I often catch my 12-year-old daughter daydreaming and doing stuff she can’t really explain, such as muttering to herself, drawing things she can’t put a name to. When I ask her what she is doing, she hurriedly says “nothing" and gets back to her work. My husband says she’s artistic and creative, and that I shouldn’t watch her every move. I just can’t figure out if I am really over-focusing on her or if I should be worried about what’s going on in her head?

If someone hadn’t dreamt it up, we would never have had planes, electricity, the Ajanta paintings, the Qutub Minar, great stories. Invention, creativity, inspiration, discoveries…they have all been fuelled by people who have used their imagination. Or, one should say, by people whose imagination was allowed to flourish freely.

Open sky policy: Let your child’s imagination entertain or engage him.

Sadly, for decades now, the Indian schoolchild’s introduction to the world of art has been through a prescribed, rigid subject: Draw a rainy day. It’s the same with writing: Write about your holiday. And down the decades, the content of these paintings and essays simply hasn’t changed. As long as there are raincoats and dashes of blue crayon signifying rain, the child has drawn “correctly". As long as there is mention of a journey and a monument, we are satisfied—our child has “completed" the essay on his holidays.

In actual fact, most children notice and respond to the most unusual and a great variety of things on a rainy day or on their vacation—things that escape most adults. And, most importantly, a child does not even have to go anywhere or actually experience something to come up with an imaginative set of impressions.

The runaway success of The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter series indeed mark a refreshing return to imagination. However, they are still passive forms of entertainment, not a substitute for nurturing our own kids’ imaginations. Children’s imaginations need an outlet. It used to be a natural process at one time, since they dreamt up games and inventions, magical places and people. Today, when they are forced to be constantly rational, even worse, constantly fed predigested fun and information, they are in danger of getting bored, under-stimulated and even depressed.

Recently, a mother complained that she had “caught" her 12-year-old daughter making odd climbing hand-movements in the air. When asked what she was doing, this child hastily said, “Nothing". This made the mother even more anxious, convinced now that her child was behaving “abnormally". Finally, the child revealed that she had just been trying to imagine what it would be like to walk on a vertical surface—like a spider or a lizard. She had been trying to imagine the feeling, as well as the technicalities: which leg goes first, which follows, etc. But, the whole episode was seen in the house as “crazy" behaviour.

Let’s give our children some credit—of being creatures with far more joy, curiosity, humour and imagination than us adults. Let’s nurture these qualities instead of “straightening them out".

Write to Gouri at learningcurve@livemint.com