Don’t Discount the Importance of Creativity: How Art Builds Confidence
“According to scores of research studies, when your brain creates art, it nourishes a host of other systems that affect learning, such as motor skills, brain-wave patterns, attention, emotional balance, serotonin production, and the nervous system.”
It hit me way too late — the quiet. I didn’t yet know my four-year-old daughter had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD), but I knew she was busier than most kids, more emotional than most kids, more spacey than most kids — and typically louder than most kids. So, when she was quiet, something bad was usually happening.
This time, the “bad” was a jaw-dropping, life-sized rendition of a mermaid in crayon on her freshly painted bedroom wall. She stood back timidly as I gawked. My first instinct was to yell, but the thing was, it was blow-your-mind amazing. The mermaid’s hair flowed as if waving through water, her tail had scales, her lips were full and her eyes symmetrical. It was so good, I couldn’t be angry. I was proud. And I left it on the wall for years.
As she grew, her talent became her therapy, her sanctuary, and her source of otherwise hard-to-find self-esteem. And, as I counseled hundreds of parents raising children with ADHD, I came to understand she was not unique in her creative ability.
The Creative Gene: Is It Because of ADHD?
There is no established link between ADHD and creative ability, but not necessarily because a link doesn’t exist. It is a difficult thing to measure. I’ve done my own casual poll by asking clients if their children are artistic. Almost without fail, they answer a resounding yes, beaming with a pride that is rare to see in our sessions.
If your child has ADHD and is also artistically inclined, here are five ways to nurture her creativity while helping her symptoms.
1. Cognitive Importance of Creativity
Drawing, painting, creative story-telling, singing, acting — these are talents to be celebrated and encouraged! Make time for it as you would homework, baseball practice, and chores. We have a proclivity not to value art as much as pure academics in education, but art is so much more than making something pretty.
According to scores of research studies, when your brain creates art, it nourishes a host of other systems that affect learning, such as motor skills, brain-wave patterns, attention, emotional balance, serotonin production, and the nervous system. In short, creativity can help to strengthen overall learning — something parents of children with ADHD strive for.
2. Meditative Importance of Creativity
Because creativity can have a calming effect on the nervous system, time set aside in a creative outlet can have a similar impact on the brain as meditation, yoga, or talk therapy. Before diving into homework, allow your child some quiet time with his preferred medium. Beginning homework in a relaxed state, after an activity at which a child feels skilled, can empower him to tackle it with clearer perspective, more energy, and less emotional dysregulation.
3. Emotional Importance of Creativity
My daughter’s love of drawing inspired my middle-grade novel, Trouble with a Tiny t (#CommissionsEarned). The main character, Westin, gets into loads of trouble due to his ADHD (bringing a tiny T. rex to life in his room), but, in the end, solves his problems by using his artistic talent.
As an author and mother, it was important to me to show that children with ADHD are not all about the trouble they get into. They view the world innovatively, which can help them problem-solve. Because our kids face many difficulties, emphasizing something they’re good at can make the difference between having positive self-regard or feeling largely a failure. Remember to praise and focus as much on their talent as you might on the fact that they forgot their homework — again.
4. Importance of Creativity for Growth
Convinced that my child’s mermaid drawing meant she was destined for greatness, I enrolled her in art classes — which she didn’t love. When she was old enough to explain why, she said that art was the one thing she could control in life. In an art class, she was forced to create on command, pay attention, and “do it right.” This structure was too confining and took away some of the joy of creation.
Provide materials and the opportunities to learn, then stand back. Let art be the place they can be messy, express themselves, and not follow anyone’s rules. No matter their talent level, comment positively on specifics, such as her use of color and materials, her song, or her story choices. If she wants, make a place and time to exhibit her creations or hold a recital for her performances. We would sometimes have “art openings,” when she curated pieces and guided us through her exhibitions hung in the living room. She ate up the much-needed attention after a very tough day at school.
Steps for Success When ADHD Gets in the Way
Creativity is a strength, but a child’s ADHD symptoms may hinder the development of his talent. ADHD may cause art supplies to be left open and dry out. It may be impossible to pay attention at piano lessons. While he may be bursting with terrific ideas for stories, he may not be able to get them on paper because writing is hard. Children may be amazing actors but are still late for rehearsals, find it hard to memorize their lines, or struggle with learning to read music. Have patience and think preventively to set them up for success. Show them how to organize, tell their stories into a microphone, and use calendar reminders. They will need your continued support in managing the symptoms that get in their way, as with homework and social issues.
My daughter never pursued a career in art — she’s on track to become a dental hygienist — a job she says her art prepared her for because it developed fine motor skills and attention to detail. But she still draws every day. The publisher of my novel used one of my daughter’s illustrations in my new book. I beamed with pride, as I did when she graced my wall with a mermaid in crayon so many years back.
Importance of Creativity: Next Steps
- Read: The Art of Happiness — and Self-Esteem
- Learn: How Art Therapy Tames Impulsivity, Distractibility, and Anxiety
- Understand: The Parents’ Guide to Art Therapy Techniques & Projects
Merriam Sarcia Saunders, LMFT, is the author of My Whirling, Twirling Motor, My Wandering, Dreaming Mind (Magination Press/APA) and the middle-grade novel Trouble with a Tiny t (Capstone). (#CommissionsEarned)
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