Design Thinking with Your Little

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I have been a User Experience designer for over 14 years and I never once thought to apply my logic and way of working with my daughter until recently.

The design thinking process helps me relate to my customers and clients experiences, but it may be an even more natural fit for parents. I try to put on my designer hat with my daughter, to have ideas in my back pocket that motivate her to try something new. You have to observe your little and know how to morph or evolve given the situation.

Here are 7 strategies that design thinkers and innovators use to heighten children’s creativity and resourcefulness.

Teach kids how to create. Part of parenting like a designer is teaching your little to create, and the earlier the better. Keep lots of drawing supplies on hand; more importantly, give drawing instructions. If this isn’t something you can do, hire a local art student or teacher. The most creative people I know are not necessarily great artists, but they are comfortable doing back-of-the-napkin sketches. Another idea: Learn how to draw with them.

Throw out the parenting manuals. Designers tend to ignore set theories about what people want and focus instead on tinkering and pushing boundaries. There is no such thing as best parenting practices, because all littles have different needs. This is really liberating, because it frees you from the expectation to follow some externally-imposed parenting doctrine. Instead, parents and children can work together and try different approaches, then discuss what worked.

Step off the dance floor and onto the balcony. To come up with the right solutions, parents may have to create distance. When my daughter makes a mess, she often is too in the weeds to think strategically. She’s rushing to get to school, and I may think I should help her clean up, but my own emotional involvement is clouding what she really needs, which is to learn responsibility.

Embrace different ways of learning. Most design thinkers were not top students. We tended to be more of the artsy kids who couldn’t sit still in the classroom, and those are not the skills we prioritize in elementary or even most high schools. Not every child is a linear thinker or traditional classroom learner. Try to highlight the ways our kids can use their strengths to make contributions in an increasingly complex world.

Let go of your own agenda. Factoring in your littles’ point of view requires a mind shift. If it’s 8 p.m. and I have a lot of work to do, I just want my daughter to brush her teeth, but she doesn’t have those needs. I have to think how do I get in her mind to get her excited to take some action? I can will it all I want, but it will result in a tantrum. On a good day I can be joyful and creative about moving the needle, other times I’m more rigid, and that’s not the way to get human beings to change their mind. Design thinking is helpful because when our children feel understood, they are more likely to cooperate.

Walk kids through scenarios. If your child is having a conflict, such as a fight with a friend, parents can help them think through different approaches. Ask what outcome they want? How can you act when you go to school? I recommend presenting a variety of options. As your little considers both good and bad ideas, they can make predictions about what might happen.

Delight in what you don’t know. Design thinking adopts a beginner’s mind-set and stay open to possibilities. Everything changes, both in our relationship with our littles and in the way we engage the world ourselves, as soon as we become learners alongside our kids rather than trying to be their teachers. When children ask questions you can’t answer, make finding answers a joint project.

Design thinking is not about making generalizations; it’s about understanding the child in front of you. Enjoy the time finding your own inner child and working differently with your little.

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