Monday, October 31, 2011

6 ways to turn your children's talents into triumphs

For parents, it's easy to see your child as unique. But it's not always so easy to recognize how unique.

Children can sometimes be shy, and hide their gifts and talents from adults. For instance, your child might feel too self-conscious to sing in front of you, but she might have a great voice that could eventually land her solos in her school chorus and take her around the country in singing competitions.

Other times, children might not be able to discover their aptitudes if they aren't given the opportunity and tools to do so. A budding star quarterback, for instance, wouldn't know he has a golden arm if he never hits the field or holds a football.

By figuring out your children's inner gifts and talents, you can better help them develop those gifts and talents, and become more fulfilled and satisfied children -- and adults. You can also help them use their gifts and talents to their advantage, whether it be as a hobby that provides joy, or as a foundation from which they can build a future career.

Here are six ways to recognize and nurture your children's unique talents, and help them blossom into stars. Many of these tips are also useful for teachers in helping them identify and develop their students' gifts and talents, too.

1. Observe what your child chooses to do when you're not around. Is she kicking a ball or banging on drums? Is he building towers out of blocks or reading books by flashlight under the covers at night? Children's own choices give us big clues into what makes them tick. 

2. Identify what absorbs your child. Look for those times when your child is so engaged in something, she seems to happily lose track of time. It can happen on a rainy day at home, or during independent study time in school. When we're using our gifts and talents, we often get so absorbed we forget the time. Psychology professor Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi calls this joyful state of absorption "flow." This is a good sign that you are noticing your child doing something that is tapping a deep, internal well.

3. Notice things that your child can do that are beyond his normal developmental level. Do you have a four-year-old reader? A two-year-old banging our rhythmic patterns on pots and pans? A six-year-old who can multiply and divide numbers? A three-year-old who never misses connecting a ball to a bat? Special talents set children apart from their siblings and peers. Children who use a vocabulary beyond their years, for example, might be verbally talented in a way that will percolate over into reading, writing, speaking, and thinking.

4. Provide tools to nurture the talents you notice. This might include books and trips to the library for the precocious reader, drums for the two-year-old banging out rhythms, or tangrams and an abacas for the budding mathematician. Consider science kits, art materials, sports equipment, relevant software, a writing journal, or even special pens. What are the tools needed to put the talent into use?

5. Give your children opportunities to learn more about and use their talents. This might include extracurricular classes, books about the subject, or software tools to manipulate the concepts of the subject at hand. Whatever the topic, give your children the conceptual knowledge and vocabulary to help them deeply understand it and apply their skills. Also look for ways your children can share their talents with others. Music recitals, community theater, and library chess tournaments are some ways to share talents.

6. Extend the talent. If your child has a talent for baseball, teach him to keep the game stats. If your child is a good writer, give him a thesaurus to extend his vocabulary. Find a mentor or friend who can apprentice your child. If your child has artistic talent, can you network to find an artist willing to give your child a tour of her studio? If your child is a non-stop political junky, take a trip to your state capitol. What connections can you help your child make to extend and enhance her special gifts?

Our job as parents is to help our children both use and enjoy their unique gifts, and ultimately to share those gifts with others. Whether your child is precocious or has special needs, is introverted or extroverted, or is tall or short, he is unique for sure! Look for that natural spark to ignite within him, and then help your child enjoy developing his own special gifts.