“How do you have such creative kids?” This is a question I seem to get asked a lot so I thought I’d attempt to answer it.
Our family is very lucky to live in a small mountain town that is brimming with talented artists. My kids have been raised around songwriters, musicians, painters and authors…this is who makes up our community.
My kids used to think that everyone wrote songs or was an artist, because everyone in their world created. Which brings me to my first point, help your kids see the creativity around them. Point out to your children the things your friends do that are creative even if they don’t fall into the typical “artist” category. Something about seeing other people around them actually creating inspires children to believe that it’s normal.
Second, as their parents, become creative yourself. I have always wanted to create. I love art in so many forms. I love drawing and painting, I love singing, playing guitar and writing songs and I love writing stories. Every human has something, some area in their lives where they enjoy being creative. It might be decorating a room or rebuilding an old car or running a business. We all have creativity in us, but many of us have let it gather dust. We don’t play that instrument anymore or getting out all our paints is too much of a mess and we’re not that good anyway. There are a million reasons why becoming an adult in our world has also equalled hanging up our creative desires. But I believe that our kids NEED to see us engaging in these things. From the time my kids were very young they have seen me creating. I would draw and paint with them. I wrote a novel while they napped. I wrote songs while they climbed all over me. I sang with a band. Stepping out and doing the things you love and being creative isn’t being selfish…it’s a gift to your children. You’re giving them permission.
One of my favorite moments in this journey was around Christmas one year. I started making some simple little nativity paintings that I thought I would try and sell to get some extra present money. I went to a shop after picking up the kids from school one day. It was a trendy little shop that carried local art as well as cute clothes and other eclectic items. The lady at the store turned her nose up at my art and said she wasn’t interested in carrying it. I was so glad that my kids were with me. It was so good for them to see the reality…if you put your art out there…you risk rejection. It also provided a great opportunity for them to learn that just because your art isn’t accepted by one person doesn’t mean that’s the end of the line. Thankfully, through Etsy and a local art fair I couldn’t keep up with the demand for my paintings. I sold them all.
The next thing I think is really important is to shape the way your kids see art and teach them that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Modern art is not necessarily my thing, but many people are moved by it, it speaks to them. Teaching your kids to judge art not according to what other people think but what they actually like is important. Expose them to lots of different kinds of art. Visual art, music, literature, help them find the art all around them.
Teach your kids about mastery. I don’t want my kids to think that producing great art is easy and takes no work. Malcolm Gladwell talks about this in his book Outliers. He says it takes 10,000 hours to develop mastery of something. I have told my kids this over and over. Encouraging them to practice and put in the hours. Trying to help them understand that if they just keep at something they will eventually master it. I try to help them understand that hard work is just as important as inspiration and talent.
Encourage your kids. Obviously, a budding artist (heck, even a world renowned artist) needs encouragement. They need to understand that you believe they are capable of great things in whatever they are attempting. I have never been one for flattery and I try to be really honest with my kids in an age appropriate way. For instance I might think a drawing my six year-old did is really amazing, but if my thirteen year-old had done it I would not be impressed. Think about finding ways to encourage them. You should be your child’s very best cheerleader. The world will give them plenty of rejection without you doing it too.
There is a balance to this in that you should help them find their way. You can help your kids improve their art. I say this very hesitantly because I hate to think of parents looking at a piece of art from their kid and immediately pointing out how it could be better. Ouch, please don’t do that. This area has to be handled with incredible finesse. You have to know your child and how to handle their heart. Some kids can’t handle criticism at all…and in that case just be an encourager and make sure they know you love them. I usually wait till I am asked for advice. “What do you think, mom?” And then I always tell them first what I love about it and I don’t follow that with the word BUT…I follow it with “What if you tried…” or “Have you thought about…”. This opens their minds to possibility instead of getting bogged down by feelings of rejection. It’s a fine line my friends…tread carefully on those tiny hearts.
I mentioned earlier that you as an adult should pursue some sort of creative endeavor. Here’s another little tip. Don’t dog your own art. When you produce something your kid looks at it and thinks it’s the most amazing thing they have ever seen. When they hear you say that it’s no good imagine how they will feel about their own creations. Don’t crap on the beauty your kids see you produce. This also goes for judging others. I am so careful about what I say around my kids. Even when we watch American Idol…if a contestant is horrible I try to find the good in them and point it out (such as “Wow, that took a lot of courage”). Your kids are going to believe the audience before them is a group of people that will respond much the way their family does. So be a family of encouragers. Your kids will feel that every audience is just waiting for them to shine instead of waiting for them to fail!
And finally, enable your children’s art. Have art/music/whatever supplies on hand. Find ways to encourage and support them in what they’re interested in, not just the things you like. If they’re interested in a particular area find YouTube videos or local mentors or workshops or classes for them to learn more. That speaks volumes to them that you believe they can do it. Remind them when they have free time that art is an option and most importantly give them permission to create.