Creativity is an often admired but frequently misunderstood trait. Most of the time it doesn’t matter if creative people are misunderstood. They simply go about their business and accept that not everyone is going to understand them. It might sting a bit, but they learn to live with it. But if you are parenting a highly-creative child, it’s important that you understand the way she (or he) is wired. I believe one aspect of creativity that many parents don’t fully understand is why their creative child is lazy.
To clarify, what do I mean by highly-creative child? I mean a child who lives in her creativity. Who doesn’t know how to not be creative. Yes, all children have the ability to be creative and learn creative skills. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the children who are born to excel in creative areas because they are naturally gifted and wired in this area.
Academics and Play Get a Pass
In our culture today, we are obsessed with seeing a finished product or measurable results on a daily or even hourly basis. Even homeschool moms who have attempted to deschool themselves can still feel that subtle pressure to make their child “do something” that proves they are properly educating her.
In reality, we view a lack of measurable activity with visible outcomes as laziness. We also tend to view a lack of academic activity we can somehow call “learning” as laziness. Even parents who fully believe that homeschooling is, in part, about freeing children to be more fully the individuals they were created to be will be stuck with this mindset.
Young children do get a pass in one area. Most parents will say they want their child to play, especially when the child is young. We understand the importance of play for young children and their development. So most parents wouldn’t call play laziness because they see a purpose in it.
But when a child wants to do something that isn’t academic enough and she is considered “too old” to learn through play, parents rapidly start labeling the child as lazy or unmotivated. Academics are necessary and play is acceptable for a limited time. But if parents can’t easily fit their child’s activity into one of those two categories, it is immediately suspect.
Creative Kids Who Are Lazy
The problem is that creativity can look an awful lot like nothing is happening for long periods of time. So parents assume if it isn’t clearly play and it isn’t clearly book learning, then it must be laziness. The parents then tell their child to get up and “do something.”
But what if she is “doing something” valuable that the parent can’t see? What might this “laziness” look like?
- Reading books such as graphic novels that people would call twaddle
- Playing Minecraft for hours and hours on end even if you wondered about the value of it
- Doodling page after page of “nothing”
- Laying on the couch and reading for days on end
- Sleeping more
- Asking to watch the same television shows or movies over and over again
- Constantly searching YouTube for videos related to creative (but non-academic) subjects
- Watching You Tube videos of other people playing games or doing other creative activities
- Reading Wikis about (insert “non-academic” creative activity here)
- Talking endlessly about the topic she is currently completely obsessed with
The truth of the matter is that it probably isn’t laziness at all. Any child who is heavily engaged in any of the activities above is FAR from lazy. She is focused and feeding her creativity. It simply might not be obvious at the moment.
Stages of the Creative Process
There are generally four stages of creativity:
This short PBS video provides a big picture look at the creative process. Although not specific to children, it does offer a helpful framework, especially if you are parenting a highly-creative child and you aren’t a highly-creative person yourself.
The incubation stage is where I think parents can easily lose patience with their creative child. How many times do we find ourselves telling kids to “do something” instead of whatever they are currently doing? They may be deeply engaged in the “something” they are doing, but if it doesn’t fit our expectation of what “something” should look like, we assume they are wasting time (another one of our cultural sins).
Even the preparation stage can look a bit like laziness if we don’t value the information they are taking in.
To know how comfortable you are with allowing your creative child the freedom to go through the stages of the creative process, ask yourself this question:
Could you let your creative child focus solely on activities such as I listed in the bullets above for three days and not get anxious about it or feel compelled to steer her (or him) in a more “important” direction?
For parents who have been called to raise a highly-creative child, it is important not just to give lip service to the existence of a creative process. It’s important to understand it and know how to support it.
Here are two articles to help you think through the best way to parent your highly-creative child.
- Creative and Crushed: Recognizing and Helping Children Who Think Differently
- Open Letter to Adults from a Highly Creative Child
My follow-up post is: Homeschooling a Creative Child for the Future