Crazy Brains! Kids have ’em. So do you.

BannerGirlFlowereyesSo, your child runs into the room holding a big wad of toilet paper with bits of tape all over it, bringing you their new creation, and it’s… well, it’s quite the mess, is the first thing that comes to mind. The important question though, is which side of your brain will be the first to actually speak?

[infobox color=”#cfd4a0″ textcolor=”#373732″]This is written from a parenting perspective, and using a young child as an example, but the concepts are applicable to the classroom, and to older children.[/infobox]

You have two sides to your brain and each is different. It’s a race. One side is going to win. Do you know which? Does most of your thinking come from your right brain or your left? The scientists say that left brains are for logic and reasoning, while the right side is all about intuitive thought (where the crazy muse resides). I hear people say all the time, that they’re left-brained, or right-brained.

Last time I checked, I had a both sides of my brain fully intact and functioning. I’ll bet you have both too. You can do the wacky creative thing some of the time and also keep track of important reasonable stuff at other times. It’s your brain, and you have the ability to switch sides as you need to. It just takes some practice for most people. You get comfortable with one side or the other.

What your left brain sees

What your left brain sees

Your kids have a wonderfully versatile two-sided brain, and they seem to be able to jump back and forth from logic to intuitive (left to right) so fast it’ll make your…  brain spin. They’ll also use the crazy side of the brain, (the right), a lot more than most adults. But kids know that crazy is good. I think we need to be a little more crazy. Or, if you prefer, more childlike and free in our thinking. More right-brained.

Children love to create crazy things. We think that some children, however, grow out of their creative youth and become “left-brainers”, like doctors, lawyers, and mathematicians, (while others retain so much craziness they can’t even spell “mathematicians” without a spell-checker. I had to try three times.) Then there are still others, who seem to be right-brained and creative yet deny it, believing that part of them is silly or somehow wrong – maybe crazy.

You can’t imagine how many times I’ve heard a grownup say, “I used to love to… [fill in the blank], but now I don’t do that anymore”. It makes me sad, because I hear the child who loved something creative, still in there wanting to get back to being a little bit crazy. But what if creativity is still in there? What if it just gets squashed out of the heart instead of not enduring the trip into those “rational” adult brains? I’m pretty sure that all “left-brain” adults have a right brain. It still works too – so it must the heart that changes.

So how do we prevent our kids from losing their craziness? How do we make sure that their hearts enjoy the brain’s creative side all the way into adulthood? I think the answer begins with a bite to the tongue and a left-brain time out. You see, while not a scientist, and without any data other than my own observation, I think our tongues are mostly connected to our left brain. We analyze all the pressures of the adult world and want to apply it to everything and everyone. We tend to be critical. All that left-brain pressurized control pops out without a second thought. Quit it. That left brain has too much control already, (it does like control), and it will fight for world domination almost as much as you fight over the TV remote with your spouse. Sure, there are many times you need to operate from your left brain, but there are also times when the right brain must be in charge.

For instance, when you see your child run in with that big wad of toilet paper, you might exclaim, “what are you doing with all our good toilet paper!” There it is. That would be your left brain taking over, analyzing the misappropriate use of TP, and trying to not have to pay for more of it. The child immediately hears you saying that their creative use of the paper is NOT good. That means their creative side is NOT good. Are you really going to be upset about the cost of a roll of toilet paper in 20 years when your kid gets the nobel prize for new toilet paper technology? What if your child asked you for a “short roll of soft & fluffy art-sculpting paper” that costs less than a buck? wouldn’t you buy it? In this scenario, the left brain is kind of stupid, thinking that toilet paper has only one use and is actually expensive. Kids know better of course, because they let the right brain loose more often. So bite your tongue. Give your right brain a chance for the second thoughts to emerge.

What your right brain sees

What your right brain sees

Your crazy right brain is far more capable to understand and speak during this moment. When engaged properly, it can easily find something positive within almost any odd-looking artistic endeavor. Look hard. Let the crazy side find the good in the proud but weird work in front of you. When you find it, speak it. “Wow! I never would have used toilet paper to make a boat. What an amazing, out-of-the-box idea. You are very creative”.

Now another word of important advice: don’t ever make up compliments and say something you don’t really believe. Kids’ know it when you’re in spin mode. You should not, for instance, say, “That’s the coolest, best-made boat I’ve ever seen,” because it’s not, and then when your child says, “Then let’s go put it in the bathtub!” you’ll have to continue responding with your logical-but-clueless-in-this-moment, left brain: “Uh. that might not be such a good idea for the coolest, best-made boat ever”, or worse, “Great idea! I’ll go get my phone and post your first voyage to Facebook.”

The Good Ship Lolly-flop

The Good Ship Lolly-flop

If your child asks a valid question such as, “do you think it will float?” you should say what you believe to be true; “no, I’m pretty sure it won’t float, but you can pretend it does on our blue blanket.”

“but I thought it would float!” (begins crying).

“The people who make toilet paper make sure that it won’t ever float, so it’s not your fault, but you made a cool cloud boat out of it. You’re a cloud boat inventor!”

“I am?” (stops crying). “wow!”

This is an excellent example of the right brain being clever and saving the day.

What your child sees

What your child sees

So, how do you change the way you usually respond? My right brain has come to help. I’ve compiled a crazy little ditty to help you remember how to control the left brain, and let the right side take charge when needed. When you see something from your child’s right brain creativity emerge, whatever it is, and no matter what it looks like, immediately bite your tongue and think, “R-I-G-H-T”. This is a neat little acronym that goes like this:

Respect. Turn and talk to your child with respect. They’ll learn it only from you.

Interest. Make sure to give your attention fully to what he or she is interested in.

Good thing. Find at least one thing that is good. (This is the center of the word. Cool.)

Ha ha. Be fun & happy. This creates a positive atmosphere, and allows me to have a much needed “H”.

Truth. Only speak the truth. What you actually believe.

But what if (I can almost hear you asking), your child’s creativity burst into your world in an inappropriate way, such as writing on the walls with indelible marker for the fourth time this week? The truth at this point would be talking about it and having consequences appropriate to the child’s age and level of self-control. However, you definitely want to make sure that even during a reprimand, that you validate their creative tendencies, which is a core part of their identity. The thing to remember, is that the creative action – drawing cool pictures with markers – is different from the rebellious action – knowingly defacing the wall (if that’s the case). Your child is operating out of both brains and one needs the reprimand, but the other doesn’t. Find a way to help them redirect that fabulous desire to draw onto an acceptable surface. Then let them experience the consequences of their disobedient behavior. Your own right brain will then want to go out and buy a marker board to stick on their bedroom wall. It might even enjoy making a decorative frame for it. What a crazy idea.

Be a little crazy, and always trust your sense of right. Because, hey… the world needs happy artists.


About The Author

Dennas Davis

Dennas is the founder of Firstlight Arts Academy in Nashville, and also of The Art Instructor (formerly ArtSquish). He has been designing, painting, illustrating and teaching in various combinations since he learned how to hold a crayon. He is the illustrator of 24 children's books with over 5 million in print worldwide. See his paintings at

1 Comment

  1. Samantha Allen

    Love this. Have you read Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind?


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