The Ugly Scar or Allowing Children to be Creative

The Ugly Scar or Allowing Children to be Creative

Every once in a while I need to go through files on my computer and do a little housecleaning. I came upon this blog post I had written some time ago. Why hadn't I published it? Probably because it does embarrass me. I actually thought about deleting it, but finally decided, no, I'm going to just go ahead and post it. So here it goes... certainly NOT Kimara at her finest!

I am a teacher by profession and a mother by instinct. As the only sister with 3 brothers, 2 of them younger than me, I think I began mothering when I slipped out of... or rather was rudely expelled from... my mother's womb. Point is... I know children, I'm good with children, my life IS children. 

THUD. The sound you just heard was me falling off my pedestal!  No matter how confident or secure we might be concerning our dealings with children, from time to time, children remind us that we are not perfect, that we make mistakes, and that to err is not only human, but fairly commonplace! A couple of weeks ago, I was reminded of this fact in no uncertain terms!

Let me set the stage… When Little Lady was in for a visit, I had plans to do lots of crafting with her. Lady is a 3, almost 4, year old artist. She loves drawing and painting, cutting and pasting. In other words, she loves to create. How exciting it was going to be for both of us to spend time together doing something we both loved! It was wonderful. We sprawled at the table, immersed in our work, chatting and creating. All was right in the universe.

Then, I pulled out some flour sack tea towels I had bought specifically for her. I wanted her to first color the towels, then I would sew them into a skirt for her. She was going to love this and I was going to have a very “blogable” event to share. I had a vision of what I wanted the skirt to look like. I wanted lots of color, but to be washed out, giving it a blurry watercolor feel. Using the fabric paints, Lady proceeded to draw a vibrant rainbow… her motif of choice these days. This was going to be perfect! As she was drawing her picture, I began misting the surface so the colors bleed. As the colors began to run together it was producing the perfect effect I was going after. 

Gammy: This is going to be beautiful. ((mist-mist))

Little Lady: No it’s not. 

Gammy: Oh, yes it is, Sweetie. Look at the beautiful colors. ((mist-mist))

Little Lady: I don’t like it. It’s ugly.

Me, thinking she was being too critical of her own abilities…

Gammy: Really, Sweetheart, you’re doing a wonderful job. ((mist-mist))

Little Lady: I don’t want to do this no more. It’s a mess.

Gammy: Oh, no. Look at the colors! It’s beautiful. You’re almost done. Please finish it.

Little Lady: Okay.

She had been using rainbow colored fabric paint. Quickly, she picked up a permanent black marker, and before I could stop her, she drew an angry black lightning bolt across the fabric.

I gasped… she ran from the table. In a split second, I took it all in… the ruined painting, the Exodus from the table, and I was mortified by the behavior, but I was mortified by my behavior… not hers. Before I heard my bedroom door slam, I knew what I had done. I had invited her to be creative, I had given her the tools and the opportunity, then denied her the right to express herself. I did not allow her to take ownership of her creation, and, I did not listen when she tried to tell me in a rationale manner that she was not happy because, in her mind, I was ruining her painting. In other words… I messed up… BIG time!

Her mom, who had been in the area, but not truly aware of what happened, just saw her daughter storm away from the table and slam a door. She started toward the bedroom.

“Wait”, I said. “Let me go. This is my fault.”

I entered the room, and Lady was sitting on the floor, legs and arms crossed, defying the world to enter her space… girding herself against the retribution she assumed she would face.

“I’m sorry”, I said. “This is all my fault. I wasn’t listening to you. You didn’t want me to spray your painting, did you?”

She looked up and shook her head “no”.

“You were doing such a great job, drawing a beautiful rainbow, and I ruined your painting. Do you think you can forgive me? I am so sorry!”

She got up and came into my arms to be held. She forgave me. I’m not sure I would have been that quick to forgive someone that defaced something I had made!!!

When working with children, it is easy to push our creative visions on them. Although there is a time and place for children to learn to “follow directions”, we have to be careful not to crush their creative instincts. When children complain that they don’t enjoy “doing art”, what they probably mean is “I don’t enjoy doing the projects you have selected for me to do.” If we want our children to be creative, we have to LET them be creative. That means sometimes the outcome won’t align with our vision, but not only is that okay, isn’t that really what being creative is all about?

I should have known better… but, oh, yeah… H.U.M.A.N!

Prologue: When Lady was drawing her picture, I was mimicking her drawing on another piece of fabric, which I was going to use as the back of the skirt. I decided to hang them out to dry and use them for another project. In some form of cosmic justice, the “watered down” colors I tried so hard to obtain almost faded away during the drying process, while the angry black scar remained intense. Pretty ironic, right? I am keeping it as a reminder to honor the creativity in children… a lesson I hope I don’t soon forget! 








  1. “I don’t enjoy doing the projects you selected for me to do.” Love that. Great lesson. Maybe a little too much like school and not enough playing and experimenting and allowing the process to unfold. Been there, more times than I care to admit.

    1. Kimara

      Definitely did not let the process to unfold! MY pesky vision kept getting in the way! ~Kimara~

  2. Thank you so much for this timely post. I’m so glad I’m not the only one! My six year old “little lady” , who I see only a couple of times a year, recently had her first week-long solo visit to Grandma and Grandpa’s. Since Mom and Dad are tech oriented (granddaughter got her own iPad at age four) I wanted to balance her home experiences with lots of artsy and hands on activities. Of course I overdid it, leaving both of us frustrated. Several times after she had gone to bed for the night I reminded myself that “process is more important than product.” Unfortunately, I found that I had to relearn that truth almost every day of her visit. Next time I think I’ll make a big poster of that phrase and hang it in a very visible place before she arrives!

    1. Kimara

      Obviously it is very easy to have our visions derailed when we fail to allow the child’s vision to surface. I’m sure your granddaughter enjoyed most of the activities and had many wonderful moments to share with her parents when she got home. I know many people, males and females, that came from homes where artistic endeavors were not encouraged, or in some cases, even allowed. Often they will speak of someone outside of their nuclear family that inspired them to become creative. I’m sure you have begun a creative relationship with your granddaughter that will flourish over the years and later she’ll have you to thank for inspiring her. 🙂 ~Kimara~

  3. Thanks for being honest in this post. No matter how much we love children and work with them, I think we all have (at least) one moment like this – but a lot of people wouldn’t be brave enough to share it. I figure that it gives the children a chance to see that adults can make mistakes, apologize, and try to make it right……which is what we’re trying to teach them, right? Good for you!

    1. Kimara

      I think it is very important to have children learn that not only do adults make mistakes, but they should apologize, too. The wonderful thing about working with children is every moment you are together is a teachable moment. We always need to be cognizant of what lessons we are teaching. Also, we need to learn not to beat ourselves up when we mess up. At least we are trying, right? 😉 ~Kimara~

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *