Play & Creativity

The Roots of Creativity: John Bowlby on the emergence of creative exploration from loving attachment.

The first thing that may come to mind when thinking about creativity are the arts, or arts and crafts in the case of children, but how often do we think of creativity as an essential part of the human spirit?

Our human capacities to explore, to play and to imagine are considered key expressions of creativity: and, in turn, of satisfaction and happiness. In everyday creative endeavours, we may find repeated expressions of life, as something perpetually renewed, joyful and pushing the boundaries between what is and what might be. In a world increasingly yielding to the advances of Artificial Intelligence, we may come to value creativity more as the essence of our humanity: a prerequisite for exploring deeper levels of happiness as well as a cornerstone for innovation.

While we look more and more toward the value of creativity in adulthood, it becomes necessary to turn our attention toward its origins in early childhood, and toward the environments that have the capacity to nurture it, let it take root and blossom.

What conditions do we humans, first as children, need to develop creativity? And how can we contribute to ensuring that these conditions exist?

John Bowlby (1909-1990), one of the most prominent child psychologists and psychoanalysts, elucidated the importance of attachment in the early life of the child and set a new paradigm among psychologists and psychiatrists for modern understanding of the conditions prerequisite for normative development. How can his discoveries inform approaches within childcare and education?

Bowlby emphasised the child’s loving relationship with his or her primary caregiver as providing the basis for development of the healthy child’s capacity to explore the world. This caregiver is most often mother – though interestingly, Bowlby himself had a beloved nanny who played this key role in his early childhood (and to what a great cause!).

In A Secure Base, Bowlby writes:

“A concept that… has proved of great clinical value is that of a mother, or mother-substitute, providing a child with a secure base from which he can explore.”

The capacity to explore the world, to explore ideas and to connect them in original ways, is a vital component of creative activity throughout life. To illustrate the centrality of the caregiver in the early development of creativity, he uses the example of a two-year-old child who goes to the park with his mother and decides to make their own early explorations of the world around them, under the watchful eye of mother – though probably thinking the pursuit is all their own!

“… a healthy child whose mother is resting on a garden seat will make a series of excursions away from her, each time returning to her before making the next excursion. On some occasions, when he returns, he simply smiles… on others he leans against her knee; on yet others he wants to climb on her lap. But never does he stay for long unless he is frightened or tired or thinks she is about to leave. Anderson (1972), who made a study of this sort in a London park, observed that during the second and third years it is very rare for a child to go further than two hundred feet before returning. Should he lose sight of his mother, exploration is forgotten. “

The reliable presence of a caregiver, who first looks to all of the child’s physical needs and also is able to sensitively attune to the infant’s emotional world, are crucial for laying the foundations from which the young child’s creative exploration of the world begins, confident that this figure will still be there when she or he returns. If a reliable, attuned and responsive caregiver’s presence is not a given, the child may become too anxious to explore. In adulthood, we may feel this conflict between anxiety and exploration recur where we feel too stressed or worried to be able to relax into creative activity. Anxiety then, is anathema to creativity.

Bowlby also details how these dynamics extend into adolescence and beyond:

“As an individual grows older his life continues to be organized in the same kind of way, though his excursions become steadily longer both in time and space. On entering school they will last for hours and later for days. During adolescence they may last for weeks or months, and new attachment figures are likely to be sought. Throughout adult life the availability of a responsive attachment figure remains the source of a person’s feeling secure. All of us, from the cradle to the grave, are happiest when life is organized as a series of excursions, long or short, from the secure base provided by our attachment figure(s).”

As care-givers or practitioners working with infants, children and young-people, Bowlby’s theory of the “secure base” illuminates the importance of attuned, responsive and consistent care in the lives of new-borns and young children, but also the ongoing need for a “secure base” in the lives of adult caregivers too.

Bowlby does not take our ability to provide a “secure base” for children for granted. He writes that the caregiver’s capacity to provide a loving atmosphere for a child depends on her existing within a system that supports her. This makes us think about how crucial a firm support network around mothers is, but also about the importance of support for other carers working with children, in particular nannies and educators, and their fathers.

Bowlby’s secure base concept places emphasis not just on the reliability of care-givers but also on their sensitive attunement to the child’s needs: their ability to understand them and respond to them in just the right way. This prompts us to think about the crucial importance of emotional intelligence, empathy and an inner capacity for care in the key people in the child’s environment.

As well as providing valuable insight into the development of creative capacities in children then, Bowlby’s theories inspire us to think about caregivers as existing within a network of relationships – of “secure bases” – supporting one another and providing care throughout different stages of life. This links the development of creativity to all of us, but particularly those who are in some way involved in supporting mothers and in child-care or education. We should remember not just how important loving, responsive attachment figures are at

the beginning of life, but also how important they remain throughout life, as the foundation stone of creative endeavour.

References: John Bowlby A Secure Base (1988)

How does Bowlby’s theory of attachment and creativity inspire the Kudos mission, model and philosophy?

Kudos translates key neuroscience and early years development research to offer a unique bespoke training programme for Kudos nannies, to see to increase their EQ but also to offer them a base conceptual framework to understand child development.

Kudos uses research inspired approaches to source candidates with a natural aptitude for care-giving: individuals who are empathetic, sensitive, high in emotional intelligence and committed to supporting families.

Kudos looks to build long-term relationships with Kudos Nannies and Kudos Families. Stability of the environment is one of the key factors when it comes to the child’s development!

At Kudos, we care about Kudos Nannies. We help nannies negotiate a fair wage with families so they feel well rewarded for their creative efforts. We offer our nannies training so they may do their best on the job and learn new skills, and we offer them a support network for the times when they may need it.

Kudos looks to enable potential in Kudos nannies and Kudos families, and to develop supportive structures around them.

At Kudos, we care deeply about families. Kudos’ mission is to match families with a nanny who is just right for them so that they have a stable and sensitive environment supporting them in their creative endeavours. We take care of training, payroll and contracts to create more time for you to focus on the things you love: your family, work or hobbies!