PEP Blog


Raising Creative Children . . . to What End?

By Elizabeth Gelfeld

Two stories caught my attention, inspiring reflection on a question never far from my mind: “Why are we doing all this parenting? What sorts of people are we hoping to raise?” One is a New York Times Op-Ed piece by Adam Grant, How to Raise a Creative Child. Grant starts off with enticing images of prodigies, who “learn to read at age 2, play Bach at 4, breeze through calculus at 6,” etc.

Who among us, as a new or soon-to-be parent, has not felt a secret thrill at the possibility of parenting a prodigy? In a culture that celebrates winners as vigorously as ours does, we can slip into gifted-child fantasies as easily as a comfortable bathrobe.

According to Grant, our only problem is that we limit the fantasy. “Child prodigies rarely become adult geniuses who change the world,” because, he says, although they are skilled at earning the approval of parents and teachers, they don’t learn to think outside that box. If we’re satisfied that “many prodigies become experts in their fields and leaders in their organizations,” we miss the point that most of them never become unusually creative. Says Grant, “They become doctors who heal their patients without fighting to fix the broken medical system or lawyers who defend clients on unfair charges but do not try to transform the laws themselves.”

Dear parents, before you gear up for another Mount Everest of a goal for your children, consider also The Island of Tears, a vimeo from CBN Documentaries, which tells the story of a team of doctors and nurses from the Israeli humanitarian organization IsraAid. The medical professionals, both Palestinian and Israeli, spend their days meeting refugee boats from Syria arriving at the Greek island of Lesvos. People crowded into the boats include babies just days old, elders in their 90s and all ages in between. The IsraAid team members give emergency medical care, food and water, clothes, guidance on what to do next and, perhaps most important, friendly smiles and hugs.

Doctors and nurses speaking on the vimeo emphasize that their job is “to treat a human,” regardless of nationality, religion, politics or any other category. Tali Shaltiel, a doctor, says, “They automatically get this title—refugees. They’re human beings. … I connect to them at a human level. Tomorrow it might be me and I will need their help.”

It seems to me that these Israeli doctors and nurses exemplify creativity in the service of principles such as mutual respect, social inclusiveness and community, pillars of the Adlerian philosophy underlying PEP’s parenting education.

Oh, and the answer to that question, how do you raise a creative child? Adam Grant says, first, back off. “If you want your children to bring original ideas into the world, you need to let them pursue their passions, not yours.”

Elizabeth Gelfeld is a PEP Parent Educator and editor of the PEP Blog.

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Caroline says:

Lovely commentary. Fantasies are just that, fantasies. Parenting is challenging. My 11 yr. is currently into a big NERF gun phase. I’m a peace advocate. In getting out of the way and joining him when asked to modify his guns, enormous creative effort has evolved. Every single gun has been altered with flashlights, parts moved about, duct tape and cardboard copiously used. His guns are named. He has made protective gear out of T shirts, altered sports gear and cardboard:)

pepadmin says:

What a beautiful solution. You’re using your son’s fascination with guns to connect with him, as Lawrence Cohen talks about in Playful Parenting (one of my favorite books). Thanks for sharing.

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