By 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.