by Dr. Randy
Every parent would like their child to experience confidence, security, and high self-esteem. If parents recognize and encourage their children’s strengths and talents they can make great strides to achieve that goal.
Often parents get caught up in children’s problems with a well-intentioned plan to fix those apparent weaknesses or struggles. Some areas of struggle do need our attention, whether they are learning differences, disruptive behavior issues, or health concerns. But focusing on problems may send kids a message that something is wrong with them. Focusing on children’s areas of strength will encourage their success and positive feelings of accomplishment.
Encouraging children’s unique talents will take different forms at different ages.
Parents can begin recognizing their children’s natural talents during the preschool years. Start with observation. The theory of multiple intelligence describes specific areas of talents that naturally occur in everyone. We are all stronger in some of these areas compared to other areas. In preschoolers we can identify their interest in the areas of musical intelligence, athleticism, language abilities, visual-spatial perception, and mathematical intelligence. By recognizing your child’s natural affinities in these areas you can begin encouraging the development of these particular skills.
If you notice that your preschooler especially likes music you can foster that interest by playing different musical genres for them and observing their reactions. Provide simple musical instruments and see whether this stimulates their interest.
If your active child loves to run and climb, offer opportunities for them to use those skills at the park with a soccer ball, climbing structures, or trikes and scooters. Try gymnastics classes or swim lessons.
At quieter times provide puzzles, picture books, and art supplies to see whether these hold your child’s interest.
You will come to recognize the affinities your child has to these different learning experiences and you can continue to develop these interests. Play to your child’s strengths. Success feels fulfilling to children (and adults). These successes will set them on a course of confidence and a lifelong path of learning.
Children between the ages of six and twelve will communicate their interest in different skill areas. At this age you can also begin to observe their other intelligences develop as well. These include social skills, interest in nature, and self-understanding. For example, some children have a special interest in the natural world and love exploring the world of animals and plants. For others the world of building and three-dimensional spatial projects may become especially fascinating.
During this period children develop fascinations with their unique combination of talents. Encourage their exploration of these worlds. Whether it is reading, sports, music, or construction, provide many opportunities for your child to develop their talents. Help them to identify their areas of strength and natural affinities. For children these areas will feel like enjoyable play. They will naturally develop discipline to pursue their interests. And children learn best by participating in the tasks that interest them the most.
This is also the age of experimentation and curiosity. Children will try a variety of sports and lessons and activities to see what inspires them. They often jump from one activity to another in a zigzag path toward their true calling. Any of these could spark their interest and lead to a lifelong pursuit.
By the teenage years many kids have identified their areas of strengths. The more they can articulate these strengths the better sense they will have of their present and future path to success. Most teens pursue their interests with vigor. They may develop expertise in their particular sport or musical instrument. They may become budding scientists or computer engineers. They may have already chosen a career path or just discovered their fascination with a specific subject in or out of school. This is the time when success in a pursuit provides great satisfaction.
Unfortunately, the lives of students are often stressful, and time constraints can limit their ability to pursue their true passions. Parents may need to make provisions for students to accomplish their goals. This is a time to set priorities. If teens are to have the opportunity to fulfill their potential, then a carefully constructed plan can make a huge difference in their success. Parents can sit down with their teen and discuss their interest level in particular school subjects and extracurricular activities. This will help teens to prioritize and develop a realistic schedule to achieve their goals. Then reassess how the plan is working so that it truly leads to success.