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Whether it’s doing things because “they’ve always been done that way” or because “everyone else is doing it,” conformity can be very dangerous.
My wife and I work hard to instill the right values in our two small children. But beyond that, we want to teach our children to think for themselves–and that they shouldn’t be afraid to be different.
For the past few years, Adam Grant has delved deep into the topic of originality. As an organizational psychologist, Grant has been named Wharton Business School’s top rated professor five years in a row, and his publications have won numerous awards.
In a recent interview for The Atlantic, Grant shared insights from his latest book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World.
So to get your children to stop conforming and start thinking, try the following:
1. Arrange for your child to learn to play a musical instrument.
Grant cites research on Nobel Prize-winning scientists that set out to discover what these individuals did differently from their peers to help them think differently. The study found that these scientists were twice as likely as the average person to play a musical instrument.
Interestingly, Albert Einstein’s mother forced him to take violin lessons as a child–which he despised. A few years later, though, Einstein fell in love with Mozart’s sonatas, leading to a renewed interest in playing the instrument he previously hated.
Grant reveals that Einstein himself later claimed that the theory of relativity “was a musical thought, and had he not actually gotten personally interested in the violin, he never would have transformed physics.”
2. Give them an outlet.
Music is one outlet for creativity, but there are many more. Those award-winning scientists were also:
- 7 times more likely to draw or paint
- 12 times more likely to write fiction or poetry
- 22 times as likely to perform (e.g., as dancers or actors)
So, encourage your children to find their personal, creative release–an activity they really enjoy that will spark their imaginations.
3. Focus on values over rules.
It’s far too easy to develop new rules to address undesirable behavior, says Grant.
However, this leads to two problems. If children follow the rule, they often do so only to please the adults, which doesn’t help them think for themselves. In contrast, disobedient children may simply want to rebel against authority, instead of finding new ways of looking at problems.
4. Praise character over behavior.
In offering advice on molding your child’s character, Grant suggest avoiding phrases like “don’t follow the crowd” or “you don’t want to be a sheep.” Instead, he recommends telling your child: “You are a non-conformist. You are somebody that thinks differently.”
In doing so, children are much more likely to internalize new behaviors as part of their identities, and actually want to be creative again.
5. Use reading to teach lessons.
Most parents have experienced firsthand the benefits of reading to their children. But Grant encourages going a step further: using literary characters to help children think from different perspectives.
For example, when discussing potential situations your children are likely to confront, ask them what they think a specific character would do in those circumstances. “[Children] are much more likely, then, to learn to “perspective-take,” and to imagine: ‘What would I do, not only through my own instincts, but through lots of other people’s eyes,'” says Grant.
“And that’s a great way to get them to think more creatively.”
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A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com.