Squashing a Child’s Creativity

“This is the worst tree I have ever seen,” said Mrs. Whatenburger, my second grade teacher, as she held up my drawing for the entire class to see. Ouch!

To this very day, decades later, I cringe at the thought of drawing anything that others will see. The truth is, I do not draw well, noooooo not all. Even my attempts at stick figures appear eclipsed. How much of that goes back to the ridicule I experienced in the second grade?

Promoting creativity in children has come a long way in today’s classrooms. Yet how often do we still crush, stomp on, and squash imagination and the use of creative thought in children? More importantly, what are the bigger effects for them when we do?

In the book, The Courage to Be Creative, Doreen Virtue says this: “Actually, creativity is practical, with applications in business and daily life, including relationships, parenthood, health, and so forth. Practical creativity means the ability to solve problems in new and innovative ways.”

Virtue has used broad brush strokes to paint her picture of applied creativity. Yet she’s spot on that creativity facilitates problem solving. And isn’t problem solving one of the keys to living a successful life? …for what person in this world does not encounter problems?

So, when creative potential is severely inhibited in children, the ramifications for their overall life skills are immense. This may be doubled for sensitive children. And I was that kind of child.

While I have discovered that I am an intensely creative person, I have struggled with putting my writing work out there for public view. Since I am an author of three books, and I have four others in the works, you may find that surprising.

Virtue also said, “Some of the most creative people I’ve met are also the most sensitive. Their sensitivity makes them receptive to divinely inspired ideas. Yet that same sensitivity makes them shy to reveal their ideas to others.”

And perhaps that is the key: shy to reveal their ideas. What if within that person is an off-the-wall idea that could cure cancer? …that could solve world hunger? …that could heal mental illness? …and their ability for creative thought had been squashed? So, they learned to not value their ideas; they never develop them; they never put them out there. Sad!

Herein is the challenge I am issuing to all teachers, parents, grandparents, friends—anyone that works and plays with children: Take your negative critiques and judgments of their ideas and their art completely off the table. Keep those thoughts to yourself. And be aware of those raised eyebrows, slight grimaces, crossed arms, and the thousands of other nonverbal clues that say you do not value what they’ve expressed.

And the next time you see what appears to be an ugly tree, smile and reflect upon its perfectly artful imperfections.