Can You Teach Your Non-Artistic Child To Be Creative? Science Says Yes!

Have you given up on your child?

No, I’m not talking about ignoring your child, withholding your love, or any other damaging or abusive parenting behavior.

I’m wondering if you’ve labeled your child “not creative” simply because you think they were born without that all-important “artistic gene” and if they don’t have that genetic component then there’s nothing you can do about it.

Well, science says you would be wrong – there’s lots that parents can do to teach their seemingly unimaginative kids to be imaginative and creative individuals.

And all it takes is incorporating the 5 easy habits that I outline in this post into your family routine to teach your child to be a creative thinker – and to set them up for a successful future in the process.

First, You Need To Adjust Your Definition of Creativity

Generally, creativity is less about producing a beautiful watercolor or an inspiring musical sonnet – and much more about the way we think.

According to Robert Sternberg, a psychologist who has spent much of his life researching intelligence, creativity, wisdom, and leadership, a creative individual is one that is able to think in new ways and escape the boundaries of conventional thinking. These individuals:

  • Are able to see problems in new ways,
  • Recognize which ideas are worth pursuing and which ones are not, and
  • Know how to influence others on the value of their idea.

This is called divergent thinking: when many options (even options that seem unlikely) are considered as a solution to a problem.

Think about it. Much of what we teach our kids at home and at school is to conform to rules and expectations. In addition, we drill into their heads specific strategies to solve math problems, create the “perfect” essay, and to solve scientific problems by using a specific scientific method. We do this because these strategies have been shown to work and they are efficient in teaching large groups of kids how to solve these specific tasks. These tactics are done for a reason.

This type of thinking is called convergent thinking:  the ability to give the “correct” answer to standard questions that do not require significant creativity. (For more on schools and creativity, watch Ken Robinson’s TED talk asking “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”)

There is very little time in our child’s day (if any) that encourages kids to think outside of these very narrow rules, strategies, and expectations – but what if their futures depended on learning this very valuable skill of creative thinking?

Teaching Your Non-Creative Child To Be Creative Is Important For Their Future

The fields of science and business are finally seeing the value of the creative thinker and are actively searching for new employees with this ability.

David Kelley knows first-hand the importance of training a new generation of scientists and businessmen in the area of creativity. He founded, a design school based out of Stanford University, and co-wrote a book on creativity with his brother called Creative Confidence (a GREAT book – I highly recommend it!). David believes that most people ARE creative – we just forgot how to think creatively.

When we encourage kids and young adults to use divergent thinking alongside convergent thinking, important innovations are created. In just the few years that has operated, students have developed the Embrace blanket (a low-cost alternative to neonatal incubators) and the d.light (a solar-powered LED light now in use in some third world rural communities). The Pulse News Reader was developed in a class in 2010, and became the highest-selling application at Apple’s App Store.

We can give our kids a leg up in college and their future careers by encouraging their creativity at a young age – even those kids that we have dubbed “non creative.”

Creativity Is A Habit

Robert Sternberg’s research tells us that even kids who cannot mold anything remotely recognizable in clay CAN be creative in other ways. Their “art” might be a new invention, a better strategy that saves people money, or the development of a life-saving medication.

“Creative people are creative … not always as a result of any particular inborn trait, but, rather, through an attitude toward life,” says Sternberg. “They habitually respond to problems in fresh and novel ways, rather than allowing themselves to respond mindlessly and automatically.”

Creative people habitually:

  • Look for ways to see problems that other people don’t
  • Take risks that other people are afraid to take
  • Have the courage to defy the crowd and to stand up for their own beliefs
  • Seek to overcome obstacles and challenges that most people would abandon simply because a solution is too difficult to find.
How You Can Encourage Creative Habits In Your Child

In order to encourage your child’s divergent (versus convergent) thinking skills, begin by incorporating the following habits into your family routine:

Challenge your child to think of several options to address problems or tasks. This teaches your child that there is often more than one solution to every problem or many different (and valid) paths to take to complete a project. By allowing your child to exercise their “ingenuity muscle,” you are helping them think outside of the box – which will be an asset for them in their careers when they gain a reputation as someone with new and fresh ideas. This will set them apart from their peers and skyrocket them to a promotion.

Allow your child to take risks – even if you know they will likely fail. Letting your child take risks and to learn from these mistakes is so important. First, it teaches your child that taking risks isn’t a bad or shameful thing. Second, it allows your child to learn how to recover from a failure. Third, your child will likely build upon their knowledge base every time they try something new – even if it doesn’t work out like they planned. Remember, Einstein didn’t develop his Theory of Relativity overnight – it took many iterations before it was a success.

Don’t take your child’s failures personally. The less you feel like your child’s successes are a reflection of your “good parenting,” the more you’ll be supportive of your child’s emerging creativity. If your child is brave enough to try something new and it fails, this is not a direct indication that you’ve failed as a parent. The project or idea that bombed today might be the foundation for the idea that makes them a smashing success in the future.

Create a family attitude that finding solutions to challenges is fun. Most kids are taught to fear challenges – don’t let your child fall into this trap. Modeling a determined, optimistic attitude when it comes to overcoming challenges goes a long way in showing your child that finding solutions to obstacles is not scary at all.

Teach your child to respectfully accept criticism and praise. Allowing your child to exercise their creativity also means that your child will inevitably encounter the opinions – both positive and negative – of other people. Teach your child the polite way of handling this attention.

Take Home Message

While habits that I discussed above won’t necessarily make your child Picasso, it will definitely help to develop your child’s creative abilities. Remember, Steve Jobs’ masterpiece wasn’t on a canvas or on a sonnet sheet – his masterpiece was creating innovative products that changed the lives of the people who use them every day.

All kids can be creative – it just takes some practice to encourage some kids to be creative.

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