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My 7-year-old son loves Lego and video games. He plays Minecraft on his tablet all the time, building various things, but apparently nearly everything he made was something he replicated from a Youtube video. He loves his Lego toys, and always begs for new sets. However, he only goes as far as following the instruction booklets exactly as specified with no modifications, setting them aside as display models without ever breaking them down to use the parts. We got him a box of random Legos that doesn't have instructions, but he never plays with it.

Last night I had a long talk with him in order for me to understand why he doesn't make things of his own design. He said that he doesn't like what he makes; that he can't make it as pretty as what other people make or what's in the instruction. When he tries to make things himself, to him it is a small, unimpressive, and ugly piece of work. I have tried encouraging/bribing/forcing him to try creating things and then praise it and his effort, but it doesn't help. He can't help but compare it to what other people make. He always tells me "what if I made..." this and that, with grand ambitions, but never actually goes through with it or tries. He just falls back to copying. He is absolutely proud of the things he copies and always shows me. When I show displeasure in the fact that it's a copy, he becomes sad, and if I praise him, that only further encourages him to plagiarize...

Any advice for how I can help him?

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My son has the same kind of hesitation about drawing/building/cutting out shapes - he doesn't think they're as cool as the ones mom and dad make. BUT there are two things that help him:

The first is if the item to be built etc has a practical purpose in the game we're playing. Does your son ever play with the lego sets after he builds them? Like, "Here's my Star Wars X-wing and now it's going to battle my Saber 1!"? I would say try getting him involved in a game with the sets after he's built them, and have the box of extra pieces nearby. Then, partway through the game... "Can we build a base for the rebels?" Or "I think this space battle would be more exiting if there were more enemy ships to shoot down." Or "How about a garage to park it in?" And I'd say it's ok for you to participate, too. If you show him you're having fun making up your own things, he'll probably be more interested in doing it himself. I would also say, it's probably best if you DON'T emphasize that you want him to make his own things (just cause he may have a negative emotional response to that since he knows you've been disappointed before). Just make it clear that you need more things for the game you're playing, and make it part of the game.

The second thing that helps my son loosen up is if it's clear that what we're doing is meant to be transient instead of permanent. He likes to make things out of sand, or paint with plain water on a black board, or make patterns in the shag rug, because he knows we're not going to save any of that, so there's no pressure. (It also works for him to draw on a phone app, because if he wants to start over he just pushes a button and gets a brand new page). It sounds like these constructions are VERY permanent in your son's mind, as you mentioned he keeps them on display. This greatly increases the pressure to make something worth saving, which no beginner likely feels they have the skill to do.

So: try making some things that are meant to be temporary, and try to make building/drawing etc part of a game, so that it makes the game more exciting and fun.

I'll mention that magformers are a good building toy for temporary projects, because they're very easy to assemble and disassemble. And because they magnet onto each other, they're easy to build with and store. These work great for my son, and we make a point to disassemble and put away all of them before bed each night. (They're a little expensive though so you may want to go for a knock-off brand. Different brands are cross-compatible).

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Please don't show displeasure when he's copying something.

My daughter used to do the same - not lego sets but make jewellery out of loom bands or quilling paper. Initially, she used to copy them from youtube tutorials. I used to tell her it is beautiful, but can we make it better ?

She would add/remove something or modify it according to her fancy. Sometimes, it wasn't as good as the original one but I used to tell her that it is okay. Even the people who made the video may not have got it right the first time.

She started making some modifications to everything and slowly, she started making stuff on her own without looking at tutorials. It's a gradual process.

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'Plagiarize' is a really harsh framing. Copying is perhaps the best established tradition in engineering.

He likes to build. Excellent! Let him build. Showing displeasure at a well built thing is not a choice I would make.

I would consider criticizing the designs, and not the construction. "That's a well made car. But it doesn't have breaks? I bet we could figure out how to add them."

If that's too advanced then take a section from another design to add to the next one. "Hmm I think that castle could use another tower. I think the one you built last week had a nice tower we could add over here. Can you find that video so we can see how it was made?"

If you can get him to accept improvements on an existing design you are well on the way to making original designs and past the creativity required in anything but art.

It sounds like many of the complaints are aesthetics, if that is true advocating for more functional projects might be called for. "how fast can you get this windmill to turn before the gears slip?" "can we build a bridge from the kitchen to the dining room?"

If he is competent with legos and computers he may be ready for robots. Tweaking software is just about impossible to avoid but you can keep the physical thing built to specification.

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At the risk of winging it based on my life, I think this is typical of this age somewhat. I find that young young kids are very openly creative without hesitation, I find that kids nearing 5/6 are starting to be more hesitant & by 7 they are outwardly & openly intimidated in certain scenarios to even try to step outside the box.

I am an artist and a mom. As such, this drives me a little twitchy. The way I work around it is constant encouragement and I pick projects that have no instructions to just help flex that muscle. Recently we just put a ton of clear glue all over nice cardstock & then covered it in major amounts of different colors of glitter. My 7 yr old son was very very reluctant, saying he was "no good at this", and "mine sucks", etc & so on. In the end he loved what he made. The reason I chose it is because glitter & glue swirls all over paper looks pretty impressive no matter who does it. It's cool enough for my boys because if you use cool colors it tends to look a little galaxy like, especially on black paper, etc. We do other crafts too, like simple things, such as using toilet paper rolls to cover in felt & make monsters as Halloween is coming up. I help cut the holes for eyes, but those will hold a small battery powered tea light & be very cool and there is so much openness in how to make a monster that he is willing to just wing it.

And to finish I will say, he likely will come out of it a little. The next older boy is 10. They both play minecraft & he, like your son, at 7 was all about tutorials. He really loved YouAlwaysWin on youtube, I think it was 2 dads, Meatwagon & Gunns (I will warn you I do think they swear? Maybe?) but he learned tons on there. Eventually he learned enough, had replicated enough, he felt confident to go off & do his own thing. He still does occasionally look at a tute or watch something, but he builds freestyle and his worlds are so amazing & impressive. I think he really started to go wild with that around 8-9yrs. Prior to that, he did a lot (a LOT) of copying.

So really, I think it likely will come around no matter what you do or don't do. I think it's age, based not only on my own, but also kids I watch that seem to follow a similar timeline like this on copy preference to creative preference. I think it's about skill mastery. As a child artist, I always always copied other people's work. I never ever went off on my own until much much later, like middle school. I was simply trying to learn their techniques and see if I could get it closer and closer to the original all the time, so even a hobby that seem incredibly creative by nature has it's fair share of copy stages.

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Your child is highly competitive, he's embarrassed by his "poor" designs yet he wishes for recognition.

Instead of forcing him to do what he doesn't like, let's help him solve his problem.

Luckily for us, his problems are clearly defined here:

He said that he doesn't like what he makes; that he can't make it as pretty as what other people make or what's in the instruction.

He has great motivation and interest too!

My 7 year old son loves Lego and video games. He plays Minecraft on his tablet all the time

And creativity.

He always tells me "what if I made..." this and that, with grand ambitions, but never actually goes through with it or tries.

Solving his lack of building skills is simple, nobody was born an artist. It takes years patience and effort to build up the fundamental skills of ergonomics and practical design. But all we need is something that looks cool.

There are dozens of minecraft/lego tutorials online teaching the theory behind popular designs and how to apply them. It's fine to take baby steps and start by making slight alterations to existing designs, that's a phase ALL artists goes through.

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Try spelling out a goal to achieve, such as building the highest possible tower, the longest bridge, his favorite cartoon character, etc. Keep things achievable. If this works, you can spice things up later by throwing in a few additional constraints, like how big the base should be, how many bricks, etc.

The point is to distract him from "pretty" so he can be successful (and proud) based on alternative criteria. (Don't forget to cheerlead, of course.)

When I show displeasure in the fact that its a copy

No idea how pronounced the displeasure is, but be wary of not drilling low self-esteem into him when you do that. (Picture your young self doing something you're really proud of, showing your parents, and getting a displeased or "meh, not good enough" reaction.)

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He always tells me "what if I made..." this and that, with grand ambitions, but never actually goes through with it or tries.

I would encourage him to try, and tell him that, like a lot of things, making new things takes practice, and he should expect that his first few tries will not look great. In order to get one that does look good, he'll have to go through a lot of bad ones first, so he might as well start.

This story might be helpful

https://excellentjourney.net/2015/03/04/art-fear-the-ceramics-class-and-quantity-before-quality/

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

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