My five-year-old son is an artist -- an avid artist. He spends part of each day transferring the pictures in his mind onto paper. When I talk to him about his work, he is clear about what he wants to create and how; he has a remarkable ability to know exactly how to create the finished product he wants.
My seven-year-old is a writer. His stories have remarkable action and a clear voice. He often complains when writing for school that he can't possibly just fill one sheet of paper. Couldn't he write chapters instead of just a paragraph?
I do my best to encourage them both, even if they don't do the best job at encouraging each other. Earlier this week, my oldest forbade his brother from drawing because he wanted to play outside with him instead. "Can he do that?" my younger son protested. I assured him that his brother was not in charge. He relaxed, "Good, because I really love art. I am thinking that it is my special talent."
Brotherly conflict aside, I think it is important to help children develop their interests. It can be a great way to develop the bond of parent-friendship with your child. Here are a few ways to go about it:
- Keep it Fun - Often, young children learn best when they are in charge. Don't be in a rush to bill your child as the next Mozart or Monet. Enjoy the fact that they are enjoying what they do. That enthusiasm is its own reward.
- Make Space - If you can, devote some space in your home to your child's passion. An art table stocked with supplies, a music corner or reading chair can be comfortable places for your child to pursue what they like when they choose. Outdoors a soccer goal or basketball hoop invites your child to develop his or her skills on his own. I have seen my sons outdoors inventing their own football plays or winning the imaginary World Series. All they require is a little equipment and the space to pursue what they love.
- Learn Together - As my children have developed independent interests, it has been so fun to learn together with them. We visit the library for books on art technique or to search for exciting, inspiring writing. We attend sports practices and games as a family, learning along the way. My husband, especially, makes the effort to learn enough about our children's' interests to teach them, but he also listens as they explain new things they've learned. The exchange is exciting to watch, and it helps us build our family friendship on shared experiences.
- Give Appropriate Praise - Without going overboard (no sky-writing, please), praise can be an excellent motivator. When my children are frustrated with a new skill, a little praise can go a long way. I never push them, and I try not to turn their successes into my own. But I do give them a quiet look of encouragement, a hand on the shoulder, a word when they need it. At home, we have a kitchen art gallery filled with drawings from all the children. We have video of them and photo collages from their sports teams. These small things say, "I am proud of you."
- Find Opportunities for Growth - When a child has an inner drive to pursue a gift, parents should find ways to help them develop. My artist loves trips to the museum. My soccer player loves going to college soccer games. My ballerina loves seeing a real performance with grown-up dancers. Camps, magazine subscriptions, clubs, and school organizations can help your talented kids grow. Exposing your children to new and varied experiences can also be a great way to help them develop new interests.
As always, parents should try to be tuned-in and show good judgment when thinking about their children's' gifts. Not every youth basketball player is going to make it to the NBA. Not every young ballet student will dance professionally. But each experience we give our kids, every opportunity we give them to pursue what they love, will help them grow as strong, gifted individuals.
Besides, I am still waiting to find out my 'special talent'. Maybe one of these days, one of my children will help me to discover it.
- Midwest Mom