RAISE A CREATIVE CHILD

Imag­i­na­tion is about more than just rais­ing an arty child – it’s a tool for life

Your Baby & Toddler - - The Dossier - BY NIKKI TEMKIN

With the world chang­ing daily, and fu­tur­ists and trend spot­ters the world over pre­dict­ing a rad­i­cally changed job mar­ket in the fu­ture, part of your role as a par­ent is to equip your child with the life skills he’ll need for suc­cess. Fu­ture fore­cast­ers es­pouse flex­i­bil­ity, imag­i­na­tion and creativ­ity as must-have, lu­cra­tive skills. The time is ripe to nur­ture and grow these abil­i­ties that chil­dren are ac­tu­ally born with.

A GOOD MANY PARTS TO IT

“An ac­tive imag­i­na­tion helps your child in many ways,” says Sarah Cohen-Sch­warz, a reg­is­tered coun­sel­lor with a spe­cial in­ter­est in art ther­apy for chil­dren. She says that stud­ies have shown that chil­dren whose creativ­ity had been ac­tively de­vel­oped over time were found to be more re­source­ful when it comes to deal­ing with life’s chal­lenges. Creativ­ity partly means be­ing able to think on your feet, ap­proach tasks from dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives and think­ing out­side the box. “It gives chil­dren a place for ex­pres­sion and con­nec­tion, which are cen­tral in iden­tity for­ma­tion, re­la­tion­ships and agency for­ma­tion,” says neu­ro­sci­en­tist Luke Lam­precht.

“Creativ­ity builds con­fi­dence,” says Sarah. It al­lows chil­dren to make mis­takes and learn from them. Chil­dren also learn that con­struc­tive feed­back is a help­ful part of learn­ing, and not some­thing to be taken per­son­ally. It cre­ates em­pa­thy too when other kids en­ter the play, and your child learns com­mu­ni­ca­tion, so­cial skills and the art of ne­go­ti­a­tion. Ask­ing ques­tions like “How do I turn this clay into a sculp­ture?” or “What do I need for Teddy’s bed­time?” also de­vel­ops skills in rea­son­ing and un­der­stand­ing, which are also nec­es­sary tools for suc­cess in life. “Prob­lem-solv­ing is an­other ma­jor nat­u­ral ben­e­fit of creativ­ity,” says Sarah. Other skills de­vel­oped through creativ­ity in­clude per­se­ver­ance, ded­i­ca­tion and the abil­ity to fo­cus. “Re­search has shown that par­tic­i­pa­tion in the arts im­proves con­cen­tra­tion,” says Luke. Through artis­tic ex­pres­sion, chil­dren prac­tise col­lab­o­ra­tion, shar­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity and com­pro­mis­ing for a com­mon goal. “If it’s nur­tured through­out child­hood, creative think­ing will come nat­u­rally in the fu­ture,” says Sarah.

DOWN TO BRAIN TRAIN­ING

While imag­i­na­tion and creativ­ity are skills that chil­dren are gen­er­ally born with, it takes prac­tice for the brain to turn it into sec­ond na­ture. “Dur­ing the first few years of life, a child has many more neu­rons than are nec­es­sary. As a re­sult, the brain is pruned on the ba­sis of ‘use it or lose it’. Although there is some plas­tic­ity (the abil­ity to mould the brain) later in child­hood, what hasn’t been de­vel­oped is lost,” ex­plains Luke. To put it sim­ply, the more creative ways of think­ing are de­vel­oped, the more those neu­ral path­ways in the brain will light up and grow – and the eas­ier it be­comes for your child to think that way. “Chil­dren learn via ex­pe­ri­ence. Creativ­ity al­lows the brain to de­velop in unique ways,” says Luke. “In fact, creative play may func­tion as an im­por­tant, if not cru­cial, mode for learn­ing.”

FLIGHTS OF FANCY HAVE A REAL-WORLD PUR­POSE

Have you ever watched your lit­tle one play make-be­lieve? The bath be­comes a mer­maid’s cove, the bed turns into a dragon’s lair and grey play­dough trans­forms into a scrump­tious piece of cake. This kind of fan­tasy (or pre­tend) play is a key part of her learn­ing. “Self­ex­pres­sion as part of pre­tend play is a way of work­ing things out that hap­pen in life,” says Sarah. It gives chil­dren a chance to work out big-world rules about shar­ing, so­cial in­ter­ac­tion and con­flict res­o­lu­tion.

“Pre­tend play has also been cor­re­lated with the cru­cial abil­ity to self-reg­u­late im­pulses, emo­tions and at­ten­tion and the abil­ity to rea­son,” says Sarah. Dream­ing up imag­i­nary sit­u­a­tions – like where he res­cues his friends from aliens – gives your child a sense of con­trol even in un­fa­mil­iar or scary sit­u­a­tions. Or while pre­tend­ing to be a doc­tor, she’s de­vel­op­ing so­cial and ver­bal skills. Re-en­act­ing events that have hap­pened is a way of role­play­ing that teaches her how to man­age sit­u­a­tions, prac­tise dis­ci­pline and de­velop an un­der­stand­ing of cause and ef­fect.

“Pre­tend play, also called sym­bolic or imag­i­na­tive play, usu­ally first ap­pears between the ages of 18 and 24 months,” says Luke. The self-ex­pres­sion of make-be­lieve teaches courage and cu­rios­ity. “This phase is in­stru­men­tal in your child’s phys­i­cal and in­tel­lec­tual devel­op­ment,” says Luke. Ad­di­tion­ally, two thirds of tod­dlers between two and five years of age in­vent an imag­i­nary friend. This doesn’t mean that your child is lonely or a so­cial out­cast, but rather sig­ni­fies his bur­geon­ing so­cia­bil­ity and creativ­ity.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

You may be won­der­ing what roles you get to play in this ex­cit­ing world of your child’s grow­ing imag­i­na­tion. There are many ways that you can en­gage with and help grow this skill. It comes down to sup­port­ing her and en­cour­ag­ing the process as it hap­pens. “As a par­ent, your at­ti­tude is cru­cial. Our chil­dren look to us for guid­ance, feel­ing good and learn­ing how to be­have and be­lieve in this world. Creative con­fi­dence re­lies on self-con­fi­dence,” ex­plains Sarah. “Abun­dant and spe­cific praise, buy­ing into their fan­tasies and ex­tend­ing trust in their creative abil­i­ties is cru­cial.” So, for ex­am­ple, if your tod­dler wants to cre­ate a cas­tle in your lounge, give her free­dom to do it how she wants (within lim­its) and let her know that you’re avail­able if she needs help. Once she’s fin­ished, com­pli­ment her on the fin­ished prod­uct and her creative use of ev­ery­day ma­te­ri­als to make her cas­tle (us­ing the pil­lows as a tower, or a sheet on the floor as a moat). Ask her ques­tions about her process in cre­at­ing the cas­tle.

When it comes to the imag­i­na­tion, there needs to be no com­pe­ti­tion. Your child needs to know that there are no lim­its when she’s ex­plor­ing her creativ­ity – it’s a space where any­thing goes. “Re­mov­ing the anx­i­ety of win­ning, per­fec­tion or be­ing the best frees a child to cre­ate without fear of judg­ment,” says Sarah. And while you’re at it, try to find your own play­ful spirit! YB

WHEN IT COMES TO THE IMAG­I­NA­TION, THERE NEEDS TO BE NO COM­PE­TI­TION. YOUR CHILD NEEDS TO KNOW THAT THERE ARE NO LIM­ITS WHEN SHE’S EX­PLOR­ING HER CREATIV­ITY – IT’S A SPACE WHERE ANY­THING GOES

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