Thinking Out Loud: Encouraging My Kid

THINKING OUT LOUD is Drooly Dog’s Advice Column in which we talk about creative process and what might be holding back that voice of yours – whatever form it might take. Send your questions to:

Dear Drooly Dog:
My kid is six and he makes art all the time. He paints and colors and draws and scribbles and makes pictures which he then marches over and shows to me. Every last one of them.
Now, I don’t want to discourage him. Like every parent on Earth, I want to say and do the perfect things so that he receives the right balance of praise and motivation. Yes, I have probably read far too many parenting articles and books.
But I can only say “That’s great!” so many times. And seriously, he will bring me ten drawings in a row. And expect some kind of a reaction. And eventually I’ve exhausted my reserves of compliments. I’m not a judge of “good” art, I know what I like, but I don’t really know if he’s talented or just prolific.
This doesn’t seem to bother him, but I do worry I’m acting indifferent or somehow not making the most of his creative output. Am I doing it wrong?
Sincerely, Over-Thinking Parent

Dearest Over-Thinking:
I agree, giving the same sort of pat on the head over and over can be pretty draining. And after a while, you probably wonder if your kid is noticing that you basically say the same thing every time he shows up with a new piece of art.
Here’s what’s going on, though. He’s not bringing you the drawings to just get you to say a compliment, he’s completing a process. The act of making something visual presupposes showing it to someone. He’s externalizing his thoughts, so it makes sense to have some external response.
This is a huge part of why we make art. He is learning that there’s this conversation that exists outside himself and he wants to see how that works.
I did this as a kid, too. I’d make a drawing and then walk around the house and show it to people. Then I would go back and make another, walk around, and start again.
So here’s what I’d suggest: Don’t feel like you have to say something “good,” you only need to respond in some way that indicates that your kid – and his art – are visible to you. It’s the visibility that he’s after.
For example, if your kid brings you a pastel, you can ask why he used pastel for this one. Or where he started. Or what her favorite color in the drawing is.
If he brings you a pencil drawing of a figure, ask him to tell you about it. I guarantee there’s some kind of a story there. Heck, with littler kids they will tell the story while they are drawing.
Then, let your kid answer. Don’t feel like you have to say the “right” thing. You are there to see and hear.
Yes, it takes some time. But it is part of the process, the seeing and hearing.
So, take the pressure off yourself. Just see and hear. Don’t say anything with a value attached, it’s not needed. Just respond, ask a question, notice something. And then thank him for showing it to you. That’s it.
Sincerely, Drooly Dog

Drooly Dog offers creative advice only. Nothing legal or medical, please follow of your own accord. It’s up to you, man.

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