The perennial question that every parent would like to know the answer to: is creativity in children an in-born, inherited trait or is it the product of nurture?
Let’s start with first asking ourselves – how do we define creativity in children? It is a common perception that creativity equals artistic ability, as society tends to label musicians, artists and anything art-related as “being creative”. How often have you heard this: “She plays the piano so beautifully. She is so creative. His painting is so lifelike. He is so creative!” Seldom do you hear: “She found a different way to solve that Maths problem. She is so creative! He couldn’t find a suitable tool, so he made do with another and managed to fix that leaking pipe. He is so creative!”
I was guilty of this too, until I changed my mindset by observing my own children.
The Cambridge Dictionary gives a broad definition of creativity, calling it “the ability to produce original and unusual ideas; or to make something new or imaginative”. I really like this definition, as it focuses on ideas and thoughts. It is more intangible, versus a produced piece of work like a painting, or a piece of music which is tangible – hence, it takes more effort and intentionality to recognise it.
Many research studies conclude that there is an element of both nature and nurture when it comes to creativity. Some form of creativity is inherited, as it is an inherent human trait. But whether through life experiences, the environment, culture, fear of failure or discouragement, creativity can be diminished.
More importantly, as parents, I would like to believe that it is not a be-all-or-end-all. Genetics aside, we want to provide a nurturing and encouraging environment for our children to develop their creativity. A more relevant question would then be: “how do I create an environment to unleash my child’s creativity”?
The signs of a curious and creative mind
Creativity is like a muscle – you have to work at it! Of course, genetics do, in some ways, help. But every child is wonderfully created to imagine, wonder and be curious. If your child does not seem musically inclined, or if their scribbles aren’t exactly Van Gogh-worthy, don’t be discouraged.
Maybe your child challenges you with their 238 “whys” in a day. Maybe she wants to see what happens if she pours water into her pocket. (True story: my sister once did this, to find out if her pocket would contain this!). All these are budding signs of curious and creative minds. It is the thought-process and curiosity to make connections with their world that showcases a child’s inherent creativity. The need to explore, experiment, question, push boundaries and think out of the box – these are all qualities of a creative mind.
When my elder son was 3, he ate ikura for the first time and loved it so much that he wrapped some in tissue to take it home. Of course, it got squished and created a mess in his pockets. I found out that he wanted to take it home to hatch it (more fish equalled more ikura for him!). This example made me realise, that in order to raise creative children, we ourselves need to be curious – to wonder along with them.
Cultivating creativity in our kids
Imagine if I had reprimanded him for making that mess. I would have lost that opportunity to have a little glimpse of what went through his mind. Was that creative, you ask? A big yes! He had to make connections in his prior knowledge – that a fish lays eggs, that eggs hatch into other fish – and his curiosity to test this theory resulted in his actions.
Creativity is not just a tangible product that you can see, hear or touch. Many times, it is the thoughts and imagination that lies within. Our role as parents and caregivers is to help unlock that – to help children see that their curiosity and wonder are valuable, that this can grow and be developed into making many, many connections about the world around them. Creativity also recognises potential ideas, alternatives, or different possibilities in solving problems. It is having a fresh perspective of something new, or something old.
Here is a picture of my husband, with a cup of water on his back. He was chasing my then 3-year-old son around the house, tickling him. When he slid onto the couch to catch him (but missed), my son quickly grabbed his half-finished cup of water and as quick as lightning, placed it right in the middle of his father’s back. You can bet this stopped the chasing and tickling immediately, as his poor father started shouting for help! He could not move, for fear of spilling the water. We had a good laugh and looking back, that was one creative problem-solving skill.
In conclusion, creativity is inherent in every child – a gift that can be nurtured, drawn out and expanded, or squelched and diminished, depending on how parents, caregivers and the environment care for it. We can do so much to nurture this gift.
Join us in our next instalment to find out how!
By Ng Wei Lin
Wei Lin has been in the equities market for more than two decades, trying to juggle money (by day) and sense (by evening). She is a mum of two lovable boys who has expanded her heart and heart rate by equal measures. Passionate about parenthood and all things child-related, she can be found at @colours.of.play where she shares about motherhood, life and finding the magic in child’s play.