Cultivating Creative Confidence Through Conversation: Talking With Your Children About Their Artwork

“A little confidence in creativity leads to a lot of confidence in everything else” –David Kelley, Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All

As an artist and art teacher, I spend a lot of time engaged in conversations about creativity. So often, in my discussions I hear adults say “Oh, I’m not creative” or “I don’t have an artistic bone in my body” or “I can’t even draw a straight line” or something that completely dismisses their inherent human creativity. When I probe these statements further, I find out that most adults have experienced what I dub as an “art trauma.” This is the moment when one decides to throw in the creative towel because the perceived risks are too great. Most people can remember this exact moment in their childhood. It usually has to do with what someone said or responded to their artwork.

For example, this summer I was talking to a parent of one of my students who adamantly insisted that she was not creative. After I told her my theory of “art traumas” she told me her story. She remembered the exact moment. She was in the 4th grade and had drawn a bear to express her feelings about a particular experience. She was so proud of her artwork, but when the teacher came around she gave her a disgusted look and said, “Ugh, what is that?”. She remembered feeling incredibly crushed and vulnerable after she had worked so hard and was so proud of creation. After this moment she decided to creatively shut-down as a way of self-preservation. Unfortunately, I feel that this can be a typical experience of many adults.

Correspondingly, Pablo Picasso once said, “The creative adult is the child that survived.”  It is my goal as an art teacher that all my students “survive” to become creative adults. That they feel confident in their creativity, curious about the world, feel comfortable taking risks, and become active participants in re-imagining a better world regardless of the result. One way I make sure that this happens is by the language I use when I talk to them about their artwork. When we talk to children about their creations we need to make sure we encourage their innate creativity instead of extinguishing it. In the rapidly changing 21st century, the most important asset we have is our creativity.

As a parent you can encourage creativity in your children by thinking about the questions and comments you make while a child is creating. The table below can provide you with some examples of how to encourage the creative process and what to avoid.

Inappropriate Questions and Comments Explanation Appropriate Questions and Comments Explanation
What is that?


It can be very disappointing to a child if you can’t figure out what they’ve created. Ask open-ended questions and let them tell you what it is. What can you tell me about your piece of work?


This allows the child to share what they have been working on in their own words. This also allows you to avoid guessing what they’ve created if you are unsure.
I love that dog you painted.


Never assume you know what they’ve created. Try to avoid being too specific until the child has given you information. What gave you the idea to create this?


This encourages children to think about what they’ve created and will allow them to tell you their idea behind the creation.
You must have been sad when you wrote that.


Do not assume you know what a child was feeling when they created something. Let them tell you — it will give them a chance to discuss their feelings but not feel uncomfortable.


What is your favorite part about it? How were you feeling when you created this?


These open-ended questions give children a chance to think about what they like about their piece of work. They might choose the topic or the color or something completely different. It also is the best way to give children the chance to discuss their feelings without pressure.
It looks like you need to work on your cutting skills.


Try not to judge or critique a child’s skill level when they are working on a creative project. There is a time for skill-building activities; you can easily discourage their creativity if you constantly point out the negative. What title would you give it?


This question give you an idea of what makes this piece important to the child. It also gives them ownership over their work.

One of the best ways to help prepare our children for the future is by cultivating their creativity. One way this can be done is through the conversations we have with them, especially about their artwork. Today’s children will likely grow up in a world very different from that of the present, working in careers that do not yet even exist, using methods and technologies that not yet have been invented, and valuing commodities that not yet have been created (Trilling & Fadel 2009). As a society we cannot afford to have our children’s creativity crushed by “Art Traumas”.

To thrive in the future, we need people who can think creatively and find innovative solutions to problems. As author Ken Robinson explains, “Creativity is the greatest gift of human intelligence. The more complex the world becomes, the more creative we need to be to meet its challenges.” Talking to your children about their artwork can be one way of ensuring their inherent creativity flourishes as they continue to grow.

-Jenny Urbanek, DMA PEN Newsletter November 2016

Works Cited

Isbell, Rebecca and Sonia Akiko Yoshizawa. Nurturing Creativitiy: An Essential Mindset for Young Children’s Learning. National Association for the Education of Young Children 2016
Kelley, Tom, and David Kelley. Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All. Random House, 2013.
Robinson, Ken. Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative. Capstone, 2011
Trilling, Bernie and Charlie Fadel. 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times. Jossey- Bass, 2009.
Virtual Lab School. Cultivating Creativity and Innovation: Experiences and Activities, 2016.    Accessed 09 Nov. 2016.

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