There is immense pressure these days to have a hobby or an identifying activity for our children. Lots of baby showers are rife with “future football star” jumpers, but what are we doing? Are we letting our children explore their own likes and dislikes or pushing our own hopes onto them? What are your child’s natural talents anyway?
Some may say a talent is a natural born ability to do something, while others think it’s the eventual ability to do something well. No matter which definition you go with, most parents start to wonder what talents their kids possess are. Will they be singers? Dancers? The best at sports? An academic all-star? You’ll have to wait to see, but while you’re waiting here are a few pointers on nurturing whatever talents appear.
Give your child freedom to experience as many things as possible. Remember that in the younger years it’s natural to bounce from one interest to the next as they try things on for size. Encourage reading, books are often an early entry to learning about different subjects and activities. Give your child plenty of unstructured playtimes so they can try out their own ideas and inventions. Lots of time playing can help kids become confident in their own bodies and minds and lead to discoveries.
Unsupervised and unstructured playtime is a must. While younger children still need you nearby to make sure nothing goes horribly wrong, make sure to give them space to try things on their own, within their own time.
Praise efforts, not results
Lots of kids are struggling at younger and younger ages with perfectionism. They want to give up at the first sign of trouble, or worse don’t even want to try for fear of failure. Failure is just a part of life though, and the younger children learn to get up, dust themselves off, and give it another shot the more successful they will be later in life.
Anyone who wants to get really good at something has to stick with it for a while, and almost nobody is perfect at anything in the beginning. Head off perfectionism by praising efforts over results. Make trying the goal, and success will follow. Remember that it’s okay to make mistakes or to not be the best at everything. A team is made up of individuals of different levels and it works fine that way. Not everyone is going to be a superstar and that’s okay. Practice makes progress, foster an attitude of continual progression. We can always do our best to improve and always work towards making our best better.
Keep expectations reasonable
Most kids follow a similar path developmentally, so while you may have heard of a 4-year-old violin genius, know that they stand out because they are not typical. Keep in mind your child’s developmental stages when picking activities. What are their gross motor skills like? Will this activity be helpful in developing them? Is your child able to sit and pay attention for extended periods of time? If not, and most won’t be, try to find an instructor or coach that has experience with kids in that age-set.
Keeping in mind developmental guidelines is always helpful, but if your child seems to be falling behind the other kids and isn’t improving with practice, you may need to talk to their doctor. Catching developmental delays early is key in overcoming them.
Widen your focus
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking everyone only has one talent. While your child might be really great at kickball, perhaps they also want to learn to play an instrument or learn karate. Childhood is a great time to explore all the options. Don’t be afraid to try something new only to find out it wasn’t what you were hoping for. Most kids have talents across all spectrums from athletic to creative, from large to small. Let your kid be the guide.
A child may not be able to make choices for the future until they are in middle school, before that they may really want to do something and then lose interest after a few sessions. This is normal. Make sure you communicate that you understand that they may not want to continue, but if they are merely bored or just battling insecurity it’s time to press on. You paid for the whole season right? You know your child and you will likely be able to tell if they should stick it out or not. If their interest is waning ask some questions and do a little investigating, are they really not interested anymore or are they just intimidated? Do they have friends at the activity? Is the coach showing a positive sportsmanlike attitude? Don’t be afraid to institute a “trial period” for things just to see if early uneasiness wears off or not.
This whole “try everything” policy might start to get a little expensive, between uniforms, special equipment, and participation fees. Make sure to network with other parents to trade what you can to keep costs low. For example, maybe your child is done playing hockey completely and you can recoup some of the cost of selling their equipment to another parent whose child is just starting out. If you’re in a multi-year activity, network with other parents at the school and have a hand-me-down day to exchange last season’s items that no longer fit for gently used “new” ones.
After a session or season is over take stock on how things went, did your child have fun? Do they want to do this again? What other things might be related and also worth trying? Remember that your child may have played a full season of a sport they’re great at, but don’t want to play. Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you like it. Lots of the skills from one activity might transfer over to another that is a better fit, and that’s okay.
Whatever activities your child decides to try, and regardless of their innate talent or even practiced success in them always remind them that you love them for who they are, and not just what they can do.