A Smarter Beginning 

For Children, the Pressure Is On

July 1, 2014 / by Susan Sirigatti

small_8514447719The pressure is on – for parents, for teachers, and for schools but the pressure on children does the most damage. Just look at the vocabulary commonly in use today regarding learning. We’re told that children need to be “evaluated” during the early childhood years. Moreover, teachers and schools need to be “evaluated” more than ever. They also have to be “accountable” in producing the “competitive” populace of the future than can take on the world. Parents are expected to put in a day’s work, either outside the home or as stay at home parents (equally demanding) and then, as the day wears on and everyone returns to the nest tired, to don their other hats and start overseeing and helping their children with homework. The result is that parents, educators and children are increasingly stressed as the message, “Not good enough,” continues to ring loud and clear and the pressure mounts to be more productive, to be better.

Children learn early on that they’re expected to get the highest marks. They’re also expected to be terrific athletes, to be assertive, to be popular, to be physically attractive, to live up the all the ideals and to keep working, working, working until they get better and better. That’s right. Most of them aren’t good enough as they are. In fact, when you’re the best, you’re number one. You have to win. For children, the pressure is on.

The problem is not everyone can be number one. Ironically, the competitiveness this breeds — in children who are made to feel they have to get the highest marks, in schools that have to get the highest ratings on student achievement, in teachers who have to teach to the exams used to evaluate, in parents who have to make sure their children receive everything they need in order to excel – this competitiveness does not produce happy, creative, thinking children who become happy creative, thinking adults. And while children are told that they all have to work together, be team players and get along, the competition that is created works against this. After all, when we compete, we compete “against” others.

Process, Not Product

What does produce happy, confident, creative, thinking children with healthy self-esteem? An upbringing and education that focuses on process rather than on product. “Creativity focuses on the process of forming original ideas through exploration and discovery. In children, creativity develops from their experiences in the process, rather than concern for the finished product. Creativity is not about doing something better than others, it is about thinking, exploring, discovery, imagining” (www.earlychildhoodnews.com/earlychildhood/article_view.aspx?ArticleID=349).

Unfortunately, we seem to be suffering from “right answer fixation” (Treffinger, Donald J. “Creative Problem-Solving for Teacherts.” Lecture, Radford, VA, April 1984). This leads to conformity rather than to original responses as the children crave approval for giving the commonly accepted right answers rather than an original, creative response. This approval, given in various ways, is a reward and “Rewards…seem to reduce the quality of children’s responses and the flexibility of their thought” (www.education.com/reference/article/Ref_Creativity_Young/?page=2).  Rewards, incentives and overly structured materials inhibit creativity and the flexibility of thought on which it depends. They also discourage students who don’t respond well to rewards and who become unmotivated. Many of these unmotivated students are quite talented. What happens to them? Often their talents go undeveloped.

Creativity is a kind of special problem solving where new connections need to be made, where ideas need to be examined and worked with, where the usually accepted answers don’t work. Children need to be encouraged to pursue ideas and to accept challenges where they may fail but where they are free to search and seek and there is an excitement in trying.

What this means is that if parents and educators want children to think creatively, they have to remove the risk of negative feedback for giving wrong answers. They have to accept different, unusual ideas without evaluating them and without criticizing them. Children have to be free to come up with new ideas. In other words, the focus should be on the process rather than on the product.

Is the computer the answer for our children? Before attempting to answer that, we should ask: “Is the computer the source of endless creativity? Is it the new process? Or is the computer a tool best used as part of the process?”

How Can We Encourage Children To Be Creative Thinkers?

What do we do to try to get children to be as creative as they can be?

  1. Let them play and explore freely without being too helpful, hovering or dominating.
  2. When they come up with an unusual idea or one that doesn’t fit into your thinking, don’t judge them negatively. Be open-minded.
  3. Allow them the time they need to think and explore all the possibilities. Creative thinking takes time.
  4. Don’t focus on their mistakes or on what they produce. Focus on the process, on their effort, on their improvement and progress, on their enthusiasm and on their strengths and assets.
  5. Don’t look for perfect results. It’s too difficult if not impossible to measure up.
  6. Don’t compare them to others.

When we respect children’s ideas and novel solutions, we encourage them to think for themselves, to explore, to risk, to solve problems, to learn, to be self-confident, to invent and create, and to build healthy self-esteem.

Any comments? I’d love to hear from you.

photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/ap-photographie/8514447719/”>AP Photographie </a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>

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