Do you know the expression, “helicopter parenting”?
Mom: Oh, sweetie, what a beautiful painting! What a clever girl!
Child: [rocks on her heels, watching mom put finishing touches to painting of a tree]
Ok, I’m exaggerating. But only a little.
I think of these parents pretty often, when I’m doing art with children. I try to strike a balance between guiding / giving feedback / helping to fix boo-boos – without taking over completely. I want the children to feel independent and proud. I want them to learn that this is something they can do alone – and do it well.
But let’s not forget that my little student, our younger son, is four. If he compares his own work to that of an adult, he’s going to notice a big difference. Or as he told me this week, “My art skills aren’t very good.” I could see him getting discouraged, (“this canvas is TOO BIG, MOMMY!”), so when he seemed to be giving up, I stepped in. “Would you like some help?”
And then everything changed.
He asked me to draw the outline of a rocket, so that he could paint in the colours. He chose red for the rocket, yellow for the moon. The sky needed to be black. The rocket exhaust would be yellow and red. He painted in his usual fashion. Diligently, carefully, paying close attention to the lines I had drawn. Mixing red and yellow for the flames.
Then he started complaining about his work. I asked him again if he wanted some help and he said yes. I painted in more of the rocket and added the sky; he told me it had to be black. Then he grabbed the paintbrush from my hand and continued to paint on his own. He did the same thing when I started to paint the stars, with blobs of white acrylic.
As we painted, I wondered if I was taking over my son’s project, making it my own. I took a step back and watched the expression on his small, studious face. He didn’t look like someone who’d been hijacked. He looked focused, intense, and in charge (borne out by his firm belief that he is entirely in charge of me, most of the time!).
A few days later, and still worried that I was growing blades over my head, I asked him, “Whose painting is that? Who made it?” He grinned, squealed, then announced, “I want to snuggle you, mommy!”
I have decided to banish thoughts of helicopters and landing pads. Although I still enjoy watching my son’s creative fancies take flight, I’m hoping that our relationship – through art – can be described as an apprenticeship. He comes up with the ideas. He directs me in the beginning, then works on his own. If he needs help and asks for it, I step in. I try to help him see it through, learn that it’s more rewarding to finish than to quit.
And I wait, with eager anticipation, for the day when he feels ready to declare, “I am an artist.”