how parents can instill the good habits of mind that lead to high-level achievement over time—Amy Chua’s focus—while respecting their children’s individuality and nurturing their independence—which she decries as Western nonsense, at least in the first 3/4 of her book.
I loved the tongue-in-cheek self-deprecating tone of Tiger Mother, and found parts of it amusing, and other parts poignant. I also had the normal Western reactions to the verbal abuse Chua heaped on her daughters, and to the list of rules at the beginning. I was appalled that young children would be subjected to such draconian regimentation—three hours piano practice seven days a week, no free time for play, ridicule for anything less than first place in anything, no permission to participate in school plays or other extracurricular activities, and more. Over the course of the book, though, I came to like Amy Chua and her family. I found it interesting to read about their attempts to resolve the seemingly-impossible conflicts between the absolute brutal authority of a Chinese Tiger mother, and the kind, caring parenting of a Western Jewish father, in the context of a liberal American culture. Daughters Sophia and Lulu came through as wonderful personalities in their own right, making large contributions (eventually) to Chua’s development as a parent.
Chua is clear at the beginning of the book that there are lots of non-Chinese people, including many Westerners, who implement what she calls Chinese parenting practices, as well as some Chinese parents (mostly 2nd generation, and living in the United States, she says) who parent in what she terms Western ways.
Although not Chinese, I was born in the year of the Tiger myself, and admire Chua’s commitment to her children gaining self-respect and confidence through hard work and achievement, rather than hollow platitudes and praise. I also like her focus on perseverance, practice, and accomplishment, and agree with her that those are the most satisfying and self-esteem-building goals in the long run. I don’t like her attitude, however, that free play is a waste of time, her lack of respect for children’s individuality, and her disregard for children’s need to discover for themselves what it is they want to invest their time in. I found her status consciousness deeply troubling, including her belief that top-level prizes and awards matter so terribly much, and that anything other than Ivy League acceptance is embarrassing.
Chua makes some good observations about the differences between Western and Chinese parenting. For example, she writes “Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits, and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.”
These are not mutually exclusive values and attitudes, however. It’s quite possible to respect children’s individuality, and also support the development of good work habits. It doesn’t require a whole lot of yelling, pressure, and fighting, either, which (in my opinion) Chua’s home had way too much of. Finding that balance is about parents being flexibly responsive to their children—a concept that Chua would have an impossible time accepting, I suspect—while simultaneously setting age-appropriate rules and boundaries. One thing a parent has to give up if she’s going to achieve this balance is the demand that her children place first in everything the parent values—in Chua’s case that meant all the ‘important’ subjects at school, plus piano and violin, at extraordinarily high levels.
More than anything else, I think Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother provides a cautionary tale for high-achieving over-scheduling status-conscious parents. Lulu in particular, with her fierce need to assert her own will, forced her mother to back off, and let her children begin to create and live their own lives. To the extent that this book is about Chua’s growth as a parent, I applaud it.
February 22, 2012
Children need more unstructured playtime in their lives. They need time enough to get bored. If they’re going to learn and grow and achieve as much as they can in the long run, they need ample opportunities to develop their self-regulation, imagination, self-awareness, and other important life skills.
Over the past few decades, playtime has become more about things—toys, educational puzzles, electronic games, etc.—than about imagination and activities that children invent for themselves. It’s also become a lot more adult-directed, with an eye on academic learning and productive use of children’s time, a lot less child-directed and apparently aimless. Instead of being filled with spontaneous improvisation and discovery, children’s time is increasingly being scheduled by adults and gobbled up by electronic devices.
While many parents think that an increased focus on the productive use of their children’s time will give their kids a leg up in the competitions to get into the best preschools, schools, and—eventually—colleges and universities, there is increasing evidence that it does the opposite. By robbing kids of ample time for imagination, exploration, and collaborative invention, we are taking away essential opportunities for them to develop the skills prerequisite to real achievement and fulfillment over time.
Self-regulation skills include managing and controlling one’s feelings, moods, behaviour, and intellectual focus. Like self-regulation, collaboration skills and self-awareness are key components of emotional intelligence, which is a much better predictor of academic, career, and other kinds of success than IQ or other intellectual or academic ability scores.
Kids who spend good chunks of their time building forts, playing house, or constructing narratives of pirates, paupers, cowboys, and circus clowns are more likely to take ownership of their own learning and their own environments. Interestingly, they’re also more likely to co-operate independently in cleaning up after a free-choice period in preschool. In an interview on National Public Radio in the USA, child development expert Laura Berk reported, ‘Children who are most effective at complex make-believe play take on that [clean-up] responsibility with greater willingness, and even will assist others in doing so without teacher prompting.’ (To see the complete article, go to http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=19212514)
Although it may look like they’re wasting time or doing nothing much at all, kids involved in imaginative play may be investing their time as productively as possible for the long run. When they’re making up their own rules and their own games, they’re learning about themselves and others, exploring and finding out what they like doing, what they want to learn more about, and how to interact successfully with others. So, let’s not insist on giving kids the scripts and the props we think they need for their play, but rather, let’s allow them to find and invent their own ways of playing and learning, at least for good parts of their day.
Children do need planned stimulation and enrichment opportunities—classes, clubs, puzzles, building toys, educational activities, museums, performances, outings, etc.—but their lives shouldn’t be so jammed with these good things that there’s no time left for imagination and unstructured playtime. Somewhat counter-intuitively, too much focus on enrichment and achievement can actually impede their cognitive and emotional development. Do-nothing times can be the most productive times of all.