Creativity: The Key to Healthy Parenting

Creativity: The Key to Healthy Parenting

Creativity: The Key to Healthy Parenting

An interview with Dona Matthews, PhD, whose latest book IMPERFECT PARENTING: HOW TO BUILD A RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR CHILD TO WEATHER ANY STORM is about caring and connection, and also the power of creativity.

1. Dona, in your new book, Imperfect Parenting, you discuss MANY ways parents can nurture children’s development. However, on page 209, you write, “As I see it, creativity may be at the heart of healthy parenting. There’s nothing I can think of that requires more creativity than dealing with the everyday obstacles, calamities, and surprises that being a parent brings.” Can you please elaborate on why creativity matters so much?

Creativity plays an essential role in the relationship-building process that forms the core of Imperfect Parenting. Building a relationship with your child may sound so simple, so natural, but the day-to-day reality can be surprisingly challenging. An attitude of creative possibility can help you respond with love, patience, and kindness to the grinding relentlessness of life with a child, especially if you have a child with special needs.

By keeping your creative spark alive, you not only build your relationship with your child, but you also enhance the everyday experience of your family and increase your ability to overcome life’s challenges. You also act as a role model for your child, showing them how to stay connected to the joyful possibilities in everyday life, which in turn increases their chances for building a happily productive life for themself.

2. How can parents support their child in exploring, using, and extending their creativity?

It starts with listening to your child. When you’re fully present to your child—loving, caring, patient, and attentive—you’re supporting them in finding their curiosities. Once your child identifies an interest—music, words, building, dancing, and/or something else—support them in following that interest. Take them seriously. Ask questions. Listen closely to their answers, and provide them with the tools they need to take it to the next level.

Boredom can spur creative ideas, so make sure your child has ample time for inventing their own play. Creativity emerges naturally when a child has a foundation of skills and knowledge, enough unscheduled time, and also some mental habits that encourage them to take their ideas further. These habits include redefining problems—for example, seeing mud puddles not as something to avoid, but as good places for oozing mud between the toes—seeing obstacles as opportunities for making ideas better, and finding what they love to do. In Imperfect Parenting, I write more about the various habits of mind that parents can encourage in their kids, thereby nurturing their creativity. (And of course, Joanne, you and I write about this in Being Smart about Gifted Learning!)

Imperfect Parenting

3. On page 219 of Imperfect Parenting, you discuss the importance of slowing things down. You write, “The joyful possibilities inherent in daily life—the wonder in the ordinary—are trampled in the rush to get things done.” What suggestions do you have to help children pace themselves, and embrace the wonder of the world around them?

Kids need scheduled downtime when they’re free to figure out what they want to do, so avoid over-scheduling with school, extracurricular activities, and family obligations. Screentime can gobble time, too, squeezing out a child’s chances for connecting to wonder and possibility. Some screentime can be useful—as a break for parents, alternative learning options, necessary relaxation time—but too many kids spend excessive time on screens.

Maybe one day a week, instead of driving your child to school, leave early and walk with them, taking time to notice the changes since the last time you took that walk. Maybe one day a month take a mental health day from work and school, and plan a trip to a park or museum.

When you slow things down for your child even occasionally, and slow things down for yourself too, you open yourself to the riches all around, and open your spirit to appreciate the creative possibilities in every day.

4. In Chapter 7, you share a compelling account about Austrian artist and educator Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, whose creative initiatives helped children of the Holocaust overcome negativity. This true story resonated strongly for me. It poignantly illustrates that when people find opportunities to express themselves though creativity, benefits can accrue. What are some examples of creative outlets for children—and benefits?

Although a young child might know something doesn’t feel right, they rarely have the insight or the language to share their troubled feelings. Creative self-expression can provide a pathway to a sense of connection with others, as well as being a mechanism for coping with everyday problems and much larger concerns. It can be a way for a child (or an adult) to find psychological well-being during stressful times.

The Holocaust is an extreme example, of course, but Cathy Malchiodi’s research on the children who survived the camps illustrates the life-changing benefits people can reap from creative self-expression. These benefits include strengthened well-being, better stress management, and greater resilience. Possible vehicles include music, dance, writing, painting, puppetry, and drama. They also include more prosaic activities that aren’t always associated with creativity: gardening, building with blocks, pottery, sand play, and origami.

5. In Imperfect Parenting, you emphasize the importance of parents fulfilling their own creative aspirations. On page 233 you state that creativity is about “habits of mind and behavior—thinking and doing.” What final take-aways can you give to parents who want to further their own creativity, and that of their children?

Parenting is endlessly challenging. Just when you think you’ve finally nailed it, something changes, and everything gets precarious again. A problem crops up that you hadn’t imagined—maybe your cooperative daughter gets mouthy; your academic-minded son feels lonely; or you lose your job and finances are dicey.

If you pay attention to your need for creative self-expression, and learn to honor your creativity, you’ll be in a stronger position to pivot as needed. Maybe you can take art classes, online or in person. Consider visiting a local art gallery one half-day a month. Or try sculpture, jewelry-making, photography, or gardening.

By giving yourself permission to develop your creative self-expression, you’re opening yourself up to emotionally satisfying experiences, and a world that feels bigger. You’ll not only be a happier, healthier, more resilient human being, but you’ll also be a calmer and stronger parent, partner, and friend. You’ll be better able to weather the storms that life inevitably brings. You’ll also be a great role model for your child, who’ll see the value of creative self-expression in their own life.

Thank you, Dona, for sharing your wisdom. I invite people to visit your website at to find out more about your work.

Thank YOU, Joanne, for asking great questions that got me thinking.


Dr. Joanne Foster is an award-winning author who writes about child development and gifted education. Her most recent book is Being Smart about Gifted Learning: Empowering Parents and Kids Through Challenge and Change (co-authored with Dona Matthews, 2021). For more information, and for access to many articles and timely resources on children’s well-being, creativity, intelligence, productivity, and learning, go to

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