The Art of Parenting an Artistic Child

By Carolyn Waterbury-Tieman

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” –Pablo Picasso

Young children know they are artists. Give them a pencil and they’ll draw. Play music and they’ll dance and sing. Forget the music. They’ll dance and sing anyway.

Give them an instrument and they’ll play you a tune – most likely an original composition.

Children do not doubt their artistic ability. They are uninhibited by social definitions of art and the evaluative process. They exhibit the fundamental human drive to create, to discover, to express themselves, to share what they have come to know, to tell their story.

That is the purpose of art – to communicate and connect with others.

Unfortunately, by the age of 9, the artist has been socialized out of many children. Perhaps, more accurately, they have learned to doubt or mistrust the artist within.

They begin to believe, “I can’t do that.” “I’m not good at that.” “That’s not for boys/girls.”

But for some children the desire to create is more powerful than social pressure. For those of us parenting these children, there are steps we can take to ensure that our young artists achieve their full potential.

Recognize your child’s gifts. If your child wakes up singing, dances rather than walks, draws on every scrap of paper she finds, enjoys making up stories, chances are you have an artistically gifted child.

These children are often talented in more than one area. Help them discover and explore all of their gifts.

Demonstrate your approval of and appreciation for their abilities.

Provide them with the materials they need to create. Take the time to be an audience when they want to sing, dance or play for you.

Display their artwork. Offer to write down their stories. Help with costumes or sets for their productions. Let them know that you value what they are doing.

Look for opportunities that will motivate them to improve their skills.

Arrange for classes and/or private lessons. Involve your child in school and/or community art groups and activities. Attend exhibits, concerts, productions, and museums.

Emphasize the importance of discipline.

Provide outlets for your child’s artistic energy but make it clear when and where this is appropriate. Build practice into their daily routine. Set reasonable expectations based on age.

Teach them to be their own best critic.

Be an enthusiastic but honest audience. Show appreciation for effort, recognize progress but also help them identify areas for improve-ment. Avoid being either overly critical or overly complimentary. It is important for them to learn to discriminate between excellence and mediocrity in their work.

Avoid unnecessary competition.

Encourage your child to strive for his best, not the best. He can be the former every day of his life. He can waste his life trying to be the latter.

Support the arts. Become an advocate, not only for your young artist, for art in general.

Research consistently demonstrates that participation in the arts improves everything from attitudes to academic performance to health and well-being.

Art has the potential to bring out the best in us. Perhaps, Terry Semel, chairman of Warner Brothers, said it best, “Kids who create don’t destroy.”

Keys to success in the 21st century include reasoning, decision-making, creative and critical thinking, problem solving, visualizing, communication and collaboration.

Enhancement of these skills is a direct outcome of participation in the arts. When we nurture the artist in our children, we are investing in their future success.

Carolyn-and-BoysCarolyn Waterbury-Tieman has degrees in Child Development, Family Studies, and Marriage and Family Therapy. She spent 15 years in various agencies and clinics as a family therapist and parent educator. Her son, Douglas, 24, graduated from SCAPA in 2008 and is an actor, singer, musician, dancer, writer and visual artist.  Joseph, 14, is a freshman theatre major at SCAPA who also sings, dances, plays piano, and creates visual art.