Parenting the Creative Child: The Ten “Commendments”

By Nancy Travers

To nurture your child’s creative talent: commend, don’t command

At some point in the early life of your new child, she or he surprises you. She listens intently to the story you’re reading, then adds her own imaginative ending. Or he not only colors out of the lines, but also draws in extra figures, using eye-catching colors. Or she hears a song in the morning, and you find her singing it in the playroom in the afternoon, embellishing it with her own lyrics and dance moves.

If this has happened in your family, you’ve discovered something wonderful-a creative child, perhaps a gifted child. Having such a child in the family is both a blessing and a responsibility. To help your child thrive, let’s start with these ten general rules-commendments!-about parenting creative kids.

  1. A talented, creative child is a gift to your family, so rule number one is to enjoy and celebrate. You can take a key role simply by having the right attitude. You and your spouse have already supplied the nature. Now kick in with the right nurture to let the creative spirit thrive. Be open to creative play and to new ideas the child might come up with. Encourage role-playing and join in. Tap into your own creative talents-whether that has been a big part of your lives or not. Your child will need a playmate! But encourage solitary play also, and give your child the privacy for that.
  2. In the privacy of your home, go all-in on praise. Outside the home, you may want to praise more quietly or simply let your child interact with the world and receive validation from others. In that case, your job is simply to recede at times and let the child learn from experience-with you there as needed to guide and protect, of course.
  3. Read to your child. Every day. Read clearly as a family. During your child’s earliest years, vocalize the scenes in picture books and say key phrases clearly, such as “Good dog, Carl.” (By the way, if you have not read the Good Dog, Carl series to your toddler, it’s a classic and feeds creativity with its own highly creative approach.) Take turns with your spouse in reading and let your child see the shapes of words on the page and the pictures that accompany them. Taking pleasure in reading is one of the key enablers in education-and in developing a child’s creativity.
  4. Stay out of its’ way. It’s your child’s creativity, not yours. Do not offer too many ideas or have a set idea or program to direct your child’s creative life. The underlying message should always be that it is the child’s creative life, and you are there to provide safety, companionship, and a supportive audience along the way. Have rules and require your child to follow them. But make the rules broad enough to allow your child full creative play. And don’t hurry creativity. Your child will set creative moments in motion at his or own pace.
  5. As your child matures, don’t critique efforts super-critically. Do just what grown-ups do in constructive critique groups. Heap praise on the good stuff, what delighted you, made you sad, startled you, what you responded to emotionally. Then focus on one element, if needed, taking a positive approach for improvement-how can you make this even better? Focus on a single item, if any at all.
  6. Encourage your child to connect with nature and people-and to ask questions. Bring books home from the library on favorite topics. Let your child engage in a wonderful lifelong relationship with the world. Creativity celebrates our relationship with the world, and it all starts with connecting to it-the younger the better.
  7. Look for a school that will nurture your child’s creativity. If you can afford a private school, look for one that encourages creativity. Montessori schools are very good at that, and many municipalities offer Montessori options in the public school system. If your child is in public school, get interested in the daily lesson plan. Volunteer your time to come in and be creative with the entire class. Your child’s teacher will love that!
  8. Take a risk occasionally. The story is circulated that Stephen King asked his mother if he could spray red ink on the wall to analyze the results as a blood spatter. His mother (according to the story) readily complied. Have your limits as to what you will or will not allow, but stretch them at times to show your child you are fully supportive.
  9. As your child gets older, be sensitive to offbeat or anti-social sentiments in his or her work. But don’t suppress material just because it does not conform to your point of view. Remember Jonathan Swift, George Orwell, and many others built careers out of pointing out serious shortcomings in our society.
  10. As your child continues to grow, look for adjustment or other social problems. Sometimes, creative or gifted children can have problems fitting in. Consider taking your child out of a bad situation, if he or she is being shunned or bullied. These children can suffer from anxiety or depression. In these cases, Orange County anxiety and depression counseling can help.

Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here:

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