Fueling creativity

By Luke Hill

Everyone needs to be creative. I’m not saying that everyone has the capacity to make great art or write great poetry or play great music. Some people definitely have more aptitude for these things than others, and there’s no shame in that.

What I’m saying is that we all have the ability to act creatively, to craft, build, design, decorate, or otherwise express ourselves in creative ways. Or we would, if we weren’t so worried that we’re not good at it, or so busy getting the practical bits of our lives accomplished, or so distracted by our devices and amusements, or so brainwashed into thinking that creative activities aren’t really that important.

But practising creativity, whatever form it takes for you, has some tremendous benefits. Study after study has shown that people who regularly engage in forms of creative expression are less stressed, less anxious, and less subject to mood disturbances. These people also show better self-awareness, more empathy for others, a greater ability to think laterally and problem solve, an enhanced capacity to cope with difficult life events. Less concretely, people who add creative practices to their lives, also report a greater ability to see and appreciate the world around them, to make sense of their own lives, and to live in the moment.

Interestingly, this is a place where kids are almost always further ahead than adults. Most children display innate curiosity and the desire to express themselves in all kinds of creative forms. It’s only as they grow older, as they’re trained to sit in desks and complete assignments, as they’re prepared for the “real world” that they start to lose this natural desire for creativity and become like their boring parents.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are some ways to add some creativity to your family life:

1. Take cues from your kids – When your son comes up to you with a box of Borax and asks to make putty (happened yesterday, if you were wondering), go for it. Maybe it has to wait for a better time or be relocated to a better place, but make it happen. And if your daughter asks to plant avocado pits in the backyard, go for that too. Maybe you suggest planting some more viable seeds as well, so she can see some success as she learns that avocados aren’t native to your area, but absolutely do it. Don’t close down your kids’ ideas. Run with them.

2. Make device free time – I know that I raise this subject constantly, but it’s only because it’s such a pressing issue with kids. And while it’s certainly true that there are many creative things that can be done on devices, most of the time kids aren’t using devices in creative ways. So, make a time when the devices go away, and then, the moment that the kids start to whine about being bored, put paints in front of them, or crafts or experiments or tin can drums or cake decorating or a kazoo or kit modelling or fort making or… hopefully you get the idea.

3. Don’t critique – There is certainly a time and a place for critical feedback, especially if you or your kids decide to pursue your creative outlets more professionally, but your family isn’t that place. You all need to feel free to let it out. Who cares if the elephant you drew looks more like a spaceship? Who cares if the poem you wrote for your spouse’s birthday sounds awkward even to you? Who cares if the song you bang out on the guitar has some missed chords? This isn’t the Governor General’s Awards. This is a family having fun and expressing themselves creatively with one another.

4. Model the importance of art – If you looked at how we spend our free time, you would think that professional sports and entertainment television were the most important things in the world, and our kids can’t help but see and internalize those values. Start changing that by taking your kids to experience art and creativity. Go to concerts, readings, art exhibitions, dance recitals, festivals, museums, workshops, and other creative events. Listen to a wide variety of good music. Read a wide variety of good books. Watch a wide variety of good movies. Go looking for new and interesting creative experiences rather than just consuming what the radio and the television offers by default. And then talk about those things with each other as a family. You and your kids should both know as much about your favourite artists and authors and musicians as you do about your favourite athletes or movie stars.

5. Lastly, be okay with some mess – Creativity by its very nature is more messy and less ordered, more impulsive and less scheduled, more uncertain and less controlled than doing your homework or your taxes. For those of us who like to have things a certain way, it can sometimes feel unnerving, but it’s okay. Let yourself run with it. Whatever mess you make or schedule you break now and again, it will be more than balanced out by the benefits of letting your family’s creativity flow.