The four ways to promote creativity in children come more naturally to some mothers than others

GettyImages-542092344.jpgBy Alex Fradera

What kind of parents produce creative children? Aside from the clear and substantial influence of the genes they pass on, evidence suggests that parents can also influence their children’s creativity through providing encouragement and the right environment. To understand what kind of parents are more inclined to take these steps, a new study in the journal Thinking Skills and Creativity investigates the links between mothers’ personality and how much they cultivate for their child a ”climate of creativity”.

The research team led by Joanna Maria Kwaśniewska’s surveyed over 3000 mothers from different cities, towns and villages in Poland, the majority with one or two children. The researchers chose to focus on mothers because in Poland they tend to be the primary caregivers. The survey measured personality based on the well-established Big Five Trait model (Extraversion, Conscientiousness etc). There were two survey items per personality trait, which is a potential weakness to the study, as it is unlikely to be as reliable as longer versions.

The survey also included a questionnaire measuring four aspects of the climate of creativity provided by the parent. For instance, it asked the mothers to say how often they engaged in behaviours understood to play a role in fostering creativity such as  “I try to show my child different sides of the same situation”.

Kwaśniewska’s team found that the mothers’ personalities were related to their creation of a creative climate in a number of ways. Mothers who were extraverted and emotionally stable (low in Neuroticism) were more likely to encourage out-of-the-box thinking, improvisation, and unconventional approaches in their child, covered under the concept of encouraging innovation.

More extraverted, emotionally stable mothers, along with more agreeable ones, also more often provided another aspect of creative climate, encouragement to persevere in creative efforts, through behaviours like encouraging their children to see failures as opportunities for learning.

Mothers higher in Openness to Experience created the most creative conditions of all. They were more likely to support innovation and perseverance, as well as encouragement to fantasise and encouragement to nonconformism – unsurprising, as Openness is the trait most strongly associated with creativity.

Perhaps the most interesting finding was that mothers’ with higher conscientiousness encouraged kids to persevere in creative efforts but also discouraged nonconformism. This makes sense: if you picture the child of the highly conscientious mother as smart, obedient and Grade Eight on the piano, with their low-conscientious counterpart a punky-looking dilettante. The finding shows the value of this sort of research: if you just tried to relate conscientiousness to a single measure of creative behaviour, you might find no association, missing the fact that the trait has opposing associations with two different creativity-cultivating behaviours.

There are sure to be parents who are keen, in principle, to foster a creative climate for their children, but disinclined to act on this due to their own temperament. This article is a heads-up for them of where their blind spots might be and where they might benefit from putting in some intentional effort. Not every child will turn out to be a creative genius, but if a bit of thought prevents you stifling the instincts they have, I reckon they’ll thank you for it.

Mothers’ personality traits and the climate for creativity they build with their children

Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) is Staff Writer at BPS Research Digest

4 thoughts on “The four ways to promote creativity in children come more naturally to some mothers than others”

  1. ‘Personality’ is such a fluid concept. It develops with age (stage of development) and experience and is expressed on a spectrum according to the environment that either facilitates the expression of a trait, or subdues it. I do not therefore, think the that the ‘belief system’ known as the ‘Big Five’ categorisation of personality traits can possibly be predictive of behavioural tendencies unless confirmation bias is in operation.

    The ‘personality trait’ approach can be likened to the superstitious ‘horoscope’ classification of personality, in that, traits are viewed as being stable aspects of how a person ‘is’ that always predict how a person is likely to behave across a broad range of different contextual situations.

    My experience is that this simply does not happen in real life. A persons ‘sense of self’ is continually being conceptualised and reconceptualised and far more influenced by experiences, emotions, moods and environmental context than we care to admit. If this were not so, we would all be operating on ‘default mode’ from birth and there would be no point in attempting to change cognition or behaviour.

    I also have some concerns as to the assumed positive value the researchers have placed on ‘creativity’. There is no discernment between ‘innate creativity’ of the child and the ability of the mother to bring out that creativity in their child. As a single parent mother myself, having completed a psychology degree later in life, I am quite frankly fed up with being told by psychologists that ‘I have got it wrong’. My sons are very different people who expressed creativity in their own way and at the level they felt ready for. How much they varied developmentally in their ‘creative ability’- how they thought and the pace of their development, depended on a whole range of variables that were very different for each child.

    The research is thus,from my perspective, too simplistic to come to a valid conclusion and yet again, ‘the mother’ can be assigned the blame for not being ‘perfect’ and for the expressed creativity of lack of it in the child. That is a very dangerous and possibly guilt- inducing assertion to make, based on such flimsy evidence.

    1. Hi appliedpsychologysolutions

      Are personality traits reliable and valid? The data seems very strong on this, with the big 5 being one of the most trusted ways to look at individual difference. But that’s not to say that personality will manifest itself consistently. For one, it will depend on situational strength: . And most personality researchers recognise that traits can change over time, but the reliability is still fairly high even over longer periods, so older and younger me will resemble each other personality trait-wise more than not.

      There’s no doubt that a lot of factors contribute to creativity, and talking about some doesn’t mean the others don’t matter. For this study, though, the focus was not on the child’s creativity itself, but on the creative climate behaviours that other work has shown to be associated with creativity. You’d need to dig into those various studies to see whether their criteria for creativity were sufficiently capacious.

      This article seems to have called to mind a past encounter, one that felt like an attack. But speaking for what we do here at the Digest, there’s no assertion of guilt being made – and even if there were, no obligation for it to be received. We report on the peer-reviewed science – whether it’s that kids flourish due to walks in the park, purple foods, occasional scuffles, or bedtime stories – and then its up to the readership whether they want to incorporate the information into their view of the world and their practices, or not.

      Of course individuals have access to local information that can often trump the broader (and often tentative) findings of science, and so they’re right to ultimately exercise their judgment of what the good is. But by informing that judgment with the best scientific understanding, we are giving people the opportunity to round-out their perspective and provide non-anecdotal insights into what might be successful in other contexts.


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