What is Creative Giftedness, and How Can Creativity be Nurtured in Gifted Children?

One of the most common misconceptions about gifted kids is the idea that these children automatically excel in every area. In reality, like all children, gifted kids have distinct individual aptitudes. This is especially apparent when it comes to creativity: Contrary to popular belief, not all intellectually gifted children are inherently creative, and not all creatively gifted kids are academically adept. Indeed, research indicates that possessing a high level of intelligence is not in itself a good predictor of creative ability.[1] Most experts therefore feel that advanced creativity constitutes its own distinct form of giftedness.


How Do Creatively Gifted Kids Differ from Intellectually Gifted Kids?

All gifted children tend to be imaginative and exhibit a heightened capacity for abstract thought. However, not all intellectually gifted kids prioritize academic achievement. This makes differentiating intellectually gifted children from creatively gifted children a challenge: Parents and educators can’t simply look at a child’s grades or examine which subjects he (or she) excels in and determine whether he’s intellectually or creatively gifted. Complicating matters further, not all creative individuals demonstrate remarkable skill in the visual or performing arts. Some creatively gifted children show a philosophical bend, for example, rather than taking an obvious interest in drawing, creative writing, or acting. Instead, to identify creative giftedness, parents and educators have to examine a child’s core traits. They have to look at the way he thinks, not just where he prefers to direct his energy. Some of the primary hallmarks of intellectual giftedness and creative giftedness are outlined below:


Traits of Intellectually Gifted Children

  1. Curiosity: Where a bright child will focus on learning the correct answers, an intellectually gifted child will challenge the “right” answers. This love for debate is sometimes misread as defiance.
  1. Focus: Though intellectually gifted kids may not appear engaged at school (generally due to boredom), they’re typically highly focused on their own interests. They often take on advanced projects and prioritize completing them, to the exclusion of other obligations. They’re goal-driven individuals.
  1. Analytical Creative Thinking: Intellectually gifted children use their enhanced capacity for abstract thought to solve problems. They’re excellent at applying complex concepts in order to generate meaningful results.
  1. Advanced Processing: Parents of intellectually gifted kids often report that their child started reading voraciously very early on, sometimes even before reaching school age. These children are sponges for information and frequently display a large vocabulary, along with a penchant for memorizing facts and figures.
  1. Independence: Intellectually gifted children generally enjoy working on their own, at their own pace. Most can also function in groups, however, as long as they’re allowed to assume a leadership role.


Traits of Creatively Gifted Children

  1. Openness: Creatively gifted children live in a world of endless possibilities. Where an intellectually gifted child will debate the correct answer, a creatively gifted child will think of multiple potential answers or hypothetical scenarios. They enjoy experimenting with thought and finding exceptions to the rules.
  1. Inventiveness: Creatively gifted children are excellent at connecting seemingly disparate concepts in order to generate fresh ideas. They see problems and situations from strikingly unexpected angles. At times, their opinions may seem bizarre or contradictory to outside observers.
  1. Distractibility: Because creatively gifted kids are constantly overflowing with ideas, they have trouble staying on task—even when engaged in voluntary activities. These children tend to start a lot of projects but struggle to complete the vast majority of them. They’re also preoccupied with imaginative fantasy, rather than internalizing information. As such, they tend to daydream a great deal. (Note that it’s important to rule out the presence of ADHD before attributing these traits to creative giftedness.)
  1. Intuition: Intellectually gifted children tend to use a mix of abstract and logical thinking to solve problems. Creatively gifted children, by contrast, rely heavily on their intuition. They often feel like they “just know” the correct way to solve a problem, without being sure how they arrived at their conclusions.
  1. Individualism: Though all gifted children have a tendency to come across as being somewhat eccentric, creatively gifted kids are often radically different. They usually show a marked lack of interest in “fitting in,” preferring to pursue their own unique style of expression. This can make it very difficult for them to participate in group learning. As adolescents, these kids are often drawn to niche subcultures and unconventional modes of living.

Though all gifted kids face a risk of “falling through the cracks,” creatively gifted children are particularly difficult to identify and diagnose. If you suspect that your child is creatively gifted, it’s essential that you have your child assessed by an educational psychologist who is familiar with this distinctive set of cognitive abilities.


Nurturing Creativity in Gifted Children

Whether your child is intellectually or creatively gifted, helping him hone his creativity can improve his self-esteem, build upon his existing talents, and give him a vehicle for self-expression. Nurturing creativity at home will also counteract some of the unwanted effects of academic education: Research has shown that multiple aspects of the classroom environment suppress, rather than encourage, creativity. Evaluation, surveillance, deadlines, competition, and external rewards (like grades and privileges) have all been proven to lessen the intrinsic motivation that feeds creativity.[2] To make your home a fertile plain for the imagination, implement the four parenting strategies below:

1. Provide your child with the tools and materials he needs to express himself.

Having access to art supplies, an inexpensive camera, costumes for dress-up, and toys that facilitate creative play (e.g., building blocks) will go a long way towards helping your child express himself. Kids also benefit from having a dedicated space where they can make a mess, i.e., a room where they can build forts, leave partially completed projects out for days, etc.

2. Encourage imaginative play.

While your child is still small, teach him how to “play pretend.” If your child loves dinosaurs, for example, try suggesting that you both pretend to be prehistoric creatures. Pretend play has been shown to improve a number of skills that are essential for creativity, such as language skills, abstract thinking, and various social and emotional skills.

3. Make free time part of your child’s schedule.

Though it’s true that gifted kids need routine, it’s equally important to make sure your child isn’t perpetually occupied with homework and extracurricular activities. Our minds require unstructured time in order to generate new ideas. To cultivate creativity in your child, provide him with regular blocks of time where he’s free to pursue his own interests.

4. Help your child explore his ideas.

Feel free to debate concepts with your child and challenge his views, but don’t shut down his ideas—no matter how strange they seem. Instead, you should prompt your child to look at the same problem in different ways in order to generate multiple solutions. Your child should know that it’s okay to disagree with you; doing so won’t make him wrong or foolish.

Actively nurturing creativity will help your child develop a balanced, well-rounded intelligence. Intellectually gifted children who prioritize creativity feel more personally fulfilled and are less prone to perfectionism and “tunnel vision.” Creatively gifted kids who are given an enriching environment in which to explore their skills become more focused and goal-oriented. Regardless of your child’s intellectual status, self-expression and self-exploration are key components of happiness.


[1] Wellesley College (2005). The Study of Giftedness and Creativity-Two Separate But Parallel Trajectories. https://nrcgt.uconn.edu/newsletters/fall052/

[2] Amabile, T. M. (1983). The Social Psychology of Creativity. New York, NY: Springer-Verlag.

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