To help or not to help, let your kids grow their creativity

Monday, October 14th, 2013

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So here’s a one question quiz I have for parents of kids five years of age and under:

Your child is entering a contest and aside from the basic outlining of what your child needs to prepare for the contest (a picture of their family, a play-doh pumpkin etc.) the only other rule is (in all caps) ALL ENTRIES ARE TO BE THE WORK OF THE EXHIBITOR.

Do you:

a. let your child do the craft themselves


b. do the craft for your child.

There’s no option c of I’d do a little bit of the work but let my child do most of the craft because we’re not talking about building a log cabin for your family to live in for the year. We’re talking about using play-doh, crayons and string to create something. You either let your child do it on their own or you don’t.

We recently had our child enter four such contests and she did every one without help from us. We told her what she was supposed to do, set her up with the things she needed and then bit our tongues as she did things we probably wouldn’t have done. Her circles looked like diamonds, her diamonds looked like circles and her pumpkin looked like, well see it below. Needless to say, they were all perfect. We submitted them, we slept easily and we ended up taking home three participant ribbons and one hard earned eighth place ribbon. Here are some of the projects she worked on for your enjoyment and as a sample of what one nearly 4-year-old was able to produce.

Leah's Jack-o-lantern

Leah’s Jack-o-lantern

Leah's family drawing

Leah’s family drawing

I’m not going to post the work of some of the other children who submitted work in the same categories but I will mention that while four out of five of them looked like my child’s, meaning very child-like and very awesome, there were a group of upper echelon crafts that at least appeared to be either crafted with heavy influence from a parental figure or with the help of Harry Potter-like magic. Granted, I do not know the families of these children at all. The parents could very well have been working on the crafts with the help of a child with developmental delays who really wanted to submit a project but couldn’t do so without the help of a parent. If that was the case, then outstanding job of parenting, I applaud you. I however, don’t think this is the case universally.

So, umm what’s the deal with you doing your kids craft?

What is the life lesson you’re trying to teach you kid when you take a craft as basic as making a round, pumpkin-like shape out of play-doh and do it for your kid? Is it that it’s more important to win than to do things yourself? Is it that there will always be someone to do something for you? Perhaps it’s to provide a false sense of security that Mommy and Daddy will always be around to make sure that child is always the best at everything. Whatever the reason, there’s one thing I’m certain of—by doing things for them that they can do themselves, you’re telling them that what they do on their own isn’t good enough. And telling a child that what they create on their own isn’t good enough is a surefire way to stunt their creativity and to cause them to question their own abilities as they grow up.

Because you know what kind of kid craft would look better displayed on your kitchen table than a craft you actually did? And do you know what your kid is going to feel more pride in? The answer is anything they do on their own.

They’re not always the prettiest crafts but they’re always perfect and always her own

My kid ended up learning how fun it is to do things on their own. They also learned that when you do things on your own, you don’t always win. The thing is, she also couldn’t have cared less that the best result she had was a blue eighth place ribbon. She brought them all home that day and put every ribbon up on our fridge and I’m going to leave them there for as long as she’d like.


Leah displaying her ribbon haul.

Leah displaying her ribbon haul.

You can call this sour grapes on my part if you want, because it is. But it’s not sour grapes because she didn’t win because she shouldn’t have—there were plenty of submissions that were more aesthetically appealing than hers and she was actually happier to win a blue ribbon than the traditional red first-place ribbon. It’s sour grapes because my kids are going to have to grow up alongside a child who’s parents don’t mind “bending the rules.” Who take winning at all costs literally and make life difficult for kids who’d rather pick dandelions at the crucial moment of a soccer game than play defense.

Neither my kid nor your kid are going to win all the things

Kids lose at things, that’s just the way it is. I’m glad my child has already started to learn how to deal with not winning a red ribbon for everything they do. One time, these kids are going to submit something their parents haven’t done and they’re going to lose. And their going to flip their lid because they never lose—their parents make damn sure of that. And there aren’t too many people out there who have a lot of sympathy for “sore losers.”

So put away your glue stick and keep your hands clean of play-doh while your kid makes a Christmas tree that look like a row boat because it’s perfect as it is.

One response to “To help or not to help, let your kids grow their creativity”

  1. Mitch says:

    Well said Mike. It’s all too often that parents take some action that they believe to be in the best interest of their kids but are in fact not doing them any good in the long run…I myself have an-almost-2-year-old and will do my best to guide her while teaching the important lessons you discussed above!
    Congrats to your daughter on the 8th place by the way!


    PS – The pumpkin’s pretty darned cool if you ask me!

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