by Dr. Randy
Children love to succeed, especially in activities they find compelling. That experience of success creates a desire for exploration and further discoveries. And eventually those successes lead to a level of expertise that is especially rewarding. The fuel that paves the path to expertise is passion.
Every child has particular innate skills and talents. There is a huge range of diversity of talents, and often children need to do a lot of exploring to discover their areas of interest. It is a parent’s job to identify those natural skills and encourage them, and parents can often recognize particular interests from an early age. It may be music or sports or art or an academic subject. It may be a particular topic, like spiders or dinosaurs. It may be a particular medium, like clay or photography. Parents can pick up on these interests and make space for children to explore them. In a previous article I talked about identifying strengths in children. The purpose of all this attention to skills, talents, and strengths is for children to experience success and the self-confidence that comes from doing something really well. When that success comes from self-motivation, then the rewards are far reaching.
Once children identify an area that interests them, then they can learn on their own, and with the help of enrichment, teachers, and mentors they can eventually develop mastery. If it’s an interest in nature, animals, or art they can explore those areas themselves and parents can join in the fun. They can learn how to garden or draw or sculpt with a few supplies. They can learn about airplanes or dinosaurs from books, videos, and exploring the Internet. Museums, libraries, and field trips can be especially enriching for kids with a particular fascination. Children with a gift in motor skills and a dream of becoming a sports star will need coaches and teams and a lot of parent involvement. Musical talent will require lots of encouragement and lessons and practice.
The value of all this activity and pursuit in a particular area is that children learn how to study one thing in great depth. If they become an expert in identifying insects or sports figures, then those research methods can be applied to history projects and physics problems. An early interest in a musical instrument can lead to a college major and a career in musicology or on a concert stage. The skills they develop in exploring their own passions will generalize to many other areas of life. Their ability to probe the depths of their chosen field will allow intense involvement and deep understanding of other topics later in life too. Expertise gets kids respect from adults, accolades from peers, and a big chunk of self-worth.
If you want your kids to be self-confident, self-reliant, and excited about learning, then identify those talents and encourage those interests. No matter what kinds of learning disabilities or physical disabilities children might have, they can develop mastery and it will serve them very well.
(The photo is Matt Savage, an accomplished and autistic jazz musician)