One of the most tragic plights I have witnessed among highly creative individuals stems from the failure of their parents to understand them. Frequently destructive or incapacitating hostility is the result of this failure. When teachers fail to understand highly creative children, refusal to learn, delinquency, or withdrawal may be a consequence. In some cases, the quiet and unobtrusive intervention of the counselor offers about the only possibility whereby parents and teachers may come to understand them and thus salvage much outstanding talent.
Guidance workers need to help parents and teachers recognize that everyone possesses to some degree the ability involved in being creative, that these abilities can be increased or decreased by the way children are treated, and that it is a legitimate function of the home and the school to provide the experiences and guidance which will free them to develop and function fully. Of course, these abilities are inherited, in the broad sense, that one inherits sense organs, a peripheral nervous system, and a brain. The type of pursuit of these abilities and the general tendency to persist in their search is largely a matter of the way parents and teachers treat children's creative needs.
Guidance workers can, as I see it, help parents to guide highly creative children in two major ways. The first concerns the parent's handling of the child's unusual ideas and questions, and the other involves helping such a child become less obnoxious without sacrificing his creativity.
The school should help parents recognize that criticism -- making fun of the child's ideas or laughing at his conclusions -- can prevent his expression of ideas. The parent's experienced eyes and ears can help the child learn to look for and to listen to important sights and sounds. The parent should stimulate the child to explore, ask questions, and try to find answers.
Many parents attempt too early to eliminate fantasy from the thinking of the child. Fantasy is regarded as something unhealthy and to be eliminated. Fantasies such as imaginative role playing, fantastic stories, unusual drawings, and the like are normal aspects of a child's thinking. Many parents are greatly relieved to learn this and out of this understanding grows a better parent-child relationship. Certainly we are interested in developing a sound type of creativity, but this type of fantasy, it seems to me, must be kept alive until the child's intellectual development is such that he can engage in sound creative thinking. I have seen many indications in our testing of first and second graders that many children with impoverished imaginations have been subjected to rather vigorous and stern efforts to eliminate fantasy too early. They are afraid to think.
Counselors and administrators can be sympathetic with teachers and parents who are irritated by the unending curiosity and manipulativeness of highly creative children. Endless questioning and experimenting can be inconvenient. Parents may not appreciate the child's passion for first-hand observation. Persistent questioning can be very annoying. A mother of a three-year old complained, "He wears me out just asking questions. He won't give up either, until he gets an answer; it's just awful when be gets started on something!"
Counselors, teachers, and administrators can help parents recognize the fact that there is value in such curiosity and manipulativeness and that there can be no substitute for it. Parents should be encouraged to help the child learn to ask good questions, how to make good guesses at the answers, and how to test the answers against reality.
Most parents find it extremely difficult to permit their children to learn on their own -- even to do their school work on their own. Parents want to protect their children from the hurt of failing. Individual administration of problems involving possible solutions to frustrating situations has shown that the imagination of many children is inhibited by the tremendous emphasis which has been placed on prevention. For example, many of our third graders were so obsessed with the thought that Mother Hubbard should have prevented her predicament that they were reluctant to consider possible solutions to her problem. This may possibly be related to the criticism of some observers that American education prepares only for victory or success and not for possible frustration or even failure.
Certainly teaching of all kinds of failure is important, but overemphasis may deter children from coping imaginatively and realistically with frustration and failure, which cannot be prevented. It may rob the child of his initiative and resourcefulness. All children learn by trial and error. They must try, fail, try another method, and if necessary, try even again. Of course, they need guidance, but they also need to find success by their own efforts. Each child strives for independence from the time he learns to crawl, and independence is a necessary characteristic of the creative personality.