Elements of a Confident Kid…Artistic
– exhibiting sensitivity
– the creation of works of beauty or other special significance
– the exercise of human skill
– imaginative skill as applied to representations of the natural world or figments of the imagination
Being artistic is a human desire, one we all possess by virtue of the fact that we want to be known and accepted for who we truly are. We are all born artists though we develop our outlets for self-expression in diverse ways. It remains a mystery why a child gravitates toward any one interest sometimes fully of her own accord when others around her are not involved in that particular subject. Being artistic brings feeling, thoughts and actions together. A child acting on artistic impulses feels a passion or enthusiasm for a subject or medium and without inhibition explores that desire.
“Listen to this!” Michael says each time he comes over to play. He may be plunking out notes on the piano, strumming the guitar or expanding and contracting our toy accordion. Whatever the instrument, he initiates playing music while our son never touches any of our music making tools. “Do you have paper?” Theresa will invariably ask. She wants to draw animals and will do so regardless of the play others are engaging in. E instead will design elaborate train track systems or line the entire living room with a patchwork of pillows following his own aesthetic sense.
Developing the artistic side becomes increasingly more challenging as a child grows. There are numerous ways self-expression is squashed or discouraged. “Trees don’t look like that,” a teacher might say. Or a dad might comment, “That doesn’t sound like music to me.” Though trial and error is part of the learning process and an important part of artistic exploration, some children never have the opportunity to explore because the peers and adults around them frequently tell them they are wrong. For a child who is keenly attuned to learning social and cultural norms from other’s cues, those comments can shut down exploration indefinitely.
And why is artistic exploration important for any child? Because a journey of discovery helps a child understand his own sense of identity, being artistic is an essential part of development. Denying intense feelings exist has detrimental consequences for the individual. He puts up walls that do not allow others access to his true self. And in doing so, prevents the establishment of healthy, intimate relationships. Suppressing artistic pursuits makes children, and adults for that matter, feel that some aspect of who they are is unacceptable, unworthy of expression.
In addition to the ability to explore one’s identity through artistic expression, a recent article in The Washington Post articulated ten critical skills children learn through the arts. They are creativity, confidence, problem solving, perseverance, focus, non-verbal communication, receiving constructive feedback, collaboration, dedication and accountability. In addition, a number of research studies are confirming that doing art has a calming effect and is increasingly being used as therapy with children diagnosed with ADHD or Autism.
Promoting Your Budding Artist
Listen, Observe and Provide Opportunities
Children will tell and show you exactly what they are interested in pursuing. The trick is to really listen and observe. What kinds of activities do they engage in with their whole self? Often the play that consumes their focus and puts them in a sense of “flow” will indicate the kind of self-expression they desire. Provide the tools of the trade, camps, classes or experiences that allow a forum for expression.
Often our toughest role as parents is holding our comments. We are tempted to save or correct as mistakes occur or children are less than we hope they might be. But it’s critical to remember that giving them the chance to falter will also give them the chance to improve. The best policy with children’s self-expression is to resist commenting – positive or negative. Artistic expression is a subjective experience. If you offer judgment, you risk your child losing passion for the art itself.
Facilitate Creative Thinking through Open-Ended Questions
Creative thinking is a powerful life skill that can enhance relationships, increase problem solving abilities, and even impact academic performance. Children who are practiced at thinking of alternatives to a problem will perform better on high stakes tests and work more effectively in collaborative environments in which there are multiple stakeholders with multiple opinions. Creative thinkers are able to see others’ perspectives and know that there are always numerous options in any given situation. So ask before you answer. Question before you jump in and solve. “Too often children are given answers to questions rather than problems to solve,” wrote Roger Lewin. If your child wants to know what to do about a problem ask, “What choices do you have?” “What could you do?” Then follow through with “If you do that, then what happens?” Allow them the opportunity for a creative thinking process and you will not only encourage self-expression but also responsible decision making as they being to consider cause and effect.
Parent’s Relationship with Art Education and Evaluation
Certainly with any art form, there are technical aspects to master. Those skills often take instruction, practice and time. And hopefully, art teachers will support the development of those technical skills while simultaneously promoting self-expression. It’s a delicate balance for arts educators to not quell the passion or vulnerability. And for parents, it’s a delicate balance too, particularly if a parent has mastered the technical skills of an art form. So what’s a caring parent to do? Though it may be challenging, avoid excessive praise or criticism. When an art project is brought home, helpful comments that could encourage future explorations and skill development could include:
“What were you feeling when you made this?”
“What were you hoping to express?”
“What do you appreciate about it?”
Allow children to come to you for help or instruction if you possess an expertise that they are interested in and want to learn instead of initiating a teaching session. Placing an emphasis on self-evaluation can help children develop their own reflection skills. Here’s a terrific example from E’s first grade teacher. The benefit is that it not only helps a child self-reflect on their own learning experience but also serves as a helpful reminder to a parent using it to refrain from their own judgments.
We as adults struggle with the ability to connect with others, fit into our social and cultural circumstances and allow for our own self-expression. Often those goals work in conflict so finding our own footing can be a great challenge. But we want more for our children so it’s worth exploring how we can facilitate their development in a way that they grow up able to express who they are, develop the associated skills necessary to help them shine and connect with others fitting into their social surroundings. By its very definition, a confident kid is one who is able to express herself. Promote confidence with your children by giving them the chance to think, feel, act and reflect for themselves.
The Inherently Creative Family
Online Dictionary. Retrieved on 3/31/15 from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/art?s=t. British definition
Strauss, V. (2013). Top Ten Skills Children Learn from the Arts. Washington, DC: The Washington Post.