Use your creativity to help your child
By Kathryn Rea Smith, Ph.D.
The creative process is alive and well in East Tennessee family homes! And no, I am not talking about the multitude of school projects the students are doing. Rather, I am referring to the creativity involved in parenting. Parents engage in a creative process when solving their children’s problems. They often don’t recognize, however, that they are creating something new each time they facilitate a resolution to a parenting dilemma. In this article, I will highlight the creativity involved in parenting and offer some suggestions for enhancing the creative process.
The kinds of problems parents encounter with their children are seemingly endless. There are developmental issues, academic problems, medical or emotional disorders, social delays, behavior disorders, interpersonal struggles, and parent-child relationship issues. When faced with one of these problems, what’s the first thing parents typically do? They seek information, often from various sources, including parenting books, the Internet, other parents, pediatricians, teachers, guidance counselors, mental health professionals, and members of the clergy. Very often one source of information leads to another, such that eventually parents have several ideas about how to help their child.
“There are things that parents can do to optimize the creative process as applied to parenting.”
Once the information has been gathered, parents sift through the ideas to determine which ones are likely to work for their child. Parents are the real “experts” when it comes to their children. For each child, parents have a “working model” based upon the child’s unique attributes and the knowledge that comes from loving and taking care of the child over time. In considering the best solutions to a parenting problem, parents creatively sort the options based upon intimate knowledge of their child. Very often, parents will take a suggestion from a parenting book or a fellow parent and adapt it to fit the needs of their child. Parents know that effective discipline is not “one size fits all” but rather results from the interplay of potential solutions and the unique needs of the child, creatively mediated by the parents’ imagination.
When I had a child therapy practice, I worked with several children and their parents on a variety of childhood issues. My approach was to spend as much time working with the parents as with the child. Once I figured out what was going on with the child, the emphasis in my work was on helping the parents to understand the child and to be more “therapeutic” in the home. Because I wanted to both support and empower the parents, I would offer suggestions of things the parents could say or do differently while also encouraging them to put their own spin on the intervention. When parents reported the results of their efforts to me, I noticed they had indeed taken my suggestions and modified them to fit the working model of their child. The parents created something new from the building blocks I gave them.
“Parents are the real ‘experts’ when it comes to their children.”
There are things that parents can do to optimize the creative process as applied to parenting. First, parents can devote time to thinking about solutions to a child’s issue. Parents can reflect on the child’s problem while walking, running, or driving. Prayer, meditation, and journal writing are other examples of ways to contemplate the child’s needs. I, for one, do my best thinking about my children when I am out walking or running and often return home with a new perspective on the issue.
Another important way to optimize creativity is to be on the lookout for anxiety. When children have a problem, the parents’ first response is to become fearful. This is natural and inevitable but not good for creative problem solving. Basically, anxiety kills creativity. When anxiety emerges, it’s important to nip it in the bud. Do what is necessary to calm yourself down so that the creative ideas can flow.
Children are living, breathing works of art and parents have the privilege of facilitating their development. Parents need to acknowledge those moments when their creative efforts on the child’s behalf bear good fruit. To do so can bring tremendous gratification at a job well done.