How to Kill Your Child’s Creativity

How to Kill Your Child's Creativity

Kids are born creative geniuses. But unfortunately, by the time they reach the third or fourth grade, their creativity has sunk. With intelligence, there is a phenomenon called the Flynn effect: each generation, scores go up about 10 points because enriched environments make kids smarter. With creativity, a reverse trend has been identified: since 1990, creativity scores are falling. What are we doing wrong?

How to Kill Your Child's Creativity


These are some of the most effective creativity killers:


  • Rewards: scientific research has demonstrated that rewards inhibit children’s exploration and imagination. A kid will put as much effort as it is needed to get the reward and he won’t push himself any further. Prizes and stickers eliminate the intrinsic pleasure of creative activities. We want engaged, motivated children, not just kids with their notebooks filled with stars.


  • Shadowing: always sitting by their side and micromanaging their projects is detrimental to their creativity. If kids are constantly being observed and we give them always some advice they won’t learn to take risks and they won’t experience the value of making mistakes as part of the process.


  • Limited choice: we put our children into a system that teaches them “there is only one right answer” Most toys come with instructions and we barely let them choose. However, exploring options is at the heart of lateral thinking. Creative kids feel free to propose alternative solutions and are keener to follow their curiosity.


  • Over scheduling: organized activities, workshops, social dates… children’s diaries have never been fuller. But we are so busy over-stimulating them that we forget to allocate time for the most important stimulus of all: boredom. Boredom feeds imagination and imagination feeds ideas and creativity. We often say “I need to just sit down and do nothing to recharge” and yet we don’t apply this to our kids. It is during times when we are doing “nothing” that our mind gets the best ideas.


How to Kill Your Child's Creativity


Creativity flourishes when things are done for enjoyment. What matters is the pleasure, not the perfection. Let’s forget about the “getting it right” and let’s give our kids the opportunity to explore, to make mistakes and take risks and to feel the freedom to express all their wonderful ideas.


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Meet Nuria Pérez Paredes, a supernova mama, world-class creative director, and random-acts-of-creativity renegade. Nuria sparks genius by teaching creative-thinking techniques in schools and helping families improve their parenthood skills. She holds a MA in Advertising from Accademia di Comunicazione in Milan and a diploma in Executive & Creative Coaching from Noble Manhattan in London. Nuria loves writing, playing the ukulele, and dunking biscuits in tea. She lives in Madrid with her two daughters and enjoys blogging about their creative endeavors over at The Adventures Archive.



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  1. I love the “boredom” tip…it’s very true, growing up I was most creative when I had nothing to do and had to come up with my own entertainment. My parents sure didn’t think it was their job to keep me perpetually entertained, it was up to me to find things to do.

    1. Love the “it was up to me to find things to do” part. In a way, boredom triggers independence and resourcefulness! Thanks so much for your comment Penelope.

  2. I am the mom of a 5 year old girl. I try to buy open ended toys. While we do a lot of activities sometimes the best activity is doing nothing. As I am writing this my daughter is gluing pom poms and other items to a paper and is making a “city”. Other than the keep on the cardboard table protector (top part of a pizza box much better than newspaper) I give my daughter “art” supplies and tell her to follow her heart. You would be amazed what she does. Sometimes I come up with some project for her to do and let her decide how to do it. Yesterday it was for her to design parachute for her doll to jump out of a plane. A few days ago it was to build a car that could go the furthest down a ramp. Open with a bit of direction. I get most of the ideas from scouting and 4H.

  3. I came across your excelleng article and site via Tinkerlab and I thought you might be interested in what I’m doing to nurture kids’ creativity:
    My late mother, Sydell Rosenberg, was a NYC teacher and a charter member of the Haiku Society of America, founded in 1968 in NYC. She wrote other poetry as well as short stories and puzzles, and translated Spanish literature as well, but I think haiku (and senryu, which focus more on people’s situations and relationships) were her favorite creative writing formats. According to her bio-sketch in a haiku anthology published years ago (I believe it was The Haiku Handbook), mom published her first haiku in 1967. She must have written hundreds of haiku and senryu over an approximately 30 year span (she died in October, 1996).
    I want some of her work to live for today’s audiences – especially children. I know that, eons ago, my mom wanted to publish a haiku picture book – an A-B-C reader. (If my memory is correct, she even had the chutzpah to contact the great Maurice Sendak proposing a collaboration – her haiku, his illustrations). She never fulfilled this dream, although she was well-anthologized and appreciated in her circle. One of her senryu poems even appeared in a marvelous public, urban art experience in the heart of Manhattan in 1994 entitled, “Haiku On 42nd Street” — in which haiku and senryu were showcased on blank heater marquees.
    Haiku, with their compact and concise format, yet so richly evocative – and of course, poetry in general – can expand the scope of kids’ imaginations and help them make creative connections, as well as facilitate literacy through elegant, spare wordplay and metaphor. And since haiku poems capture nature in “nuggets,” as I like to say, I think they are ideal for “en plein air” reading and writing, as well as drawing and painting — or just observing.
    In my idiosyncratic way, I am making some strides in sharing her work with young audiences that serve them in educational and creative ways: I recently concluded the second Sydell Rosenberg-Arts For All haiku/art workshop series for second-graders at P.S.163 in the Bronx, in which several of mom’s animal haiku were paired with drawing and painting. The first program took place in the fall of 2013 and at the end, Arts For All – a wonderful non-profit children’s arts education organization in NYC — kindly created a picture book with the students’ artwork and the haiku that were used, as a thank you keepsake. So in a way, my mom has finally gotten the picture book she wanted.
    Another program recently wrapped in the spring at P.S. 163: a haiku/music workshop series for English as a Second Language learners – also second-graders. I attended three of the six sessions. They were delightful! One of the two music teachers from Arts For All developed inventive lesson plans that connected my mom’s haiku to melody and rhythm, with the words serving as the verses. The children helped to construct the melody and even their own haiku “lyrics” which served as a unifying chorus. The lead music teacher selected four haiku, each one representing a season.
    Also, in 2013 I worked with NY’s Children’s Museum of the Arts on a splendid project called the PoeTree – please see this blog below. Using my mom’s haiku, and her definition of haiku, as a guide, kids were encouraged to write their own haiku on paper leaves and suspend them from the tree. Over several months, this bright structure became populated with many colorful leaves decorated with haiku.
    In addition to the Children’s Museum of the Arts PoeTree blog, please also see this recent article about the importance of teaching poetry in schools. My partnership with Arts For All is included and I am quoted. Thank you for the opportunity to contact you about my initiatives to my mom’s image-rich poems to help spark creativity in children.. Kind regards.

  4. Coloring in books are a lazy plan. The child is engaged but for what? Learning to fill in the lines! They need to be able to explore their own subject matter, work on their drawing skills, have fun with a story of their own. They need to learn how to look look look so they draw things as they are and can apply their imagination by being relaxed and having their own fun. Then to share it with others and talk about what it means to them, without feeling judged.

    1. I do agree that coloring books are not the most creative things, but kids like them because they get a sense of accomplishment. “Look, I made a picture of Cinderella!” But maybe they could be one small part of an arts & crafts closet 🙂

  5. Fabulous post! Thank you Nuria for giving parents and educators such specific examples. This is exactly why we include ideas and inspiration with our kits, not step-by-step instructions. When we have free art projects in the community, we see a lot of shadowing from well-meaning parents. It can be tricky to find a nice way to suggest they let their kids take the lead, so we often try to get the parent to make their own craft at the same time. It works sometimes 🙂

  6. I guess thats why my children are so creative. They are always bored and from boredom spurs the forts, castles, dragon layers, witches, beautiful artworks by YA (My 10 yr olds artist name). I do at times have mommy led play (I start the activity and let them join).
    I lnow that my tots are not over scheduled because we only attend one class per season. Any activities that I plan are never really scheduled or planned. They are some imaginative little buggers.

    1. I think creativity is crucial for our next generation. We are living in times of super fast change and have no idea what kind of problems our kids will face. They will have to be creative to find new solutions and to face new challenges.

    2. Think of it this way, creativity doesn’t just mean art, it can also mean invention or engineering. Out latest generations have indeed been inventing great stuff, BUT back in the day when kids weren’t so over stimulated and over worked they were fully able to explore their creativity and they grew up to invent the telephone, harness electricity, invent the airplane or train or paint the Mona Lisa. We haven’t had (IMO) as sweeping and monumental developments in recent decades, and I equate that with the helicopter parenting that is so popular as well as the over usage of previously mentioned inventions lol (ie TV, phones, electronic items).

      But to answer your question more directly, yes it’s highly important to develop creativity and imagination for long term.

  7. This was a good summary. I think some of these factors are interconnected: e.g. rewarding is often implicitly assumes that there is only one solution for a problem, the one the person who gives the reward is looking for.

  8. Very informative I always says that teachers kills prescholers creativity will like to get some names of books with strategies on creativity

    1. I don’t think teachers are the problem, and it’s unfair to blame them. In Preschool, your child is entering a whole new social world outside their family and their friends, in preschool the main focus is on encouraging them to socialise with these new people. School is the gateway for your child to enter into society, it’s there that they learn to socialise with larger groups and to become more independent from their home environment. I can understand people being unhappy with the education system, and a lot of teachers I know are too. And while creativity is important, you have to remember that not every child is a “creative genius.” Some children may not like creative arts after a certain age, and may gear more towards science or sports. And the majority of the time that’s not the teacher’s fault. A teacher only communicates with a child for a certain portion of the day, the rest if up to them and to you. If you feel they are lacking in creative stimuli at school (because, y’know, it seems like teachers have to give classes that are specifically tailored to 20-30 kids individual needs, and that just can’t be done.) then it’s up to you, like any other parent to encourage them to these things outside of school, as a hobby or as something else.

      1. Hi Donna, Hi Emily,
        I agree with Emily that teachers are not at all to blame. They often have too many kids per class and have to stick to an education system and to a curriculum that is outdated and doesn’t address each kid’s individuality.
        However, I disagree with Emily in that I do think every child is a creative genius. Latest statistics and research say that 98% of 3 year old kids are indeed genius lateral thinkers. The problem is that we often confuse creativity with a creative arts. You mentioned science and sports. But isn’t it creative a soccer player that finds a new way to arrive to the post? Isn’t it creative a scientist that invents a new vaccine? Creativity is the art of finding new solutions to a problem and a kid can express that tendency via any subject.
        Thank you both for reading!

    2. Donna, as a preschool teacher, I strive to have very open-ended activities for my students. There are no coloring pages in my room; the writing center has blank paper, different types of writing utensils, words cards of our explored topic, stamps and stamp pads. In our building center, we do have the typical cardboard blocks and wooden blocks, but we also have slabs from a large sycamore branch that fell in my yard, rolls of newspaper, paper towel tubes, duct tape, scissors, etc. Need I go on.
      Your comment is the lazy excuse of many people that have no idea what preschool teachers do. I hope you home school your little darlings, since teachers don’t seem to have the ability to meet your expectations. Otherwise, I suggest you visit different preschool classes to really see what goes on, but please remember that as a visitor, it would be best to observe and allow the teacher to do her job.

  9. Excellent article Ms. Paredez! The piece on boredom is spot on! Your “Teach A Talent” company is PHENOMENAL! Way to think OUTSIDE-OF-THE-BOX! I’d love to start a similar program here in Houston, Texas.

  10. I couldn’t agree more! I own an after-school enrichment company that teaches skills, so they must be somewhat structured. However, we also free/creative time and review days that are meant for creativity only. It is a crucial part of our mission at Spunky Arts!

    Thank you for this, sincerely.
    Chris K.

  11. Loved this read! As a teacher (grade 1), I want to promote this type of creativity in my classroom but I struggle with the practical implementation piece. How do I meet the needs/demands of the curriculum, while at the same time nurture creativity (not just the creative arts kind)? How do I give children the opportunity to explore their creativity when I’m dealing with so many students with different behavioural needs, especially when those behaviour needs require structure? My concern lies in the fact that allowing them to get “bored” will likely result in chaos due to the number of children in one classroom. I so desperately want to be a teacher that nurtures creativity but I don’t know exactly how to do it effectively :-(. Any practical suggests would be awesome!!

  12. Great advice! I agree that children need to have time to be “bored” to develop creativity. The schedules many children have contain too many structured activities. I am a preschool teacher and I think school should be a careful balance of open-ended and structured activities. Our education system requires children to understand that there are times when they can make decisions and be creative and times when they must “find the correct answer”.

  13. Thank you so much for this! My hubby and MIL seem to think my kiddos need to always be doing something, always be on the go. I prefer to let them have tons and tons of what I call “free play” – unstructured, they do what they like, playing and creating as they will. There will be plenty of time for structure and schedules, and while we do have our routine, it’s not regimented. My kids seem to be very able to create something from nothing and as of yet, don’t find themselves bored very often. They are constantly creating and playing and I think it’s great. Building toys often get built by the instructions once or twice, but then the paper is destroyed and my kids’ imaginations flourish. As frustrating and destructive as it can get when my kiddos get toys and privileges revoked, that’s when their creativity really comes out and it makes me proud. I wish others would see it as positively as I do.

  14. This Is exactly what we’re trying to eliminate especially at this time of year with Christmas cards etc. so this year I gave my children a piece of art paper and asked them to draw what Christmas meant to them got lots of very individual pictures and meanings.

  15. Hello, I’m just wondering if you have a link to the activity at the top of the page, the one with all of the circles? I do in home support and that looks like it could be a fun activity to do!
    Thank you and great article!

  16. Great article. It is so easy to get lost in the product. I love when I have the children (my students) to just explore. I love putting some jazz or classical music on. I think it helps free them.

  17. superb creativity and interesting… My child is 8 yrs .. He hates to draw .. Can u give me some tips that would make him develop interest on drawing … Thanks

  18. Dear Nuria, I live in London just arrived with my two boys from South America. A big change for all of us. I am considering the Waldorf Steiner School, my kids are 4 and 7 years old. The other option would be to get through the state school, and get them there to be competitive which is what my husband wants so that apparently they can apply to good jobs and better aspirations. I would love to hear your opinion. Which schooling? do you know about Steiner? do you believe they miss out Science or Maths in this method? I feel it becomes very difficult for them as kids to be creative in a state School where all is about grades and rewards. But don´t know if Im just being rebel against my husband´s orthodox thinking. Thank you for your insights. I truly appreciate them.
    Ana Muriel.

    1. Hi. I’m an education major myself, and I think the Waldorf school is great for music, but it is lacking in fluidity of research based methodology. IMO, Reggio Emilia schools allow for materials development based on ongoing research in educational psychology. Even many charter schools that aren’t dedicated to a cult of personality would be more willing to work with your child’s multifaceted potential for learning and developing creativity.

  19. Just a thought: Maybe that over scheduling, rewards, and shadowing are what caused that IQ increase. I’m not saying that I’m all for those things, but I AM for increased IQ. If creativity is at the cost of IQ points, some trade-off might not be a bad thing. There’s a reason why IQ points are so highly regarded; they are a good indicator of future success. Creativity, not so much. I very much want my children to be creative but it has to be balanced with giving them the best tools to equip them with success in life.

  20. these are all thing we somehow feel but cant really point out and solve. So this is one very useful reading for moms. Thanks for sharing. I would like to translate this and post in my blog?

  21. I read a story about a first grader whose teacher gave each child a rectangular sheet of paper and told them to “cut it the long way.” Everyone in the class cut their sheet of paper in half from bottom to top except one child who cut it diagonally, which is the longest cut you can make on a sheet of paper. Unfortunately, it wasn’t what the teacher had in mind and her teacher told her she was wrong. Teachers who prize creative responses and original thinking by children can make a world of difference in their lives.

  22. One of my children protests by doing nothing when I don’t allow her to play videogames or watch youtubers. She simply preferes to get bored as a way to protest.

  23. I’ve always felt that games and puzzles that have only one outcome, to win, don’t usually do much to stimulate a child’s creativity. Open-ended play, however, lets a child get used to thinking out of the box.
    Gwynn Torres
    The Creativity Institute

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