Raising creative children – Findings and commonalities: Traits, Families, and Homes
©Leslie Owen Wilson
Humans appear born to create and that seems to be an innate, human talent.
So for what seems like eons, I have been fascinated by looking into what things help to nurture creativity in children. And I keep returning to the questions – why do some people excel in maintaining their creative abilities, while others seem to lose them? What are some of the different variables in how creative people were raised?
In thinking about issues that surround child development and creativity I ran across a study by Dr. Kyung-Hee Kim of William and Mary. She reported something that I found rather distressing as her findings pointed to the fact that while children’s general IQs have been rising since 1990, scores on tests of creativity are going down!
In investigating the causes and effects of surrounding issues there were some consistent things that kept popping up in research studies and writings on creativity and children. My investigations have concentrated on findings concerning behavioral patterns, as well as patterns that seem to occur in families and homes that support emerging creative spirits. As well I have noticed that there appear to be telltale pointers in the home or learning environments of creative individuals or in their parents’ attitudes and parenting practices. Some interesting commonalities in the backgrounds of creative children point to these:
- Many people dubbed as creative reported they lived in what might be considered unusual homes – as in ones built or decorated differently, or in homes with unique features or collections.
- Their parents seemed to be pretty good predictors of their children’s creative potential. Most parents of highly creative people indicated they noticed signs of their child’s differences at an early age – like distinctive thought patterns, or good problem solving abilities, highly imaginative play, etc.. And these parents tended to help cultivate these traits/talents.
- Often the mothers of highly creative individuals worked at jobs that might be considered more traditionally “male.” (This difference would be contextual of course. For instance, today many females work at jobs once perceived to be mostly male occupations. But for creative people who were from earlier generations, having a mother in a professional area perceived as “male” became an indicator of possible creativity.)
- Many parents of creative children had well-developed interests outside their main vocational area, and often they shared these interests with their children.
- Creative individuals reported that often they suffered a number of traumatic experiences causing some disruption in their lives – like the death of a loved one or friend, intense anger, parents’ divorce, grief, or disruption in living situations. (While hardship by itself doesn’t necessarily appear to induce creativity, frequently these situations seemed to force kids to be flexible and inventive in order to survive. Flexibility is one of the components of divergent thinking. Adverse conditions can also force children to become problem solvers at an early age, or escape into their imagination or into pretend or imaginary worlds.)
- There is often evidence that an individual’s creativity was buoyed by at least one teacher who offered support or inspiration.
- Creative individuals report they have an internal locus of control and are by nature persistent. As kids they thought of themselves as self-motivated – eager to learn about a subject, or to acquire a specific skill. Often this need to know or learn might become something of “an obsession.”
- Left-handedness – Research indicates that the proportions of creative individuals are higher in the population of left-handed individuals. Whether it is the stress and challenges of navigating in a right-handed world that propels southpaws into creative solutions and ramp up their problem solving abilities at an early age, or simply that their brains are wired differently, we are not yet sure, but the percentages are there.
- In highly creative teenagers there seemed to be a stronger sense of identification with one’s mother. But in adolescents there was a higher tendency to imitate the success of the father, while relying on encouragement and emotional support from one’s mother. (Again, as gender roles shift in society, this finding will be interesting to track.)
- One of the universal telltale signs seems to be that creative children are more likely to have large numbers of collections of things. Often collections are unusual for their age groups. (As a parent, I cannot tell you how many vacuums I went through inadvertently picking up stones, pebbles and rocks off the carpeting. Or tell you how many times I dug geological samples out of my kids’ pockets before putting them in the washer. And if asked about the stone or pebble, each seemed to have a story, a location, an unusual or differentiating marking or shape that made it special and worth collecting.)
- Too it seems that it is not unusual for creative children to construct imaginary worlds, have made-up friends, or indulge in pretend play. Often they inhabit these fantasy worlds creating characters, social rules, landscapes, even languages or distinctive symbology. They may also role play and have elaborate conversations acting out many emotions or scenarios. There is a high correlation with children who do this and later creativity.
- Creative children tend to grow up in homes that stress values, not rules. Their parents tend to emphasize and reward character development rather than isolated behaviors.
- In homes that encourage creativity, there is less emphasis on tight regimes and scheduled play or structured activities and more time for free play, interpersonal interaction, and self-exploration.
Subsequently, in what seems to be an era of decline in American children’s creativity, if you have a child who exhibits some of the traits inherent in creative minds, stimulate these traits, and examine your parenting or teaching to see how you can actively encourage creative behaviors.
Highly creative individuals are good at problem solving. (And I am not referring to the kind with arithmetic calculations.) This requires the use of bilateral brain functions as they weave in and out of both convergent and divergent thinking. And we know through neurological research that this type of thinking can be encouraged and developed.
Follow up reading – Some tips for parents and teachers:
National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) – is an exceptional resource for both parents and teachers.
NAEYC Article on Supporting the development of creativity – Few parents understand the differences between process and product art and what the experiences do to children’s creativity. This article will help.
Kyung-Hee Kim examines the data from her study on intelligence vs. creativity in Smart-yes.-creative-not-so-much
Kyung-Hee Kim’s complete journal article (PDF format) The Creativity Crisis: The Decrease in Creative Thinking Scores on the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking. Creativity Research Journal, 23(4), 285–295, 2011
Peter Gray for Psychology Today (Sept 17, 2012) As Children’s Freedom Has Declined, So Has Their Creativity
Are Today’s Youth Less Creative & Imaginative? In Live Science (August 12, 2011) By Rachael Rettner
The Creativity Crisis. (7/10/2010) http://www.newsweek.com/creativity-crisis-74665. By Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.
Gardner, H. (1982). Art, mind, and brain: A cognitive approach to creativity. New York: Basic Books.
Hoff , E. V. (2005). Imaginary companions, creativity, and self-image in middle childhood. Creativity Research Journal, 17(2-3), 167-180.
Piitro, J. (2004) Understanding creativity. Great Potential Press
Runco, M. A. (2014) Creativity: Theories and Themes: Research, Development, and Practice (2nd ed.) Cambridge, MA: Academic Press.
Sternberg, R. J.;Grigorenko, E. L.; Singer (2004) Creativity: From Potential to Realization. Washington, D. C. American Psychological Association (APA) (Out of print but available as a PDF)