5 Ways To Kill Creativity

creativity killerThe creative spirit is a delicate thing. It can easily be stifled and wounded. There are things we do – often without realizing it – that can kill the creative spirit we are trying to nurture in our kids. Hopefully if we bring awareness and consciousness to our actions we can stop those damaging behaviors. This is my list of the top 5 Creativity killers.

Competition – A win-lose situation will stifle creativity. Every single person – adult and child alike – works at a different pace and have different skills, talents, and abilities. Putting children into a situation where only one person can come out on top is discouraging and puts emphasis solely on the outcome instead of finding joy in the journey of creative process.

Evaluation/Surveillance – Being evaluated on a constant basis can stop creativity in it’s tracks. It is the phenomenon I have seen many times as a teacher: children can be so involved in their creating that the world seems to stop – until the teacher walks around, and suddenly time starts again and creativity stops. When a teacher stops to evaluate, the pressure sets in and it becomes more about producing the expected result then creating. Even if the teacher isn’t actually critiquing or evaluating, the effect is usually the same.

Evaluation can also be dangerous because it leaves little room for creativity – there are set benchmarks that you weigh actions and progress against to develop a grade. Personal bias and taste can also enter the picture when we are evaluating – no one is perfect. It is unfortunate that our society focuses so much on “making the grade” instead of raising creative children.

Being too controlling – Having too much structure does not allow for the creative process to happen naturally. Sometimes it is just easier and faster to show a child exactly how to do something – or to just do it for them. This doesn’t give you any opportunity for creative exploration. This sends the message that it is better to do it “my way” and trying out new or different approaches is a waste of time.

I remember my mom teaching us kids how to dress: we were taught what clothes to put on, in what order, and what clothing was appropriate for the weather. Beyond that she let us choose what to wear and never made us feel like we were wearing the wrong thing or made the wrong selection. I use to LOVE choosing what I would wear to school! If I loved a piece of clothing I would wear it. Colourful? Good. Crazy pattern? Awesome! (My poor mother. People probably thought she was colourblind, letting me out of the house dressed like that. Love you Mom!)

By allowing me to choose what clothes I would wear, I learned some very important life lessons:

  1. It doesn’t matter what you wear as long as you are comfortable
  2. Thrift stores are great places to find expressive clothing
  3. You shouldn’t be concerned with how other people judge you

These are lessons I might not have learned if I hadn’t been given the tools and freedom to experiment.

Is it better to give precise instructions, step-by-step, a child must follow? Or is it better to give them the tools they need to be successful? I am always in favor of providing the tools and gentle guidance when required. Just because we do something one way doesn’t make it the only way. We might even learn from our kid’s creativity as they combine ideas and use the tools provided in completely new and exciting ways.

Applying too much pressure – Pressure and creativity do not mix. We all want our children to be successful but pressuring them and trying to get them to conform to your expectations usually results in a loss of interest or open rebellion. If your expectations are too high, children will usually shut down and not try, rather than try and fail and run the risk of letting you down.

Empty Praise – While it is important to encourage your child in their creative pursuits, too much praise can stunt the creative process. There is quite a difference between fake enthusiasm and constructive feedback and kids can tell the difference.

Which is the better form of praise/feedback? “That’s is such a wonderful picture, lets put it on the fridge!” with barely a glance as you stick it on the fridge. Or stopping whatever task you are doing, getting down on your child’s level and saying: “I really love how you you added the shadows of the birds on the ground as they fly above the field, what do you love about your picture? Where would you like to put this picture, or what would you like to do with it?”


This is my list of behaviors that kill creativity. What are some others that you have encountered? Please share and leave a comment below!

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Posted in Children's Development.


  1. Hi Sheena –

    Competition is the absolute HEART of creativity.
    It is what makes us as artists work harder to develop out talents to higher levels.
    Plus it prepares young ones for real life in the real world.

    The Disney Company hires artists based upon competition & too much pressure…it just makes for better animators.

    “5 ways to kill creativity” – should be titled “5 ways to make an average kid stop trying to be creative” –

    Just look at it as survival of the fittest – good creatives become better & the average just wash out – all is as it should be.

    I have to TOTALLY disagree with the entire premise of this article.
    I am a Professional Creative, and competition is:

    Have a nice day.

    • Hi Lee,

      Thanks for your comments. Once you become confident in your creativity and your skills you can choose to be competitive – to push yourself and to grow and for this, healthy competition is a good thing.

      This article focuses on the “things we do – often without realizing it – that can kill the creative spirit we are trying to nurture in our kids. ” I do not believe that setting up competition when you are trying to nurture creativity in young children is a good thing, particularly if you are unaware you are doing it.

      Creativity is within every one of us, and takes different forms. Yes, if you are a professional in a creative field you will always have competition and must be constantly striving to be the best you can be. On the other hand, would you tell a young child to stop being active because it seems like they have no “natural” talent for sports? Or deem it is a waste of time for a child to paint merely for the joy of creating?

      I don’t believe there is such a thing as an “average” kid – every child, and human being for that matter, is different and starts with unlimited potential.

      You state competition is at the heart of creativity, and if you would like to do a guest post to give our readers a different point of view we would welcome an article from you.

      Thank you for your feedback!

  2. Pingback: 5 Ways To Kill Creativity | Growing Creative Kids | A school at the end of the world | Scoop.it

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