The Creativity Issue: 4 Essential Tips for Raising Creative Thinkers

Ditch the rules, encourage divergent thinking and more.

Parker Barry

Are kids born creative? Cognitive psychologist Dr. Mark Runco believes both nature and nurture play a role in creativity. “There is a genetic basis to creativity, but that just influences the range of potentials we each inherent. Each of us has the potential to be creative,” he said. “Nurture, families, education, culture, the media all have an enormous impact.” That impact, though, can hinder creativity or foster it.

These four tips can help you nurture your kids’ creativity.

  • 1. Let kids think for themselves.
 Want more creative kids? Have fewer rules. Authoritarian environments that don’t allow kids to think for themselves or ask questions are a creativity killer. Creativity is supported by environments that are flexible and allow autonomy, along with providing resources and respect, Runco said. Parents can help kids develop creatively by allowing them to make decisions for themselves and contribute their ideas to the family. They’ll develop problem-solving skills and resilience — learning from their mistakes. If given the freedom to choose creative outlets that match their passions, kids will be more motivated to invest the time necessary to really develop their talents than if the activity is chosen (and practice is pushed and directed) by a parent.

Want more creative kids? Have fewer rules.

  • 2. Give kids open-ended problems.
 Creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson has been vocal about his criticism of the traditional school model, going so far as to say schools are killing creativity. Robinson, author of Creative Schools, believes that the factory model of schooling’s one-size-fits-all mentality that standardizes curriculum and testing is also standardizing our kids and stifling their creativity.

Educational psychologist Dr. Joe Renzulli agrees. “Though tests do play a necessary role in our education system, solely emphasizing a one-right-answer environment is a creativity killer,” said Renzulli, who is a professor at the University of Connecticut and an expert in gifted education. There has to be a balance. Kids need the chance to work with problems that don’t have one right answer. They need to explore ideas that may not have a right answer at all. Parents can encourage this kind of open-ended thinking by providing kids with open-ended toys. “Instead of giving kids a puzzle or toy that can only be played one way, give them things where there’s no right answer or existing solution. We want them to play with ideas.”

Renzulli suggests having them  design a game for their kitten to play, for example. There’s not one right way to do it. They can use anything they want — tin cans or plastic bottles or cardboard boxes. And kids can choose their mode of expression — maybe they will draw the cat’s toy rather than build it. Parents can adapt this idea countless ways to promote creativity.

Solely emphasizing a one-right-answer environment is a creativity killer.

  • 3. Encourage exploration of ideas and activities. Parents can encourage kids to try different activities — even if they aren’t good at them yet — to challenge themselves and possibly find new creative outlets. In the same vein, parents can support kids with an intense interest in further developing a focused creative talent by providing the resources for them to continue to grow.

It’s important for parents to rein in any inclination within themselves to get pushy. Studies show that intrinsic motivation fosters creativity, but extrinsic motivation hinders it. With external influences involved, kids may move into seeking that “right answer” rather than being truly creative.

  • 4. Encourage divergent thinking.
 Less is more, really, when it comes to raising creative kids. While there are many ways to be creative, divergent thinking encourages creativity and is great for kids regardless of their creative domain of choice. Parents can help kids develop creativity with some simple, on-the-go, no-supplies-necessary activities to promote divergent thinking.
    • Have them brainstorm all of the possible uses for a specific item, like an umbrella or a paper clip. Remember, there’s no right or wrong answer!
    • Play the “what if” game. Discuss what would happen in some outlandish scenario. What if cats could bark? Or what if it always rained on Saturday?
    • Examine stories and situations from multiple perspectives. Read a picture book together and then talk about how a different character would have told the story.

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