By Judy Koutsky

Parents want the best for their children and that includes sparking their imagination. But how do you encourage your child to be creative? The answers may surprise you.

1. Promote free play. “Free play requires children to use their own imagination and creativity to identify what to play and how to play with it. For example, a box can become a dollhouse, or a spaceship, or the counter of a play store,” says Alessandra Wall, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist. Letting kids play openly -- how they want, without instruction, is the cornerstone to creativity.

2. Don’t make suggestions when they’re bored. “It is OK for your kids to be bored. It might be hard to deal with the complaining in the beginning, but by forcing them to figure it out on their own, you are actually encouraging cognitive growth,” says Wall. So resist the temptation to step in, and let them figure it out on their own.

3. Cheer on growth and discovery. “Kids are constantly growing and developing. They are learning what their body is capable of, what movements they enjoy or are good at,” says Christie Marshall, MS, sport psychology consultant. Maybe your child likes to run and jump and push his coordination abilities. Maybe this leads to a made-up game with friends, with complicated rules of movement. Giving children the time and freedom to discover their interests leads to wonderful imaginary games.

4. Remove screens. We are all guilty of giving kids iPads, computers, and phones to entertain them, but this isn’t the greatest way to increase their creative side. So quite simply, take the screens away. “It is so hard the first week, but very rapidly kids learn to play with their other toys,” says Wall.

5. Empower them. Letting your kids play by themselves and create new and fun adventures gives them a sense of empowerment. “With each success (like building a tree house) comes greater self-efficacy (I did that! I can do it again!) and confidence to move forward and perhaps even challenge themselves just a little more,” says Marshall.

6. Walk away. In this new world of “helicopter parenting,” we need to learn to walk away and let kids play. Children need to climb trees, take risks, stumble and learn on their own what they are capable of doing. “In the vast majority of cases, kids may risk a few scrapes and bruises, but it’s worth it. Parents need to look back to their own childhoods and remember the fun and the lack of catastrophic outcome that resulted from not having an adult breathing down their neck,” says Walls.

7. Encourage friendships. “Kids tend to think they are the center of the universe,” says Marshall. But by playing with other kids, your child learns to relate to others and feel “part of something just a little bit bigger.” Together, with friends, they can create a lemonade stand, play house or do any number of activities that involve more than one child. Creativity can expand when multiple imaginations are at play.

8. Limit the number of toys. “The more toys a child has, the fewer different ways they play with them. They don't dip into their creativity to find new uses for a favorite item,” says Wall. Instead, limit the number of toys and see how creative they can be with a stack of blocks or a science set.

How do you encourage your child to be creative?