“Many highly talented brilliant creative people think they are not, because everything they were good at was not valued at school, or was actually stigmatized. We can’t afford to go on that way. We need to radically reassess our view of intelligence.” - Sir Ken Robinson
What do parents really know about what makes our kids tick? J.K. Rowling’s parents wanted her to go into vocational training, certain that her desire to write novels would never pay the rent. And at first J.K. did fail - by taking her parents’ advice and going into vocational training instead of the arts. She was a newly divorced single mom living in poverty when she finally began writing the novels she had always wanted to, and the rest is Hogwarts history.
When Albert Einstein was little, his parents worried that he had a learning disability, since he did not speak until he was three, and even then he spoke slowly - but in full sentences, often muttering under his breath. Apparently he was working things out in his head before he tried them in the real world. Albert was terrible at sports, dropped out of high school at fifteen, and failed his college entrance exam. His father wanted him to learn a trade. He lost three jobs in a short time, and had to scrape by at a dull patent job to support his young family, but the dullness gave him time to work on what he was really interested in – space, time and the universe.
Every child has unique genius and talents, but gifts take time to develop at their own pace.
Sometimes when our children’s gifts emerge, we don’t recognize them. They look a bit strange, chaotic, messy. Sometimes we see our children through the filter of our own ambitions and push too hard. Other times we worry we don’t do enough to cultivate their gifts. If only parents had a crystal ball to give us clear insight into their future. But the future is theirs to decide and the best thing we can do is teach our children to never give up, and never be afraid of thinking different, looking different, or being different.
Our great work as parents is to nurture our children for who they are, not who we want them to be. The key is to pay attention to your child’s cues. Talents or abilities often show up as natural interests, and interest is the fuel for all learning, creativity and success. Give your children the right tools and the freedom to pursue their curiosity without fear of failure, and they will thrive.
Want to know more about what your child really thinks? Play role reversal. Let her be the teacher, and you the student. Let her set the curriculum on everything from silliness to how the moon really feels when the stars say good night. Ask big questions, play dumb - “Gee, I don’t know, what do you think?” Let your children know you believe they can do anything and they very likely will.
Originality is the mark of creativity, but even the most creative thinkers don’t know how it happens. It’s more a matter of allowing it to happen through a nurturing environment where there is no right or wrong – only exploration, discovery, and free play without expectations – or as Kurt Vonnegut put it: “We are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different.”
How To Cultivate Your Child’s Interests
1. Look for the flow. Notice activities your child thoroughly enjoys, where a natural “flow” takes place - he or she needs no prodding and they are at peace.
2. Engage in play. Children use play to explore the world and to work out complex needs of their own. As parents we should not interrupt, criticize, or try to alter their play by insisting they do it a different way. In play, a child must feel he is in control and free to explore his interests in ways that are meaningful to him.
3. Take it easy. So your child loves to sing - you don’t have to immediately run out and put her into Julliard. Keep it natural and low-key. Notice what she likes and the choices she makes, and support her in her preferences. Many parents try to structure a child’s talents too early. If she would like to sing with other children, it’s great to find ways for her to do so, but over-emphasizing a structured lesson instead of cultivating the joy she has from singing can backfire. Once the fun is gone, the child will often lose interest - even if it is something she loves.
4. Explore the possibilities. Children will grow into and out of many phases. Whether an early interest will turn into a hobby, a career or passing fancy is anyone’s guess. The best thing you can do is allow your children to explore all their possibilities and encourage them every step of the way. The more they explore, the more experience they will have, and the better able to decide what will suit their future best.