I have a friend who is a high school Drama teacher and she once told me about a fun way that she started the first class every year. She would show her students this strange trick she could do with her tongue and then as an assignment, she would ask all the kids to present their special talent to the class by the end of the week.
It was a great ice breaker and the students loved showing off their “thing!” I asked her if kids ever had a hard time coming up with something and she assured me that they didn’t.
In my 10 years of teaching kids, I have yet to find a student that doesn’t have some talent or way to shine. However, elementary school aged kids aren’t like my friend’s high school students – they don’t always know what they’re good at!
Today’s post is about how to help your child find his or her strengths from an early age, and how to help encourage them to develop them and let them SHINE!
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1. Recognize that Talents Come in ALL SHAPES and SIZES
This is especially important to remember once children are in school. Although reading and writing are incredibly important and a valuable tool on the path of life for many journeys, not all kids are going to be strong in these areas. Not all children will go to college or university. Not all kids will become doctors and lawyers – and that’s okay!
Our society needs all kinds of talents to function. We need people who are gifted in music and dance and drama to fill our souls. We need comedians to tell jokes and entertain us and make us laugh. We need mathematicians and physicists to calculate the intricacies of the universe for us. We need builders to maintain our communities and build our homes. We need talkers to lead our people and teach our children’s children. And we need caring, loving people to look after our sick and elderly and our animals.
All of these roles are valuable and each one has its own set of gifts and talents.
I personally LOVE the Richard Scarry books for showing how important different roles are in our society.
2. Expose Kids to Different EXPERIENCES
If a child doesn’t have first-hand experiences with animals, how will they ever discover that they have a talent for calming and working with pets? You could ask this type of question for any other job.
The more experiences in life that kids get, the more opportunities they will have to figure out what interests them and what they might be good at!
Our post A is for Adventurous has a printable bucket list of “mini-adventures” that you can do with your young child for very little cost that will expose them to a variety of experiences.
Who knows – maybe one of these adventures will spark an interest in something that will influence your child for life?
3. TALK to Them About Talents, Gifts and Strengths
Point out strengths in family members and friends!
“Daddy is so goofy – he always makes us laugh! Oma bakes delicious apple cakes and always sends yummy food home with us after a visit. Nan is so artistic and creative with her scrapbooking. Grandpa notices and knows so much about birds and animals. Grandad tells the best stories and is really fun to play pretend with.” You get the idea!
You can point out your child’s strengths in the same way. Kind of like you are “noticing” things about your child, but out loud. You may be noticing gifts and strengths that he/she hadn’t even been aware of!
Also talk about how everyone has different strengths and talents.
In my classroom at the start of the year, I always do a learning types inventory. The kids answer questions about how they learn best, and we find out who the visual, lingual, kinesthetic, auditory, musical/rhythmical, etc. learners are. The kids always love this activity because their strengths are recognized.
If you want to fill out a questionnaire to help determine your 3-5 year old’s learning style, try this one at Scholastic.com or this one from Babyzone.com.
If you are religious, have a chat about how God wants us all to use our gifts to help others. “This little light of mine! I’m gonna let it shine! This little light of mine! I’m gonna let it shine! Let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine!“
4. Follow Your Child’s Lead and SUPPORT Their Interests
It’s important for us to remember that although we have control over what experiences we expose our kids to, and what kind of strengths we draw their attention to, kids will have their own ideas of what they are interested in!
For tips on how to best support their interests, check out our “4 Easy Ways to Help Your Child Love Learning” post and “5 Ways to Boost Your Child’s Curiosity Today” post.
In their book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish also discuss the concept of not taking away a child’s hope.
For example, if your child wants to try out for the lead part in a play – and you don’t think they have what it takes – keep those opinions to yourself instead of saying something that might dampen that enthusiasm.
Too many times, parents make comments that squash hopes and dreams when they are just trying to protect their kids from disappointment.
Instead, wish them luck and be their biggest supporter! If they fail, they’ll figure that out soon enough on their own and you can be there to comfort them.
5. ENCOURAGE your Kids, don’t PRAISE them!
This is probably the biggest lesson I have learned since becoming a parent and reading about ways to bring up my child without punishment.
Rewards and praise are just the flip side of the same coin as punishment according to Alfie Kohn, author of Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason.
If you think about it, they are just another way of trying to control or manipulate our child’s behaviour. The more kids feel controlled, the less they want to cooperate. Besides, how many times have you received a compliment and had difficult accepting its truth?
Also, in Alfie’s book, he mentions research that shows that if kids are praised to do something, they actually become LESS LIKELY to do that thing again! Ack! That’s probably the last thing we want when we are telling our kids, “Good job!” right?
An alternative is to encourage our kids. According to Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, encouragement is describing the child’s behaviour without attaching a value judgement.
For example, if your child is singing, “Let It Go!” beautifully – instead of saying, “You are a fantastic singer!” (praise), you could say, “When you sing that song, you sing with passion and emotion. It makes me feel tingly inside!” (encouragement).
Or when your son kicks the soccer ball all the way across the front yard, instead of saying, “You’re such a great soccer player!” (praise), you could say, “You just kicked that ball all the way to the other side of the yard! Wow!” (encouragement).
The idea behind making encouraging statements is that without your judgement, your child will internally praise themselves. “Oh, Dad noticed my singing. I must have a good voice!” and “Oh, Mom noticed my kick. It must have been a good one! Gee – I must be a good soccer player!“
When kids praise themselves – it’s definitely more powerful than anything we can say!
6. Be Mindful of the Power of OUR Expectations
Our expectations can be a powerful thing – for good or bad.
If we support and approve of our child’s strengths and gifts, we have an incredibly potent ability to positively affect our child’s behaviour and choices. Sometimes just having one person who believes in you can make all the difference as to whether you pursue a talent or gift.
However, if our child is not talented in areas we would like, and our child perceives that – that can be just as powerful in a detrimental way to a child’s self-esteem. After all – most kids want to please their parents more than anything.
If our son wants to do arts and crafts, and we want them to play soccer – maybe we need to let that go. Who knows – he might become a future Picasso! If our daughter wants to climb trees rather than having tea parties, maybe we have a future Biologist in our home!
If we are mindful – and openly supportive, who knows what gifts and talents our children will begin to grow. It’s just another one of those exciting parts about being a parent – the delightful surprises!
And that brings us to the end of T is for Talented. To keep following my alphabetic journey – please visit our Teaching Kids About Character page to find all the posts.
To happy and talented kids,
I agree that it is so important that we help children to identify their own talents – too often I’ve seen kids pushed in direction which they’re not necessarily best suited for and they’re left feeling that they can’t do anything right. Even if they choose to pursue a different path when they’re older every child deserves the opportunity to find the thing that makes them shine! x
Sue Lively says
So true Sophie! I think we all know someone whose parents pushed them too much in a certain direction and they ended up resenting them. This often comes to mind when I think about music lessons and other activities that are paid for and parents want their children to learn to stick with something, even if they’re not enjoying it. That one’s a tough call, isn’t it? It’s just important to try not to live through our kids. I would LOVE if my son ends up wanting to play soccer like I did – or wants to play musical instruments. But I guess I will have to live with it if he’s just not interested. Thanks for dropping by Sophie! Best, Sue
Katie Pinch says
I always love your parenting tips!
Sue Lively says
Thanks for dropping by Katie! Best, Sue
City Coastal Lifestyle says
what a great & very detailed post, I shall refer back to it at some point. #alphabetphoto
Sue Lively says
Thanks for dropping by City Coastal Lifestyle. Best, Sue
Ed Gillis says
Hi Sue! I enjoyed this post and am interested in using some of your very helpful and practical advice for a column I’m working on. Could you please contact me at the email given? Thanks!
Sue Lively says
Hi Ed – thanks for dropping by and I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I will get back to you soon. Best, Sue
Sue Lively says
Hi Ed – I didn’t find an e-mail from you at email@example.com – please try again. Thanks and best, Sue