The Benefits of Art, Choices, and Discipline: Part I


Featured Picture Book

MORRIS THE ARTIST by Lore Segal

(Available at your local public library or bookstores, including online stores.)

MORRIS THE ARTIST is the story of Morris, a young boy who has been invited to his friend Benjamin’s birthday party. Morris, being a typical young child, was uncooperative. “’I want to paint,’ said Morris.” All he wanted to do is be an artist. But, his mother insisted that he go with her to buy a present and attend the birthday party. Morris selected a present at the store – the one he wanted, not one his mother suggested. When it came time for Morris to give his present, he gave a resounding, “’No!’” and tightly “… put the present behind his back.” He wouldn’t let go for anything, not even for eating cake or playing with toys. When he finally was willing to give the present, no one was interested, not Benjamin and not the other guests. So, Morris opened the present himself and began to show everybody what could be done with his present. “’This is so great!’” said Benjamin. After hours of fun, Morris’ creativity blossomed even more as he, Benjamin, and all the guests had the most colorful birthday celebration ever.

Parenting Thoughts 
Children and Art

Dr. Mom:  If nothing else, MORRIS THE ARTIST speaks loudly about how excited children can be about art. It is ever so important in a child’s growth and development. I somehow think children just naturally know this deep down inside, and that is why they so want to do art. I don’t believe I have ever known a child who didn’t want to create art.

As parents we need to respect what art can do for our children. For the sake of all of the following benefits, make sure your children have a chance to do art at home and in their schools, hopefully in many forms (drawing, painting, sculpting, music, dance, acting, etc.).

When children do art, they have to think for themselves. One stroke a picture doesn’t make. One note a song doesn’t make. They require decision after decision. Art can help children learn to make decisions or become what one young man calls a “good chooser.” Art takes time to unfold. Children must stick with it and persevere. If they don’t, they won’t get the satisfaction of seeing their final product.

When children do art, they must focus. It takes attention and concentration to get ideas from their heads through their muscles and nerves and onto a page or stage. Lastly, art can help children become good problem solvers. Art is a problem by definition – how to change raw material like paint, clay, or parts of an instrument into something completely different and new.

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Children need a lot of freedom when doing art. It’s important to let them decide what to draw and how it should look.

Darling Daughter:  That takes some self control.  I found it hard at times to sit by when Ezzy was young and watch her start to create what I thought was a great looking painting.  She would be half or three-quarters of the way finished and wham! She would add some sweeping brushstrokes that would change the picture from something I was going to frame or hang up to something destined for “the drawer.”   I had to work hard to stay out of the process and not interject where colors or brush strokes “should” or “should not” go in the painting.  Every once in a while I would receive a finished masterpiece worthy of the wall.  Every work of art made it to refrigerator status but only a select few made it on to the walls permanently.

Dr. Mom:  It sounds like E.’s perfectionism kicked in. And, it sounds like – based on your description of what is worthy for display – she has seen perfectionism at work in your household.  Finding ways to teach her decision-making skills is a really good idea. I would go a step further than telling her you want her to make the decision. Try using some questions. What’s your favorite color today? What color do you like best with green? What color will you like to look at most when the picture is done? What color does the picture make you think about?

 You can teach children to “stay in the lines” as a way to learn to use their small muscles and tell the difference between one line and another and one shape and another, but this is not art as an expression of self. That type of activity requires the freedom to create both in and out of lines.

Art is usually messy. This also can be a good thing. It makes doing art a great opportunity for chores or rules. Children can learn to clean up after themselves and learn exactly what the steps are to a good cleanup job. For example, you can have a list of what it takes to cleanup after playing with Play-doh: 1) put dough back in containers, 2) make sure lids are on containers, 3) put containers on shelf, 4) wipe off table. You can check off the items on the list as done or undone and also check the quality of the work done. The child learns what it means to not only have a job to do but also how to do it well. So, in the end, all the mess is worth it.

The child gets all the benefits of being an artist, learns the responsibility of doing chores, and has a chance to develop a work ethic. On the matter of chores, PICK UP YOUR SOCKS by Elizabeth Crary can help you know what chores are reasonable for your child’s age. For example, if the child is very young, he might only be asked to help wipe down the table (with you wiping right behind him to make sure all parts are reached).

Or, I should wipe first to make sure most of the “crumbs” don’t end up on the floor.  If not, I’ll have to add a step (5) –  sweep the floor. (He, he, he.)

Choices

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Because art requires decision-making and problem solving, it is all about choices. When children make choices in art and all other aspects of their lives, they are learning to think for themselves, know what their likes and dislikes are, and trust their inner voices. They are learning about their intuition and their conscience. I have to stop here for a minute and ask, “How are you doing on trusting your own intuition?” Adults can be very bad at this. They look through the rearview mirror and question their past decisions, refuse to make decisions, let others decide for them, and beat themselves up when something they decide doesn’t go the way they expected. You can avoid bringing up your children with these same challenges by giving them lots of chances while growing up to make choices that fit their age.

The younger the child, the fewer choices he should be asked to make. For example, give only two options at a time (Do you want this or that?). Both “this” and “that” should be acceptable to you. Don’t give an option that you don’t want the child to choose. As a child grows in age and maturity, you can offer more complex choices and even teach him ways to sort out the pros and cons to make a decision. Again, all the options he is offered should be OK with you. Don’t give him a choice of driving a car full of kids to the sporting event or driving alone, if only driving alone is allowed.

I’m giving E. opportunities, but she is not taking them.  She would much prefer to ask someone else to make the choices. 

It could be her perfectionism again. She may be worried that she won’t make the “right” or the “best” decision. She may not want to set herself up to be disappointed afterwards. I’m curious what would happen with these two suggestions.

1)         Give three options: This, that, or nothing. If she chooses not to make a choice between the two real possibilities, she gives up the entire opportunity. No one does the deciding for her. If you use this system, you will need to be careful that the “nothing” choice is OK with you and that it isn’t actually a punishment. “Do you want a doll or legos or nothing for your birthday?” “Nothing” would be a punishment. “Do you want apples or raisins or nothing for a snack?” The choice of “nothing” is OK. If you try this, I would limit how many times you do it and hold off on giving your old two-option choices – go ahead and make those for her while you are trying out this “nothing” option.

 2)         Stop giving her choices and see if she begins to demand having choices. For example, pick out her school clothes and see if she complains. If she does, give her a couple of options. She may be just in the habit of being mentally lazy and letting you make all the decisions. She might get interested in thinking for herself again, if the choices go away all together.

Financial Choices

This brings me to a particular type of decision making – financial decisions. They deserve some special consideration. Here are two suggestions.

Image courtesy of AKARAKINGDOMS / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of AKARAKINGDOMS / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When going shopping for a child to make purchases as Morris did in the story, prepare ahead of time. Know what you are shopping for, what store(s) you will go to, how much you will spend, and be clear about who is making the final decision. Will the child decide all on his own or will he need your final approval?

Veto Power!  I’m all for it.  The only time I don’t give myself the option is when E. is spending her own allowance or birthday money.  We have already put some of that money in the bank and in a save-for-a-special-occasion envelope.

Will you do the first selection of two or three things and let the child make the final decision?

That’s a good strategy, too.  In my case, it certainly can speed up the shopping trip.

Have all these things worked out ahead of time and talk them through with your child.  Also, know what you will do, if things don’t go well. (Remember, “The best laid plans of mice and men ….) Especially preschool age children can have a major melt down or temper tantrum, if the choices get to be too much for them or if the buying means they don’t get what they want for themselves. Plan your trip for several days ahead of when you need the purchase, so you can just walk out of the store, abandon the trip and still have time for a Plan B.

Oh yeah, been there; done that.  E. had a few meltdowns or near misses when it came to choosing something for someone else.  She had a hard time going into the store and not leaving with something for herself.  I have to admit that in the beginning I was not consistent about sticking to only what was on the list.  I’m sure that didn’t help E. deal with the whole situation.  As far as walking out of the store goes, I have only done that twice, and that was all it took for E. to get the message that, “No means no, and I mean business.”  After the astonished look on her face wore off, E. got over the tantrum fairly quickly.  After two early departures from the store, I only had to mention to E. that we would need to leave, and she would shape up.

Before trying again, consider what you should change about the trip. Were there too many choices involved? Did you go to too many stores? Was your child hungry or sleepy when you were shopping? Making sure your child has slept and eaten before shopping is a must.

Does this seem like way too much effort for the simple task of buying a gift? Agreed. But, don’t forget it is a learning experience for your child – and a much needed life lesson.

However, don’t forget that you can do this shopping on your own without the child, if you need to. Sometimes that can be best. I even know some parents who bring home a couple of choices so the child can make a decision in the comfort of his own home. The parent then returns the “un-chosen” at a later time.

My second suggestion about financial decisions is to consider a money management system as the child grows older. Many experts recommend that the money a child receives be divided into three categories: save, spend, and donate. The benefits are threefold. It teaches the value of helping others. It teaches children to “wait” to spend their money. And, it still allows the child to have the fun and learning experience of making immediate spending decisions.

We do this . . . love it!

One mom told me she applied this to all money the child received, even gifts from family members. In fact she added a category – a tax. Talk about teaching the child the reality of money! This mom also said she sometimes had backlash. The child’s grandmother would send money and note on the gift that it was “tax exempt.” To the child this was a very special gift indeed.

More Coming

MORRIS THE ARTIST was so full of parenting ideas that I will be writing three blogs based on this book. Be sure to check our posting on March 15 for Part II on discipline and no-saying. Morris was a great no-sayer.

See today’s “Daily Parenting Tip” based on our featured book. Come back every day for another good parenting decision and how to practice it.

 Read All About It

GROWING UP AGAIN, Jean Illsley Clarke and Connie Dawson

SELF ESTEEM A FAMILY AFFAIR, Jean Illsley Clarke

PICK UP YOUR SOCKS, Elizabeth Crary

 Surf the Internet:
  • self-esteem
  • children and the arts
  • shopping with children
  • perseverance
  • intuition
  • chores for children
  • money management for children

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