Creative children

Raising a Creative Child: What You Need to Know

Creativity is the ability to generate or make up stuff that is unique and often has practical or artistic value.  It also way to look for new solutions to old, and more importantly new problems.  When your child becomes an adult in the workplace, he will always encounter problems that may not be solvable through the old ways, and therefore requires thinking “outside the box”.  A child who is used to thinking creatively will be a success in his profession, and will be sought after by employers.  Or better yet, he may even employ people to work on his innovative creative project!

Apart from practical benefits of being creative, coming up with something new in itself is a source of pleasure.

Many artists actually create art not for money, but to express themselves and give purpose to their lives.  To many, it can be an important aspect of a happy, fulfilled life.

And of course a creative child may also grow up to be able to produce something very valuable in his generation.   A child whose creativity is well-nurtured, and have other traits like grit, persistence and ability to do hard work may grow up to be the next Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Coons or Frank Gehry.

The Genetic Root of Creativity

A large part of being creative is genetic. Scientists claim that some people are born more creative than others, and creativity seems to come more naturally to some kids than others.  It is an innate talent, and the naturally talented person has an easier time acquiring the same level of expertise than the lesser talented person.  Also the talented person tends to master quickly what exists, so he can move on to working beyond what already exists and build something new.

Highly creative people are found to exhibit personality traits such as being intelligent, non-conformist and unconventional, and open to experience.  They have strong egos, and even have a mild form of madness.  They also tend to have a broad range of interests.  For example, highly creative scientists are found to be highly interested and engaged in the arts.

Although there are especially gifted creative people, experts believe that all people have creative abilities and all have them differently.  It is also something we all have in various degrees.  Kids are naturally creative.  But because of societal pressure, creativity can be unlearned.  And because of lack of stimulation, creativity can also be undeveloped.

Characteristics of a Creative Child

You can tell if your child is naturally creative if you see him:

  • finding new ways of using things, especially commonplace objects – like using a box as a toy fort, a vehicle, or a cave.
  • finding new ways of solving a problem, sometimes intuitively and without using logic
  • daydreaming a lot
  • being independent, unconventional, has his own way of doing things, and does not care to conform with what other children do
  • take risks and learn from consequences
  • interpret his world by creating things like music, drawings and stories.
  • take something existing, and makes his own improvements and variation on it – he may take an existing game and create his own version, or an object such as a schoolbag and add decors to make it his own.

See more characteristics of a gifted child

Genetic factors are main contributors to a person’s creative talent, but scientists do not negate that environmental factors play a big part in developing it in a person.  Creativity can be developed so a person can achieve his potential.  And the best time to foster creativity is from childhood.

Childhood is the time when your kid is still developing his powerful brain.  It is also the time when he can freely explore and grow in the direction he wants, and not be constrained by how society wants him to think. It is the time when he picks up the habit of being creative.   Indeed, nurturing his creativity is one of the most important gift you can give to your child.

Image courtesy of Denise Krebs

Tips on How to Raise a Creative Child

In general, you can foster your child’s innate creativity by exposing him to influences that can provide him with inspiration.  This means cultivating his love of knowledge and reading.  You should also provide materials for your child to apply his creativity.  Also, give him time to be alone, to think, to reflect, to imagine, to fiddle about, to create.

Importantly, your child needs your encouragement and your non-critical acknowledgement of what he is trying to accomplish.  Give him an environment that allows his creativity to develop, and not be stifled.

By doing this, you are instilling in your child the habit of creative thinking, which he will take into adulthood.

Here are some tips to raise a creative child:

  1. Make your child a reader – Among its many benefits, reading expands the intellectual horizon of your child, exposing him to new information and experiences that could potentially capture his interest, drive his passion and stimulate the urge to create. It sets up your child to imaginative thinking.  Knowledge from reading also provides raw materials for your child to build upon.  Reading informs your child about what exists, so he knows how to build on it.
  2. Expose him to literature, music, and the arts – Surrounding your child with creative works from other people will inspire him to produce creative works himself.
  3. Expand his horizon – He needs lots of raw materials as input, which his imagination could turn into a piece of creation. Do new things, go to new places.  Make sure though that they are not forced into these, as it might backfire.  For example, do not force your child to go to an art museum, if he knows he will hate it.  Make him find learning enjoyable.
  4. Encourage your child’s interest – As long as your child is interested in anything that will not harm him, do not discourage him, but rather be involved in his interest. Talk to him about it not as a cynical adult but as a genuinely interested and open-minded friend.  If you can afford it, consider giving your child things related to his interest that could further fuel his imagination.
  5. Accept his interest and passion no matter how they seem to be trivial or not worthwhile – It is your child’s interest and passion that fire his imagination. Something seemingly trivial might evolve or branch out into something big.  For example, your child’s interest in super hero action figures may one day spark an interest in creative writing or robotics.
  6. Have supplies and tools he can be creative with easily available – art supplies, paper, scrapbook, Lego, K’nex, musical instruments, computer. These materials may not cost anything like spare cardboard boxes that you plan to throw away or they may also be expensive like a video camera.
  7. Give your child a place to be creative – Sometimes creativity needs a quiet place or a place where he can be alone. Also keep in mind that sometimes creativity can be messy.  Cover that bare wall with paper before he fills it with his artistic creations.
  8. Let your child engage in free play. Let him play with toys that require imagination such as blocks or dolls. See list of latest best educational toys and gifts for children
  9. Limit distractions and disruptions that rob time from your child to think, reflect and use his imagination – Like too much video games and social media. On the other hand…
  10. Allow him time to get bored – because this will give him moments to reflect, toss around ideas, and entertain himself by daydreaming and using his imagination. Dr. Teresa Belton, visiting fellow at the University of East Anglia told BBC that boredom is crucial for developing “internal stimulus” that allows true creativity.
  11. Teach your child fanciful or different way of thinking – ask him questions like “what would happen if…”, “What’s the better way to…”, and so on. If he answers with a wild and crazy idea, take it with respect and enthusiasm.
  12. Take your child out of places that stifles creativity – Remove your child from environment that discourages or belittles your child’s creative expression. If his school force him to think only in a predetermined way, take him out of that school.
  13. Don’t judge or criticize his creative work – Don’t expect from your child to create something to please you and others. The important thing is that he pleases himself.  Make him feel free to express himself.  If he asks you for your opinion, notice the unique aspects of his work, but don’t criticize.
  14. Praise your child as a creative person – Praise your child as much as his work as this will give him a sense of self that is creative.
  15. Be a role model – Let your child see you as a parent who creates and have fun doing it. Show him what you accomplished.  Let him know that you appreciate thinking freely, being adventurous and being a risk taker. 
  16. Introduce your child to a role model – If you cannot introduce him personally, tell stories about a creative person – what he accomplished, and how he got there. If your child is interested in the arts, tell him about Lin Manuel Miranda or Stephen King.  If he is interested in technology, tell him about Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page or Bill Gates.
  17. Consider co-creating with your child – Although generally, you would leave your child alone to indulge in his creativity, your child can have more fun creating stuff with you. It is also an opportunity for you to guide him along, but do not force him to conform to your idea of how to do things.  You can co-create a wooden toy or a lego figure, co-write a story, or co-design a scrapbook.  Join him with a playful and open state of mind.  Co-creating with your child will also give you an opportunity to get a glimpse of his world, and to communicate with each other.
  18. Reward your child for finishing a creative work – Maybe you can buy his latest painting, or his short story.
  19. Encourage your child to join competitions related to his interest –  but emphasize the fun and value of the experience, and gently remind him that there can only be a few winners.  Also, he should not take losing as a failure but a reason to do better next time.  In artistic competition, judging of winners is usually subjective, and may not be fair to his work.
  20. Teach your child that it is okay to fail, and why long-term, failure is important – Fear of failure can paralyze a creative person from taking a step to make his idea a reality. Tell your child that he should see failure not as a permanent state, but as part of a process that eventually leads to success. Instill in him the confidence to rise up and recover after failing. Teach him the importance of learning from failure. To quote the great inventor Thomas Edison, “I haven’t failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”.
  21. Talk to your child about feelings and emotions – these are rich raw materials for artistic works
  22. For your toddler or pre-school child, play creative games so that he’ll discover the fun of creating early in life.
  23. Leave your child alone and don’t set a lot of rulesAdam Grant, a professor of management and psychology at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and author of the book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World thinks that kids who started as gifted but end up falling short of their potential is because these kids don’t learn to be original.  By striving to earn the approval of others, and following conventions, they don’t make anything new.  Adam Grant suggests that to make a creative child become a future creator, parents should limit rules and let the children think for themselves.  He also noted that a research out of Boston College suggests that parents of highly creative children give their children an average of fewer than one rule like when it’s time for bed or homework, compared to parents of ordinary children who had an average of six rules.  Teach your child values instead of rules.
  24. Give your child limits – Although creativity is about letting ideas and imagination run wild, the reality is being creative is usually constrained by limits and structures. For example, a TV show is structured to be an hour long with limited budget.  The less children have, the more creative they become.  If you give your child limited resources, he will learn early that creativity thrives with limits.
  25. Make your child free to pursue acquiring a breadth, not just depth, of knowledge and experience. Don’t force him to be an expert in one specialization, but rather, nurture his interest in many things.   Adam Grant noted that compared to typical scientists, Nobel Prize winners are more likely to perform as actors, dancers, magicians, write plays, poetry or novels, dabble in arts and crafts, and play or compose music because they are naturally curious, and this curiosity leads them to flashes of insight.