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How to Encourage Creativity in Children

Giving time, space, and freedom to middle-schoolers with ADHD to do what they want to do, without criticism, works wonders for their confidence. Downtime gets their dopamine flowing, not only through the thinking parts of the brain but the reward centers as well. It may be the only time of the day that they feel comfortable in their skin.

For kids with ADHD, any pressure to achieve can cause tension and discouragement. Children with ADHD are especially sensitive to criticism. It takes a lot of positive responses to counteract one negative response. And it’s hard for them to get positive responses when day-to-day tasks seem boring, they are struggling to meet other people’s goals, and they are discouraged from thinking outside the box.

Life on the Wild Side

Kids with ADHD show their creativity best when they are left to their own devices. Natural improv comedians, they pick something up and think, “What can I do with this?” “I wonder what would happen if…”

How can parents help their kids express their authentic selves? Here’s how.

TIME: Don’t over-schedule your child’s time. Allow him time to do nothing. He (and his friends) will fill the time with something. It’s no secret that kids with ADHD have an abundance of creativity, just looking for an outlet.

SPACE: Creativity is usually messy. Set aside part of a basement or garage for your child’s projects. Or give the kitchen over to him for an afternoon. Some middle-schoolers I know do their projects at one end of a walk-in closet or in a tree house.

MATERIALS: Help your child to assemble a mini-junkyard — duct tape, wire hangers, round oatmeal boxes, shoe boxes and Styrofoam packing, cardboard tubes, scraps of fabric or wood, things with parts missing, old wheels from a toy. Other raw materials are paper, pens, and markers.

Access to tools goes along with a selection of materials. A good gift for a middle-schooler is a toolbox equipped with basic tools. You can never have too many scissors, staples, metal rulers, or screwdrivers. Drop your old sheets, shower curtains, and shirts into the junkyard for messy activities.

FREEDOM: Once equipped, don’t tie your child’s hands or mind with rules and directions. Forgo critiques, unless safety requires otherwise. One 13-year-old I know told her mom she wanted to make a dress. The mother gave her some remnants, needles, and thread, and let her try.

The daughter was happy with the shapeless garment she created, and happy enough with the experience of making the dress, but her mother’s response was, “I thought you wanted to make a real dress.” Instead of a put-down, she could have said, “I like those colors together” or “That was fast.”

Offer help; don’t urge it. If the child is disappointed in the results, and says, “This is crooked,” or “I thought it would turn out bigger/different/straighter,” that is the time to say, “If you want, I’ll show you how to use a pattern” or “There are ways to prevent that. Let me know if you want me to show you how.” If you take over their projects, kids will feel inadequate and afraid that their interests are not up to your expectations.

[How “Making Connections” Helps Kids with ADHD]

When a parent shows confidence in his middle-schooler’s choices, and encourages her to follow her own plan or whim, that confidence is contagious. She learns that her choices are sometimes right, that her personality is OK, and that it is fine to do things because they feel right, even if they don’t serve someone else’s purpose.

“Look What I Did!”

Some kids I know with ADHD have used their downtime to:

  • Cut a large bamboo cane and make six-ounce drinking glasses from it.
  • Dam up a small stream. When the dam broke, they built a bridge over it.
  • Write poetry, stories, jokes, and even chapters of a novel or autobiography while trapped in the car on a family road trip.
  • Transplant sprouted acorns and other tree seedlings into a “tree farm,” and tend it for several years.
  • Write, stage, rehearse, shoot, and edit a video.
  • Train a dog to shake hands with either front paw.

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  • July 25, 2012 2:05 PM | Linda Zanieski (Administrator)

    Conducted nationwide, the VFW sponsored Patriot's Pen essay competition gives sutdents an opportunity to write essays expressing their views on democracy with the prospect of winning money for college.  The program is open to students in grades 6-8, who are enrolled in a public, private or parochial school or home study program in the United States and its territories.  The deadline for the 2012-2013 program is November 1, 2012.  The theme for this year is "What I Would Tell America's Founding Fathers." The first place award is $5,000 plus an all expense padi trip to Washington, DC for the winner and a parent/guardian.


  • July 25, 2012 12:18 PM | Linda Zanieski (Administrator)
    To encourage the joy of reading, the Mensa Foundation has developed the Mensa for Kids Excellence in Reading Award Program.  Acknowledging the value of the National Endowment for the Humanities' appreciation of classic literature for young people, the Mensa Foundation is providing a year-round challenge to kids of all ages based on the National Endowment for the Humanities Summertime Reading  list.  Kids who complete the reading list receive an award certificate and a t-shirt.

  • June 26, 2012 6:47 PM | Anonymous
    When my son was younger, he really loved taking part in projects that made him feel he was part of the world of science.  I still have fond memories of our time spent collecting rock samples, sending our names into space, and classifying galaxies.  There are even more citizen science programs around these days, so if you think your kids might also enjoy this, you can take a closer look.
    observe and report weather data
    collect and send in a local rock sample and receive a certificate of participation
    search through signals for signs of extraterrestrial life with the seti project
    document wildlife
    classify astronomical features
    Finally, here is a searchable database loaded with citizen science programs in many different categories:
    Happy Science!

  • June 20, 2012 2:04 PM | Linda Zanieski (Administrator)

    The first annual CGCC picnic will be held at Schiller Woods, Site 12 on July 22, 2012 from 2:00 pm - 6:00 pm.  It is an opportunity to meet members of the CGCC Board and other gifted families from all over Chicagoland.  We would love to get to know you and to share our story with you.  You do not need to be a member of CGCC or to register for the event.  It is open to all families of gifted in Chicagoland.


    Please bring a picnic for your family.  You also can bring a dessert to share if you would like.  There will be some activities to enjoy such as paper airplanes, Legos, bubbles and a treasure hunt.


    Schiller Woods is located at 8400 West Irving Park Road (west of Cumberland Ave.), near to O'hare Airport.  It can be accessed off of East River Road or Cumberland.  Click here for a map of Schiller Woods.

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The Chicago Gifted Community Center (CGCC) is a member-driven 501(c)(3) non-profit organization created by parents to support the intellectual and emotional growth of gifted children and their families. 

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