As a parent, have you ever felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of experts? I mean, how could you not? Storefronts and the internet are teeming with people that purport to be experts on every topic, especially parenting. Everywhere you turn there’s someone telling you what you have to do to raise a successful kid, a healthy kid, a mindful kid, warning you that if you do it wrong, your child will be in juvie by the time she’s 12.
It’s so easy to become a parenting expert these days. All you need is a computer, internet connection, and kids of your own. You can write about your experiences, share your personal stories, and declare what works best. Often you do that with deep conviction and a burning passion that suggests that your way is the way. While often entertaining readers, these insights can provide support for one of the hardest jobs there is.
A major difference now from the past is that there are more voices. The likes of Dr. Spock no longer hold the sole rights to advice, and there’s more diversity of opinion as to best practices. This can be overwhelming on one hand, but it’s helpful to be exposed to many approaches that work for many different people.
I read Mason Currey’s book, Daily Rituals, which has 150 vignettes describing the daily routines of eminent creators. After enjoying the stories, my main take-away was that each creator had to figure out what worked for his or her nuanced circumstances.
There is no one “right way” to be a famous contributor of original ideas. There are some things that many creators do, like take a daily walk, but there’s no formula. This holds true for parents as well.
It all comes down to the individual family, their specific situation, and the individual child.
Another brand of so-called experts are like myself: people who have worked with more than hundreds of kids of all different ages and types, and perhaps have advanced degrees in their fields. We see patterns, and have strategies that help us understand certain thinking profiles.
But we, too, can fall into the trap of relying on our expertise and research that can fail to consider the unique needs of the individual—unless, of course, we have an understanding of creativity and creativity tools at our disposal.
Now, you might think, “Here she goes. An expert telling us to beware of experts, and then launching into advice.” You have a point, but please read on because my end goal is to make you the expert.
Each parent and each child has his or her own interests, abilities, motivations, and requirements. When we use tools and strategies that genuinely take these into account, we can support the individual and move toward more effective and harmonious collaboration. The science of creativity allows us to do just that, and it’s enjoyable as well.
Though I am claiming to be an expert here, the strategy that I recommend is not a formula. It is a way to take individual nuances and desires into account. It’s the opposite of prescriptive, and has proven to free people rather than constrain them. It makes experts out of everyone.
As David Eyman, Creativity Professor at Miami University of Ohio, wrote, using creativity tools results in other benefits including team building, consensus building, engagement, and developing intrinsic motivation.
For example, you are probably familiar with brainstorming, which is a well-known creativity tool. You may even be familiar with the four original brainstorming session guidelines as outlined by Alex Osborn in 1953 (yes! 1953):
- withhold criticism of ideas;
- wacky and wild ideas are welcome;
- come up with as many ideas as possible;
- build on other ideas.
But did you know brainstorming can help you have a better summer vacation and bring more harmony to your family?
Say you have a problem with one of your kids grumbling through family vacation after family vacation. You can use brainstorming to solve this in a way that engages kids and adults alike. Here’s how you might go about it:
- Gather your family together.
- Set a fun mood. Tell everyone that you’re going to have some family fun coming up with all the possible ideas of family vacations for the summer.
- Present the guidelines of brainstorming.
- Supply plenty of Post-it notes and pens.
- Write this challenge question on a big sheet of paper and post it so all can see: “What might be all of the vacation ideas for this summer?”
- Ask for family members to write their ideas (in response to the question) on Post-its, say their ideas aloud after they write them, and post the ideas on a large piece of paper that all can see. Try coming up with 20, 30, 40 ideas. They can be fun, crazy, outlandish.
- When you’re done, give each person a pen and have them mark their top five ideas.
- After they’ve marked their choices, separate all of the chosen ideas from the unchosen ones. (Be cautious of the classic pitfall which is choosing the most pragmatic ideas; challenge yourself and go for interesting. Ideas can always be modified later.)
- Identify through conversation the overlaps and consensus among categories. Now that each person has registered their interest, you can start from that basis to find something that will work for everyone.
If there is disagreement, see if there’s a way to combine ideas. If not, try to identify broader topics that have emerged, and brainstorm again to build on those topics to find a vacation that will be exciting for everyone.
This outline of the brainstorming process can get you started. There’s a lot more nuance to this method of using creative problem solving, and there are many resources to help you become an expert if you wish to dig deeper.
Based on the Creative Problem Solving method, I’ve created a free resource for parents. (It’s available through this link for a limited time; otherwise, free to email subscribers at sparkitivity.com). In it, there are creativity tools that will help you identify your challenge (you can substitute any challenge for the education question), generate ideas to solve it, evaluate ideas, and implement them. I created this resource to empower parents as experts, and to find workable solutions to realize their goals for their children.
If you’d like to go even deeper and receive specific training in creativity and problem solving, check out the resources and offerings at the International Center for Studies in Creativity. You can attend conferences, take individual courses, and earn certifications and masters degrees.
If you want to give your kids the opportunity to learn creative problem solving while they tackle complex world problems (or local community issues), check out Future Problem Solving Program International.
The bottom line is that there are many, many tools in the field of creativity and innovation that can help you with every phase of family decision-making: with school work, projects, arguments, major decisions, and more. These tools help you turn the tables on all of us bloggers so that you and your children can confidently become the experts on you and your children.
Currey, Mason. (2013). Daily rituals: How artists work. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.
Eyman, David. (2015). Are the other benefits of group creativity practices just as important as good ideas? In M. K. Culpepper & C. Burnett, (Eds.), Big questions in creativity 2015 (65-77). Buffalo, NY: ICSC Press.
Osborn, Alex. (1953). Applied imagination. New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
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