Saturday, June 04, 2005

Encouraging Creativity in Babies and Toddlers

I think it's safe to say that every parent would like their children to grow up with well-rounded interests and abilities. Unfortunately, not everyone knows how to gently encourage a variety of interests without becoming overly pushy or strict. Some parents harbor unrealistic expectations when it comes to the activities that their babies and toddlers engage in. For example, they might expect a baby to develop motor skills too early, they might expect a toddler to use complete sentences at too young an age, or they might expect a toddler to be able to properly hold and use objects such as crayons and markers before the child is coordinated enough to do so. Unrealistic expectations serve little use, except to cause lots of undue stress for the entire household.

While I am certainly not claiming to be a child-rearing expert, I think that by using common sense and having patience, any parent can help their babies and toddlers develop an appreciation for music and art in fun ways. For example, all young children love music, and we adults know the value that music adds to our lives. Some well-meaning parents, however, think that their babies and toddlers ought to listen to classical music from the likes of Beethoven and Mozart. I think this is fine on occasion, but give the kids a break! Babies want to hear soft lullabies with actual lyrics sung in soothing voices. Toddlers want to hear fun music with catchy rhythms that they can move along with and lyrics that they can understand and repeat. Although Barney is the bane of many an older child's existence, toddlers just love the big purple dinosaur. The songs on Barney videos and DVDs are great for toddlers because of the reasons stated above. I know some parents who like telling friends that their toddler enjoys Mozart. They think it makes the child sound more intellingent or something. But is there really a 2 year old out there who would prefer Mozart over Barney? I just wish parents would let their kids be kids. Put a Barney tape in the VCR and let your toddlers jump, dance, and sing with the Backyard Gang. That's how they will learn to love music and movement.

Some parents are equally pushy when it comes to art. They expect their toddlers to "stay within the lines" when coloring, they expect their toddlers to use appropriate colors for everything (blue sky, yellow sun, etc.), and they expect their toddlers not to make a mess. Who could possibly enjoy art with all these restrictions? Instead, why not forget the coloring books and tape large sheets of white paper over the surface of a table and let your toddler doodle or draw whatever captures his or her fancy? At the end of the session, clean up is a breeze. Just remove the paper and stick it on the fridge (you wouldn't throw away that masterpiece, would you?). You might be pleasantly surprised at what your little one can draw when you remove these arbitrary constraints.

Parenting is hard work. We naturally want our children to be the best they can be, so it's sometimes difficult to stop pushing and just back off a bit. But letting your kids be kids is one of the best things you can do for them.

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