"I Can't! I Won't! I Don't!"

Stop the top five creativity killers in your house


When Kids Are Really Stuck

Even when their creative life is carefully nurtured, sometimes kids draw blanks, get too frustrated to move on, or just plain give up. In these instances, Wilson suggests changing the power dynamic up a bit. Try asking your child to teach you how to do something they’re really good at, or ask your child to join you in the learning process. Teaching takes them out of the hot seat, is a great boost to their confidence, and helps them see the experience as an adventure.

Every Child is an Artist

According to the painter Pablo Picasso, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” In today’s world, the search to find and exercise creative outlets isn’t just a problem for adults. Our kids’ schedules are crammed with extracurricular activities, homework, and increasing pressure on their performance in school and out. The result? Even if your child is brimming with creativity, tapping into it may be a challenge. So when you hear your child exclaim, “I can’t do it!” or “I won’t do it!” or “I don’t know how!”—BEWARE—you may be dealing with creativity killers in your midst.

Creativity may be instinctual and natural, but that doesn’t mean it will thrive under any circumstances. There are plenty of forces that can stop creativity in its tracks. The next time your child throws in the towel on an artistic attempt, take some time to consider whether any of the following five notorious creativity killers may be at work.

1. Not enough free time:

Leslie Owen Wilson, Ed. D., professor emeritus at the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, emphasizes that creativity is a messy, time-consuming process which involves lots of trial and error—and can’t be rushed. To be creative, kids need to let their minds roam free and that takes time. So make sure your child has ample and regular downtime, afternoons free of extracurricular and organized activities and obligations, where he can just daydream...and experiment.

2. Fear of failure:

Kids can’t experiment if they’re worried about failing. According to Professor Wilson, failing is an essential part of the creative process: “Children who have been pressured into trying to be perfect will sometimes no longer even try new things because they cannot do it perfectly the first time.” It is important that parents communicate to kids that there is no right/wrong, no win/lose, when it comes to the arts. The product isn’t as important as the process. Try not to over evaluate your child’s end product (“What a beautiful rose painting!" or “That doesn’t really look like a rose.”), and focus instead on the process ("Where did you get the idea to paint that? What were the first steps you took?").

3. Too much monitoring:

No one can be creative with someone looking over her shoulder or watching her every move. So you'll want to be sure you afford your child not just time to create, but space as well. Ensure that they can enjoy a messy, trial-and-error process of creating without having to worry about an audience. It’s not just physical space, but mental space as well. Nothing cramps creativity like too many restrictions. A few important rules that protect everyone’s safety and maintain respect are important, but beyond that, kids should have the freedom to explore without a long list of do’s and don’ts.

4. Lack of choice:

When kids’ days are controlled entirely by school or by parents, the opportunity to make choices is very limited. They don’t practice making decisions and solving problems, which they'll need in any creative endeavor. Says Wilson, “In order for creativity to flourish, children must not only experiment with solving problems, they must also become good finders of problems to solve.”

5. A self-critical example:

Children are like sponges, absorbing much of what parents do and say, both the positive and the negative. So while it may seem innocuous, or even sympathetic, to mention, “Oh, I was never any good at drawing,” or “I have no ear for music,” you should remember that your impressionable children are listening. Don't be surprised, then, if you hear those same, self-critical sentiments from them.

Setting up a home where creativity is encouraged takes some thought, but it isn’t a complicated or difficult process: “Creativity is about learning to take risks, dreaming, trial and error, investigating, envisioning, and imagining,” says Wilson. “Parents need to expose kids to new things so that they develop healthy senses of curiosity, adventure and self-confidence, and parents need to provide opportunities for explorations, so that kids begin pondering complex issues and ‘big’ questions.”



Nicole Caccavo Kear

Editors & Producers

Lisa Resnick
Content Editor



Leslie Owen Wilson, Ed. D.

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