Raising an Original Kid

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Highly creative children come from parents who place values above rules. Here are some tips to help you raise an original kid.

If you want to raise an original kid you have to teach him to think for himself. “I was fortunate enough to have parents who let me explore what I wanted to do from an early age,” says Roderick Justice, producing artistic director at The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati. “It helped that my parents were creative and musical. I role-played a lot. I grew up in a rural area, so I didn’t have school friends coming over everyday and I had to use my imagination … and boy did I have a wild imagination,” he adds.

Comments like Justice’s reveal what it takes to bring up a creative child (necessary for the arts and a highly valued attribute in board rooms across America). With parenting trends still funneling children into athletics first, the idea of “original” is often swept aside — often until it’s too late. Meanwhile, kids must follow the rules at school, do what they’re told and essentially “fall in” which often runs counter to listening to your own drum. You can build an original thinker at home, though.

“I firmly believe childhood role-playing is integral to creative development,” says Justice. “Once you nurture the child’s imagination, you will more likely get a more creative adolescent,” he adds.

Mind you, originality does not have to go hand in hand with rebelliousness. Kids do need guidelines for living … just not an over abundance of it.

“I think one of the biggest mistakes that a lot of parents and teachers make is spending their time enforcing rules. The sad thing about rules is they don’t teach kids to think for themselves,” says Adam Grant, author of the book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. So what should parents be teaching?

“Values,” Grant says. “Parents might say, ‘We take joy in our work — what kind of jobs sound fun to you?’ And when a child shows interest and enthusiasm toward something, to support that even if it’s different from what you want them to do.”

“Listen!” says Justice. “When a child expresses even the tiniest bit of passion for something, listen. Refrain from instinctively saying, ‘No,’ and focus instead on asking thought-provoking questions about the new passion,” he adds.

But this doesn’t mean you have to let your child run wild.

“Total openness is a misconception in developing creativity,” says John Morris Russell, conductor of the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. “You do need some tools and some loving guidance to open doors,” he adds.

“At the heart of all childhood creativity is ‘classic role-playing,’” says Justice. “A stick can be a sword, a wand, a cane. When the child begins to role-play, play along! If they do not include you, let them play and do not interrupt the process. Children have good instincts, so do not allow the child to sense if you feel role-playing is silly or foolish,” he says.

When psychologist/author Benjamin Bloom (Developing Talent in Young People) led a study on the early roots of successful artists, he learned that their parents weren’t drill sergeants. Instead, they responded to the intrinsic motivations of their children. When the kids showed an interest for a skill, the parents supported it.

Creativity and originality take time to nurture and are all too easy to stifle. In Bloom’s study, it was revealed that the highly creative kids came from homes where less than one rule was the norm. The parents of ordinary children had an average of six rules.

Food for thought.

 

Susan Day is editor-in-chief of Cincinnati Family Magazine and a mother of four.

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