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Encourage Children to Become Experts

2018 May 15 by


Autistic pianist


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)



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Strengths and Talents in Teens

2018 February 23 by


Teenage girls doing homework

In this article I will focus on personal strengths (and weaknesses) particularly in teens. At this age, it’s important for teens to have an awareness of their personal strengths so that they can choose paths that foster their interests, talents, and areas of expertise. This knowledge will lead to success in school, extracurricular activities, jobs, and future careers.

To identify our strengths, and relative areas of weakness, we can look at specific areas of functions known as intelligences. The theory of multiple intelligences holds that we have different areas of personal talent that we can identify.

Some areas of mental functions seem more natural to us as individuals. These are tasks that we perform better than others. Some people are more proficient at language tasks like reading and writing and crafting words. Others have a special talent for mathematical thinking or for music. And some people are gifted in the realm of physicality, sports, and athletic achievement.

The theory of multiple intelligences has identified at least eight realms of innate talent. Identifying these in ourselves allows us to realize our natural gifts and develop our potential with more careful attention. We can form a path of study and future goals that fit our own natures.  Everyone has some degree of talent in each of the identified areas, but some will be more predominant than others. And many fields of study will tap more than one type of skill. For example, an engineer will need talent in the realm of visual processing as well as mathematical skill.

Language or verbal/linguistic intelligence is highly valued by our culture, as opposed to a village culture or agrarian culture that might place more value in other traits, like physical prowess. We all have an innate ability to learn language. Some of us are more proficient and love to read, appreciating the flow of words and the sound of written language. A gift for language processing will serve people well in many different careers that require writing reports in business or science and of course in the academic realms of literature, linguistics, or the study of foreign languages.

Mathematical and logical intelligence is a natural ability to think in abstract terms about numbers and math. It also includes the areas of logical sequences and programming. Obviously, this is a huge field of study for many people in our highly technological culture, a field that is still blossoming and requiring more and more minds. The world of careers that require math skills includes engineers, teachers, architects, and computer programmers and designers.

Visual-spatial intelligence involves the ability to visualize tasks and the world in three dimensions. Natural fields for individuals with a talent in this realm include art and sculpture, engineering, architecture, and choreography. But a talent for visual processing also leads to an appreciation of the world around us and some of the most profound expressions of human culture.

These three (language, math, and visual processing) may lead to valued careers that have a clear path, but other factors of intelligence have their own important place and contribution.

Musical intelligence is very specific. It has little crossover with other careers. But musical talent is easily overlooked because of lack of opportunity. It may take a perceptive parent to notice and encourage musical ability in a child. And often teens discover their musical interest later in life than some other areas, and begin a musical career with guitar or membership in a musical group without any previous musical training.

Interpersonal intelligence includes the ability to communicate easily with others. It may take the form of a natural empathy or compassion towards others that leads students to pursue the fields of medicine, nursing, psychology, anthropology, religion, or other helping professions. This natural tendency to be social and interactive with a group of friends or a larger community can be very fulfilling, and the natural desire to be involved with others can translate into rewarding careers.

Intrapersonal intelligence is the ability to be self-aware and introspective, mindful of what our minds are doing, our thoughts, feelings, and aspirations. Anyone will benefit from the ability to kiow themselves. But those with a special interest or skills in this area may gravitate to the fields of philosophy, religion, and therapy as professions.

Kinesthetic or motor intelligence includes abilities in physicality, sports, connection to the body in space. Many people feel most comfortable learning by doing rather than by thinking. Athletes have a strong motor intelligence. Fields where this skill is especially important include athletic coaching, physical therapies, work with horses, mechanics, gardening, farming, and careers in the world of sports.

Naturalistic intelligence is a connection to the natural world. Astronomers, biologists, zoologists, botanists, explorers, nature photographers, hikers, outdoor guides, camp leaders, and park rangers all have a passion for the outdoors and nature, and for understanding our interconnectedness with the natural world. And of course the real

Everyone has all of these traits, talents, and intelligences. Some are much more innately present and some are developed over a lifetime because of interests, environment, encouragement, and training. We all have strengths in particular areas, and these need to be recognized and fostered because we are happier and more fulfilled when doing those things that feel closer to our hearts and passions.





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Children’s Strengths

2016 March 4 by


Encourage Strengths

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.

© Copyright 2010 CorbisCorporation

Preschool years

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.

Elementary years

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.

bike racing


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.


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