How to spoil your kids


Dear Artist,

Victoria Prooday, a Toronto occupational therapist and blogger specializing in child brain development and neuroplasticity, recently cited some alarming statistics about skyrocketing childhood depression, ADHD and teen suicide rates. Calling it a silent tragedy, she attributed the problem to an epidemic of well-meaning but bad parenting. Her post has been read over 10 million times, proving to her that the dilemma is real and prevalent.


“Picture Book”
oil painting by American Impressionist
Lilla Cabot Perry (1848-1933)

What does this have to do with art? Victoria says that over-indulgence in kids’ screen time and a lack of delayed gratification is a recipe for poor problem-solving skills and stick-to-it-ness — abilities that artists know as the backbone of creativity and that everyone understands as the cornerstone of coping with life in general. Apparently, failing at stuff is where innovation is born, and in order to extract and advance the magic of being alive through life’s triumphs and challenges, we all benefit from an acquired quality called grit. Here lies the ability to push through the agony of not getting what we want, not winning right away and figuring out how to do stuff well. Look no further than how a painting is made if you’re still wondering what I’m talking about.


“A Young Girl” 1892
oil painting by Lilla Cabot Perry

Victoria mentions a mother who came for parenting advice and described her six year-old, who avoided activities he thought tedious and challenging, like puzzles, painting, writing, chores and reading. He chronically asked for help or gave up on difficult tasks. As a result, the poor little guy was completely missing out on the fun of doing hard things. Add to this that easy things, like putting on clothes and going outside, were becoming increasingly tough. “Work ethic is similar to a muscle,” wrote Victoria. “It can be strengthened with proper training or weakened with misuse.” For parents of toddlers, she suggested early hardwiring for grit by making them peel their own banana. Like the harrowing uncertainty at the beginning of the creative cycle and the euphoria and authentic self-esteem earned when an idea is finally built and realized, eating your banana is the reward for peeling it.


“Reading Together”
oil painting by Lilla Cabot Perry



PS: “Magic mostly happens when we push ourselves outside of our comfort zone, work hard through challenges and boredom.” (Victoria Prooday)

“Not he who begins, but he who perseveres.” (Leonardo da Vinci)

Esoterica: Spoil your kids not with a bump-free ride, but with a generous supply of the essentials of creativity: art supplies, writing and musical instruments, sure. Plus limited instruction, lots of privacy, uninterrupted time and the opportunity for failure. Leave them alone. Victoria describes this entertainment and trophy desert as “boredom.” Like art, other screenless stretches like gardening, knitting, hiking and woodworking also ask for continuous effort and are littered with ready-made emotional snags and mistakes before anything satisfying happens. “The bad news is that kids’ work ethic is in a crisis and we, parents, have a lot to do with it,” says Victoria. “The good news is that with proper training you can improve your child’s work ethic.”


Download the new audio book, The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“Life is filled with tedious work, delayed gratification, challenges, and responsibilities. It is mostly about doing what is needed to get what is wanted.” (Victoria Prooday)



  1. Everything is connected with art! I am so grateful to be artist for it has indeed given me lots of opportunity to improve my neuroplasticity! Coming into parenting a little later than usual my husband and I managed to train four wonderful adults who lament the lack of work ethic in their own generation. That means, of course, they will always have a job…

  2. Oh yes, thank you Sara! I teach art classes with young artists and while I try to avoid preaching those lessons to them, I try oh so subtly to show them to not just begin, but to push beyond the challenges, to look for solutions that will take them to a desired outcome. At the end of the day, lessons learned will, hopefully, move with them beyond their art creation.

  3. Thank you Sara,
    I sure appreciate this being talked about and it is wonderful to hear solution oriented thoughts. While things can slip into habits by repeating action, it is wonderful to be reminded to create life giving habits are created the same way.

    Wishing you and everyone a super day!

  4. I think it was BECAUSE I had needlearts as a kid–sewing, knitting, crochet, embroidery. etc.–I was better able to weather family dysfunction and depression. I’d hate to think what would have been without them.

    It sure seems we no longer lead kids to the arts or, for that matter, teach them coping mechanisms of any kind. We give them cell phones.

    • Hi Linda
      I too as a child had to weather family dysfunction . Making my own world through my drawings as a child and keeping them out of sight from my parents who believed l was possessed by the devil, became my lifelong ability to cope with stress and depression.

        • Oops! To finish my reply, I am so thankful to have grown up in a large
          working class family in the 1950s’. I could go into my room and paint, draw, fantasize, design clothes, and be left alone. With 5 kids runniing around our house, it was a blessing for my mother to have one that was” in her own world” most of the time. Nowdays, my younger grandsons have a dedicated area where a few small tables are covered in ongoing Lego projects, – most are surprisingly inventive and complicated- as well as paintings, wooden weaponry, etc. My daughter trys to limit the screen time, but it’s a bit tricky. I think that Minecraft, one of their favorite apps, has taught them to be very inventive, but not as much as the driftwood forts they build down on the beach!

  5. “…Eating your banana is the reward for peeling it…” Easy to forget sometimes, even in art. I see some of my finished pieces and forget the work it took me to get there. The reminder comes when I stare at a stretcher of raw canvas on my easel. Thank goodness my parents made me do the hard stuff. I can see why children who have not been given an opportunity to work through to their own solutions can feel overwhelmed with the mundane action of taking the first step. Excellent article Sarah.

  6. Thanks for sharing this! As an artist and art instructor I love hearing confirmation on what I see daily in the studio with the children and youth I instruct! Many parents don’t put art on their list of children’s activities which is a shame and becoming quite a concern when I see it being dropped in many of the schools curriculum, including my own children’s. Sign your kids up for art or engage in it with them at home!

  7. Another direct hit. I’m surprised by how often these letters coincide with my current issues or interest. I just recently peeled a banana. It was a figurative piece from a photo I took of a street vendor. Although I had the photo reference I still had a problem getting the proportions correct. Its a watercolor. I started with a pencil sketch, by the time I got to painting it became obvious that it was off. Next I tried just blocking in the figure with a wash. Again by the time the details began to be added it too was proportionally challenged. Next I used the grid method to draw in major shapes. That nailed the proportions, but the resulting painting lacked character. So I went back to the previous painting and forced some of the shapes I could. The resulting figure was still off some proportionally, but “read” better and the painting was lively and satisfying.

  8. great letter Sara;

    I try to persevere even when the going gets tough. Fortunately my mother taught me how to knit & crochet
    and was very good at making clothes etc. I like to think that this early education has given me some
    tenacity to stick to painting, even when I think it’s not the best work I’ve done.

  9. Making is our physical and mental dexterity in action. We are made for making, no other creature alive has anything close to our ablities as an instrument. A spider can weave the most incredible web but it cannot plant a seed to grow a flower. Making is a healer because it brings our physical and mental selves together in mindful attention in the present moment. It releases us from the grip of left brain stress, the scurge of the thinking tyrant within. Passivity, receivin in staed of the giving of doing, being entertained, may distract for the time it goes on, but it leaves little energy or trace in us. We return to flat. Giving , making, results in chemical reactions in the brain that make us feel joy and neuroplasticity, the creation of new connections between neurons in the brain, make our brains fitter and smarter. I see little here to do with ethics, or laziness or pushing through etc. Making makes us happier as we are more in tune with who and what we are. It is about understanding the kind of animal we are and acting in our own best interest. In the interest of our health, development and evolution.

  10. When my children were little, I was told I spoiled them. I am not sure what “spoiling” means. I do think each child is an individual, with differing needs and interests as they grow. I think I met most of my children’s needs, but failed dreadfully at others. I did always make sure that I was their enduring protector and advocate. We had art materials, a beautiful outdoors, plenty of books, and schools with good education, if sometimes socially difficult. All this to add a touch to the discussion: it is good to spoil your kids with your time, energy, and creative opportunities. My son is not an architect and my daughter a yoga teacher, massage therapist, and adventure tour guide. They both spend some time with the arts.

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April 10, 2019 to April 17, 2019


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Oil on Linen
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Featured Artist

A professional painter in both watercolor and oil for over 35 years, I have been creating plein air workshops in Europe for artists to join me since 1996. Plein air is one of the most exciting methods of painting, and I teach a very easy to learn way of capturing the light quickly, that any artist can apply to their own work during our adventures to Europe. Travel for artists is a great way to immerse yourself in painting and make great advances in your techniques by watching other professionals work, and by sharing your own ideas with other artists we all grow! Authentic locations, such as a 12th Century Castle in Ireland, a French Maison in the countryside of France, or an Italian Villa in an historic hilltop village in Italy are carefully chosen. We want our artists and non-painting guests to feel relaxed and at home, with en-suite bedrooms, excellent chef prepared cuisine, and convenient transfers to painting and exploring locations so you can be where you want to be to create. Join me on our next exciting journey!


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