One day I got out some watercolors and thought that Elsie and Heidi and I could have some fun painting. I started mindlessly painting some flowers on a piece of paper. Heidi had a lot of fun painting her page black, but Elsie quickly descended into a helpless mass of whiny frustration because she couldn’t make flowers like what I was painting.
I tried to explain to her in as many ways as I could think of, that we were just having fun and it didn’t matter if her picture looked like mine. She didn’t get it and was completely freaking out. It was freaking me out too. Why is my four year old becoming such a perfectionist? Any time she cuts something out and strays off the line, or makes a coloring mark where she doesn’t want it, she completely looses it. What to do? I love art and don’t want her getting discouraged all the time.
My mom was an art therapist so I called for her advice. She told me that in some of the workshops she’s taught, the first task she gives her (adult) class is to “Make an Ugly Picture”. It frees them up from thinking they have to produce something marvelous and gets them to just have fun. That sounded like a pretty good idea.
So one day not long ago, we made some homemade finger paints. I put out a big board for the girls to paint on in the middle of the kitchen. As I was explaining to them what we were going to do, I started to say “..and we’re going to make a pretty picture” Oops! I stopped myself and said, “I mean, we’re going to make a mess!”
Well, let me tell you, I have never seen Elsie have so much fun with artwork. Both of the girls were squealing with joy, squishing the colors around on the board. Not a whine of frustration did I hear! Now, the finger paint did end up in hair, on pajamas, on the cabinets, but it was worth it. I realized that at these kid’s ages, making a mess is the best thing to make.