Most child prodigies rarely grow into adults who change the world. Why?

In a NYT article Adam Grant describes kids who read at 2, play Bach at 4, do calculus at 6, and by the age of 8 they are fluent in foreign languages. Surprisingly, these children whom you believe will revolutionize the planet ending up falling far short of actualizing their promising potential. What went wrong?

Some believe that these children must be socially awkward and lack the necessary skills to maneuver in society. But evidence proves this to be false. Most are well adjusted as they grow. So it must be something else then that is missing.

We learn that “what holds them back is that they don’t learn to be original.” As they strive hard to earn approval and admiration in their quest for perfection these geniuses don’t acquire the skill of innovation. Sure, gifted kids can play complicated pieces of music and cite complex scientific facts. But they rarely compose their own pieces of music or dream up new ideas. While becoming experts in their chosen fields as adults very few of these children will generate change and metamorphosis.

Think of them as becoming the expert doctors and top lawyers who could have changed the broken system. They have the brains and skills. They do their jobs well. But the powerful hope for transformation that lies within their minds and souls never takes flight.

What is needed from us, parents, to help raise a creative child?

Parents need to help their children learn to think for themselves.

First, parents need to help their children learn to think for themselves. Mothers and fathers who set too many rules and are overbearing stunt their children’s creativity. Innovative children are raised when parents take a step back and move from specific and rigid rules to highlighting moral values as a way of life.

Psychologists who compared the most creative American architects with their very competent but unoriginal peers found where the difference was made. Those who were encouraged to develop their own individual ethical codes grew and flourished. In other words, we must try to stop hovering and start allowing children to self-explore. Thinking for oneself about right and wrong instead of spoon-feeding rules helps a child become innovative. Arriving to a moral destination by emphasizing and teaching values helps nurture the creative spirit that lies within. For example, when we teach our children to be sensitive by putting themselves in the shoes of others instead of simply giving a rule, we open the windows of their minds.

Second, despite the pursuit of excellence these children were encouraged to find the “joy in work”. Of course we want our sons and daughters to taste success. But when parents push their own agendas and shove their personal likes and interests on their kids, the creative spirit gets squashed. Joy in work means that we pay attention to our children’s hearts. I have met many kids who do not enjoy playing piano but are forced to spend countless hours practicing and taking lessons because this was always their parents dream. Conflict arises when the child announces that he just does not want to do this anymore, and a parent feels frustrated and upset. Children who are free to explore their dreams because of their love of whatever it is they wish to discover are the ones who will grow to be creative adults.

A psychologist who studied the early roots of great musicians, artists, athletes and scientist learned that their parents never had aspirations of raising superstars. They never overworked their children or acted as army generals. Instead, these parents picked up on their children’s positive emotions. When eagerness and interest were detected, these parents knew that this was the direction to take their kids. They supported their fervor and kindled their fire.

We mistakenly believe that pushing children will bring out their successful spirit.

You would think that famous artists and musicians had teachers who inspired them and discovered their greatness. In fact, the enthusiasm that lay within was the key to their success. Before taking lessons, Mozart showed his interest in music. The great violinist Itzchak Perlman was rejected from music school. He persevered and began teaching himself how to play the violin. Athletes, too, spoke about enjoyment while playing the game and the way their first coaches helped make the game pleasurable. The journey begins with joy.

We mistakenly believe that pushing children will bring out their successful spirit. Today we have overscheduled kids who find themselves shuffled between tennis, gymnastics, ballet, chess lessons and learning how to play the violin. Are we really accomplishing our goal?

If we want our children to succeed, if we truly desire to raise a creative spirit then we must ask ourselves honestly: what will motivate my child and spur him towards greatness? Is it the amount of hours he practices, the classes we keep piling up for him to attend, or the accumulation of more knowledge for him to acquire? Do we try to change teachers, find a different venue, or make him work more hours?

Passion is the key. Enthusiasm brought out through a child’s inborn curiosity or nurtured through joy that a child feels while experiencing an activity becomes the gateway to creativity. When we are passionless we grow detached. The spirit withers. If there is apathy even the most genius gifted child will fall flat.

If we want to stoke the embers we must pay attention to the individual sparks that lie within each child.

Albert Einstein reflected that it was music that helped drive him to discover the theory of relativity. Intuition was required, but it came to him through his love of music. He admits that his mother had him learning how to play the violin at 5 but he did not feel the pull. It was only when he became a teen, had ended his music lessons and then by chance discovered Mozart’s sonatas. He shares that “love is a better teacher than a sense of duty.”

Judaism also teaches us to bring out the best in our children by exploring their individuality.

King Solomon directs us to “educate a child according to his way”. Realize that we are instructed to discover the child’s way. It is not our nature, passions, or interests that need to propel a child’s path. If we want to stoke the embers we must pay attention to the individual sparks that lie within each child. Approach each soul and allow him to infuse the world with his spirit. Ask: what is my child passionate about? What brings the light into his eyes?

The seeds have been planted; you must bring them to life. Step back and watch your child’s spirit soar.