WATCH: Why we should let our kids be rebels (and have cereal milk in every shade of pink)

Harvard Business School professor, Francesca Gino, explains why you should let your kids be creative and colour their cereal pink!
Harvard Business School professor, Francesca Gino, explains why you should let your kids be creative and colour their cereal pink!

When we look at our toddlers as they discover that that pointy coloured wands we gave them make marks on that colouring-in page, we never tell them, “Colour in within the lines, sweety”, because they’re little, and learning. Of course, when they go off the page and onto the furniture and walls, that’s a different story, but for the most part, at 2 and 3 years old we’re just happy they're discovering something new.

So at which point did we tell them to start colouring in between the lines? When did we stop them from exploring, experiencing and learning through, essentially, breaking the rules?

The obvious response is when we started teaching them skills to reach particular developmental milestones so they could eventually go to school and grow even further. So if we let them break the rules and colour outside the lines, do we then help nurture their creativity?

Professor at Harvard Business School Francesca Gino thinks so, and therefore encourages us to raise our kids as she’s raising hers: as rebels. 

“Raising kids to be rebels is critically important. We think of rebels as the troublemakers, the outcasts, people who break the rules just for the sake of breaking rules. But we need to shift our thinking about them,” she explains.

“Effective rebels are people who challenge the status quo and break rules constructively, creating positive change in the process.”

Do you agree that breaking the rules should be encouraged? Has creative thinking helped your child? Tell us by emailing and we may publish your comments on the site.

Gino explains, “When I think about teaching my kids about the value of rule breaking and rebelliousness, I think about rebels like Captain Sully Sullenberger, the person who landed the plane in the Hudson River. I think about them in the future dealing with complex issues in situations of crisis, and being able to go not for the obvious answers, but to think creatively about the problem.

“When kids are taught to rebel, they learn to question rules rather than taking them for granted.”

She gives an example, much like colouring in outside the lines, describing the way her son Alex showed her that breaking the rules is not only okay, but sometimes, it can actually make things better:

“One morning our 4-and-a-half-year-old, Alex, was having a bowl of Malcolm cereals. He looked at my husband and he asked for the colouring bottles that we use to colour eggs during Easter. My husband asked Alex, ‘What are you gonna do with that?’ Alex said ‘I'm gonna colour my breakfast.’ And it was interesting to see the puzzled face that my husband had at that moment. He looked at Alex and said, ‘Alex, we don't do that!’ and Alex looked back at him and said, ‘Why not?’. And as we were trying to figure out the right answers, Alex was happily eating pink milk with his cereals.”

Problem-solving and creativity

Now, not only is pink milk better than regular ol’ white milk, but exploring and playing and coming to that creative realisation is important. When you encourage kids to break the rules and be creative, you also encourage self-expression, which is essential in maintaining their mental health, as well as thinking out of the box, problem-solving, and critical and divergent thinking, that is, “understanding what is, and then imagining the possibilities of what could be,” according to CNN.

By encouraging kids to break the rules, we’re motivating them to be creative, which will ultimately allow them to develop particular skills that are just as important as literally staying within the lines. In life we need more than just an academic skill set to succeed.


Apart from allowing our kids to colour the world a better, brighter place, it also encourages them to be curious. “Sometimes kids act in ways that, as a parent, you might think is irrational. And the reaction is to say ‘No, no, no, no,” but what I realised is that, often, we dictate rules that really should be questions. And what I've learned is to pause and give my children the space that they need to be curious and to keep on exploring.”

She continues, “I also find myself answering the questions that my kids ask a little bit differently. Rather than giving them an answer, I ask the question, 'Why do you think that is the case?’ And that's just a way, as a parent, we can instill more curiosity, rather than just providing answers.

“When we question rules of norms and traditions, it not only brings more joy in what we do, but also allow us to think creatively about every situation that we face," Francesca concludes.

“There is nothing wrong, after all, about having a colourful breakfast.”

Do you agree that breaking the rules should be encouraged? Has creative thinking helped your child? Tell us by emailing and we may publish your comments on the site.

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