Is Your Child Naturally Gifted?
Here’s how to nurture instinctive talents.
Whether you live with a young chess whiz, a budding baseball star, an aspiring actor or all three, you’ve probably pondered the best way to encourage your child’s natural gifts and abilities. When is the right time to begin lessons? How can parents encourage persistence without pushing? Is it even possible to balance the interests and pursuits of all the kids in your care? Turns out, how parents approach the development of passions and interests has a big influence on children’s long-term happiness. Read on for age-by-age guidance on helping kids find and enjoy their natural gifts.
Adore it, Explore it
Parents of toddlers and preschoolers are flooded with options for early classes and activities, from peewee soccer to music class and ballet. This stage in a child’s life, however, is not the time to focus on skill development, says Hillsborough-based parenting coach Whitney MacDonald, a former educator and athletic coach who founded creatingmen.com. Early childhood is a time to immerse your child in real-world experiences and observe what ignites his or her interest and excitement.
Some parents fear that skipping out on toddler classes might hurt their child’s early academic development. In fact, the opposite may be true, says Maria Castelluccio, head of the academically advanced Léman Manhattan Preparatory School.
“Open-ended exploration of the arts forms the foundation of early literacy — reading, writing and language development,” she says. “Exposing your child to music and visual art at a young age develops unique opportunities for self-discovery and creativity.”
In early elementary school, activity exploration should still focus on fun, MacDonald says. Around age 10, many kids are ready to begin formal lessons, provided that participation is fueled by their own interest and not by parental pressure.
It’s important to find a coach or instructor who emphasizes the importance of practice over performance, injects a sense of playfulness and communicates well with parents. When an instructor or coach promises to turn your child into a concert pianist or competitive swimmer, steer clear.
Lessons can carry an additional commitment to practice. Practice is all too often accompanied by whining, procrastination and parental frustration. Keep practice sessions brief and plan them for periods when your child’s focus is likely at its best: after breakfast on a weekend, not after a long day at school. When a child is truly resistant to practicing, consult with the instructor about ways to encourage progress without piling on pressure, and consider that your child might not be ready for lessons.
By the time kids reach high school, they’ve often hit their stride in their activity or activities of choice. When families have more than one child, parents juggle scheduling, transportation needs and financial commitments for a number of different pursuits. Because the time and money required for different activities can vary widely, one child’s talent might steal the spotlight most of the time. When it comes to investing time and money in kids’ activities, parents of siblings should think about equity, not equality, MacDonald says. While the time required for siblings’ different pursuits might not balance out, it’s important to make each child feel like they are equally valued in their parents’ eyes.
“It’s about saying, ‘OK, your sister has this dance thing, but I’m going to make dedicated time just for you,’” MacDonald says. “The child has to feel that inner gesture, and to know that they’re just as important as their sibling. Because all children ultimately want connection with and recognition from their parents.”
Malia Jacobson is a nationally published health journalist and mom.