How To Ruin Your Child’s Creativity

How To Ruin Your Child’s Creativity

I was playing Legos the other day, with just one of those simple sets where you just try to put together a snowman that only has 12 pieces… and this kid I was working with was so afraid of putting a piece in the wrong place that as he’d go to put each piece in place he looked at me for verification that he was right, before he’d set it down.

And all I could think about was, “For goodness sake kid it’s a $3 dollar Lego toy, I pray to God you never have to make a tough decision on your own someday.”

It was a classic example of what happens when we focus on teaching our children to find the “right” answer instead of come up with a bunch of potential answers, and then start evaluating them themselves.

I think you’ll agree that this was not an isolated incident.

Just look around this next few days and you’ll notice that kids these days can’t make their own decisions without looking to an authority figure to save their souls?  They’re so damn concerned about possibly being wrong, that unless they’re 100% certain of success they don’t even try.

While this might not bother the average parent who just hopes their kid may get a cubicle desk job at Boring Life Inc. some day, it bothers the hell out of someone like me who believes every child has a potential to do something great with their time on this earth.


Because when you study the personality habits of the worlds most high achieving people, you notice that they almost all have one personality trait in common… they almost all had the ability to come up with creative solutions, ideas, products or processes.

They were Creatives!

And contrary to popular belief, how creative your child is is not just a factor of genetic personality traits that are unchangeable.  Oh sure, I suppose it matters to some degree.  And there is a whole debate to be had on personality types.  But no matter whether you believe your child was born to be an analytical thinker, or a creative thinker, in this article, I’ll share just a few of the many studies that prove over and over again that no matter the personality style you think your child has there is one technique that always improves a child’s creativity.  So that while some children may indeed have more creative potential, every childs’ creativity can be improved.

But before I teach you that technique, let me break down what creativity really is for you, because once you understand what creativity is, it’s much easier to understand how easy it is to develop.

The Formula For A Creative Child

When experts analyze creativity, it is basically made up of two components:

  1. The number of possible solutions your child can brainstorm
  2. The ability to accurately weed out the good ideas from the bad ideas from that brainstormed list

The official name of the 2nd component is called, critical thinking.  And while there are many things you can do to help improve a child’s critical thinking, this article is going to focus on the 1st component, the ability to brainstorm.

In fact, there is actually a test for evaluating creativity in children.  It’s called the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT) and the first criteria of this test is “The total number of interpretable, meaningful, and relevant ideas generated in response to the stimulus.”

In other words, if you ask a child a question like, How many different ways can you play with this wagon; the more answers a child can give the better they higher their creativity scores will be.

So the question researchers have been pondering, and one that is critically important if you want to improve your child’s creativity, is…

How Do You Improve Your Child’s Brainstorming Abilities?

Well it turns out that the one study involving 5 & 6 year old kindergarten children may have the answer by focusing on what they call, Divergent Questioning techniques; or what I would call open ended questions.

In this study (Cliatt, Shaw, Sherwood, 1980) teachers who had had specific training five and six year old kindergartners would work with children 3 hours a week with a heavy emphasis on open ended questions like, “If you were lost in a forest, what are some things you could do?”

The teachers had received extensive training on how to break themselves of the traditional adult habit of asking questions that they already know the answer to, or that have “right” answers; and instead focused on using all available opportunities to ask open ended questions that gave the children permission to explore different answers.

It’s the act of having a child’s idea being shot down by a third party, vs. their own self analysis that plays the biggest role in killing creativity.

Other studies have pointed out that children who spend more time playing with adults tend to become less creative, then children who spend more time playing with other children, because other children don’t try to help their peers get right answers.  Instead children spend time in fantasy play with no rules, and end up scoring higher on creativity tests because of it.

Another group of children who also perform worse on creativity tests, are children who spend too much time in structured play scenarios that have rules.  Structured play scenarios would include games like, soccer, baseball, video games and other games where their is an Hierarchy of rules that must be followed.

However, that is not to say that this type of play is bad.

It’s when children do not also receive enough “Free/Fantasy Play”, where there are no rules, their creative development suffers.  This would include games like, sword fights, cooking on a fake cooking set, playing dress up etc.

So taking this research into hand, here are some suggestions for how you can adjust your child’s type of play so that it maximizes his or her creative development:

5 Ways To Develop A Child’s Creativity

  1. Buy building toys, and let your child brainstorm things to build. My absolute favorite building toys for kids are Omagles.  If you’ve never heard of them, check out my review of Omagles here. And for heaven’s sake, don’t let them see the instruction manuals.  Let them come up with their own ideas.
  2. Buy costumes all year round, not just on Halloween. Buy costumes that can be mixed and matched to foster creative brainstorming.  For example, if you’ve got a little boy, buy several monster costumes that will allow your child to mix and match the costumes to create his own unique monster.
  3. Buy Complementary Toys. If you have boys and girls, buy costumes that complement their natural interests.  If you have a daughter who likes to dress up as a princess, buy your son a knight in shining armor costume so he can protect her.  For extra credit, have him help you build a castle out of Omagles that can protect her (or do it himself if he’s old enough).  This will foster the fantasy as brother and sister pretend play together in their costumes.
  4. Do not Judge your child’s suggestions for play. Here’s an example from my own life to show you what I mean…My 2 1/2 year old son and I were driving home from the park the other day in our very red car… he looks at me with a big grin and says, “we’re in a big truck Dad”.My first instinct was to say, “no we aren’t”.But I stopped myself and decided NOT to judge his answers, and replied “Oh Yeah, Jimmy.  What color is our truck?”

    “It’s green Dad” he answered.

    “What else is on our truck Jimmy”, I asked.  Trying to ask an open ended question.

    He paused for a second and said, “Monsters Dad.  Blue and orange Monsters!”

    And for the rest of the ride home we had a little adventure of how we got the blue and orange monsters off the truck and escaped.  I let him lead the whole little imaginary play session, while I played the supporting actors role.  He brainstormed the weapons we used to get them off the truck, and a half dozen other details.

    And when we got home he couldn’t stop telling me how much fun he had.

  5. The more emotionally charged your child’s creative play, the better it is for creative development, according to a recent study (Russ, Sandra W., Robins, Andrew L. and Christiano, Beth A. (1999)  This means that you should always be looking to turn up the drama in the play.  If you’re sword fighting your son, get more aggressive in the fight, more dramatic as he defeats you.  If you’re playing princess with your daughter, get more emotional in the exchanges, pretend to be more afraid, or more convicted or whatever the situation calls for.  Just dive into more intense emotional levels of play, and according to this study, your child’s creativity will develop significantly higher then a child who doesn’t play with a lot of emotion.
  6. Ask Divergent, Open Ended Questions, NOT Leading Questions.  If you’ve noticed, all the above suggestions follow this rule.  They are all different ways of asking your child open ended questions in play.  But don’t just limit it to play, use it in life.  If your child can’t reach something up on the counter, do not tell them to just go get a chair, and certainly don’t go get a chair for them.Instead ask them a question like, “What could you go get that would help you reach that item?”  Obviously this is a question for a child under two who doesn’t quite yet know the right answer, and doesn’t serve the child well if he already knows the answer.But the important principle to remember is to ask your child to brainstorm age appropriate solutions for as many questions or problems that they are trying to solve.

Do You Have A Better Creative Development Idea Than These?

If so, please leave me a comment below on ways you’ve fostered your child’s creative development.  It could be a great way to learn from each other of what’s working or not.

Maybe you have a great resource for where to get low cost costumes, or a toy that has really helped your child develop, or even another information source, or cool youtube video that could take this conversation to the next level.

If so, please share it below, I’m sure my other readers would love to hear your input.

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  1. Excellent content here! Makes you think! Thanks for posting!

    As the founder of ESTEEM Publishing, I am passionate about building self esteem in children and all things related to that topic. I appreciate what you’ve posted and I’ll be sure to link to this on my website at

    Keep up the great work!

    Kareema Martinez
    ESTEEM Publishing

  2. I like that you are approaching a discussion on creativity, but it’s not the way I approach it. Instead of looking at what you refer to as creativity: the number of ideas and “good ideas” vs. “bad ideas”, I approach creativity based on needs, which is what I also teach in peaceful communication, as well.

    Also, your response to that child playing Legos seems non-compassionate to me, and your reaction relays a focus on problems rather than solutions. As a behavior modification and learning expert, do you have professional teacher or therapist training? From where? I realize that professional training is not essential when giving advice, but it is certainly what I look for when going to an “expert”. I like a mix of shaman (experience) and scholar. : )

    I am a psychotherapist and songwriter of children’s songs, and a creative parenting coach. I appreciate seeing that others, like you, deem creative parenting important and a worthwhile cause to help our children be more free in expressing themselves. : )

    • Mac Strider says:


      Could you clarify more on how you think creativity is based on needs, and how that’s different from the approach I’ve outlined?

      As for my lack of compassion, re-reading my post I can see how you’d think that as I didn’t talk at all about how I handled the child after he looked for me for permission… maybe I should have.

      Instead I was just trying to draw attention to the problem, and help people understand that it is a big problem with how we’re raising children today.

      If that would have been how I treated the child, you’d be absolutely right, that kind of lack of compassion would be counter productive, and when adults see children looking to them for approval on even the most basic things, I think those adults need to help the child understand that it’s OK to experiment, and that they won’t feel judged for doing so. We should explain how there is no wrong or right answer, and if you look to me for an answer I’m not going to give you one, instead I’m going to help you find the answer for yourself.

      So maybe that helps clear up a few things.

      As for my education, I suspect we might not agree on this topic 🙂

      I have no specific teacher training or therapist training.

      I’m just a parent who comes from a family of self made successful people, who’s noticed that the habits I learned as a child that helped me become successful while pursuing my dreams are not being taught to other children. Things like becoming resourceful, how to seek out mentors, etc. I’d like to think I have experiences to share when it comes to living a life in the pursuit of your dreams, and could hold my own in a debate with any professional educated teacher.

      While I think that education can help give you theories to test out in the real world, I think education is very overated in our society today. (but that’s a topic for another time)

      Instead it all comes down to experience instead of degrees… especially when there is such a large source of scientifically published data to pull ideas from for just a few dollars.

      On another note, you’re Creative Parenting coach service intrigues me, and maybe we could find some way to offer your insight to my readers somehow, maybe via an interview?


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