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#153 Imagination as a Family Value

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Values are hard to define and so it is not easy to figure out how to teach them to children. How do you define imagination? How do you “catch a cloud and pin it down?” How do you “keep a wave upon the sand?” How do you “hold a moonbeam in your hand?” I know that creativity and Imagination were a big part of our family life but it’s tough to figure out just how we made that happen. It seemed to come naturally to us and to our sons. In my mind the question goes something like this: how do we learn to express the crazy unruly thoughts that ricochet around in our heads? Can we put them on paper? Can we paint them or sing them or dance them? Do we stifle them in our children by disapproving stares or condescending comments?
My own creativity lives in a different portion of my brain than the part that functions in everyday life. Is anyone else like that? For instance, I like to write poems for special occasions of friends and family but when I sit down to write I never know what will come out. I have a person in mind and an occasion to celebrate—birth, marriage, and so on. Then the poem more or less writes itself. I am not a great poet by any means but I have fun and the recipient usually enjoys my efforts.
From my own experience and from watching my sons grow up I have come to believe that imagination or creativity are, by definition, something of a mystery. They are also a lot of fun and an increasingly important skill to have in the work place as knowledge and technology have expanded exponentially. An employee who can be creative will undoubtedly surpass an “in-the box” thinker. So there are good reasons to nurture this elusive phenomenon in our children before they go out into the world. It is not so much that we know exactly how to teach creativity. It is more like we build an environment in which it can flourish. Three ideas come to mind: 1) Argue creatively; 2) Experiment without assigning blame; 3) Make decisions in which no one dominates.
If we argue creatively it means that we are open to different, sometimes wildly opposite, perspectives. We can even intensify differences of opinion and embrace disagreement. We encourage respectful if heated debate and in so doing create opportunities for children to amplify their opinions and defend their points of view.
Secondly, we offer the freedom to try new things—to experiment. In our household there were however limits on just how far this experimentation could go. Aaron built a wonderful golf course in our back yard. Well and good. But when the days turned cold he wanted to transfer it into the house. Hmmm. Not so good! He and his friend Nick locked themselves in the upstairs bathroom and turned on all the faucets. The frantic babysitter saw the water coming out the door and called me at work. It was before cell phones so I don’t honestly remember what we did. I know the house wasn’t washed away and I know that Aaron is very creative.
Finally, and this is a tough one, we make creative solutions to problems by integrating the decision-making so that no one dominates. There are times when parents have to be the deciders but there are also many situations in which children can and do have a lot to say. It is a matter of respecting their ideas and making it comfortable to express them. Who knows what miniature Picasso or Margot Fonteyn or Bill Gates lives within your household!

#153 Imagination as a Family Value

Ellen Toronto, Ph.D.

Dr. Ellen Toronto is a licensed clinical psychologist/psychoanalyst in the state of Michigan.

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APA Reference
Toronto, E. (2015). #153 Imagination as a Family Value. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2020, from


Last updated: 8 Jun 2015
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