How to Find Your Child's Gifts
Emily's mother says Emily is gifted. Jeanine's parents say the same of their child. Billy's do, too.
They're all correct.
Emily did poorly in English last marking period, but she plays the piano well and scores high in math. Jeanine needs tutoring in science, but she writes funny stories. Fifteen-month-old Billy doesn't talk much, but he feeds himself.
Experts say every child shines in at least one discipline. It's your job as a parent to discover and encourage your child's gifts, while downplaying any weaknesses.
How do you discover your child's gifts? Where do you start? Here's what the experts say:
Watch your child carefully. Provide a few choices and observe which toy or activity your child prefers.
Ask age-appropriate questions. For a toddler: "What is your dolly's name?" For a 6-year-old: "When you rolled in the leaves, how did they feel and sound?" For a high-schooler: "What do you think of the president? Is he doing a good job?"
Catch your child being good. Don't ignore your child when he or she is quiet and engrossed in an activity; reinforce this with praise.
Help your child advance, without over-challenging her. If she likes to pick out tunes on the piano, read to her about a musical role model; browse in a music shop; take her to a recital; suggest lessons.
Follow your child's lead. Support the choices your child makes, even if they are not the ones you'd expected.
When a performance doesn't meet expectations, focus on your child's attempt, not the result. Praise the effort and your child will not give up, but will try to improve.
Be a role model for the type of behavior you want your child to exhibit. Work hard at your own hobbies or interests. Practice often.
Provide extracurricular opportunities like scouting, a sports team or the school choir.
Don't over-program your child's time or over-structure activities. Let your child develop his or her own creative energy.
Without realizing it, parents can signal disappointment, and a child may conclude that he or she is not good enough. And parents can often intimidate children into inaction, experts say.
Although parents may recognize their child's abilities and offer support, sometimes they don't challenge the child to push himself to his best ability. Other parents push, criticize and humiliate their child, but they don't praise and support him. Some Little League fathers, for example, are so invested in performance that they forget to support or respect their child's effort, and the child gives up.
Children participating in an activity can undergo a "crystallizing experience," experts say. When a child is immersed in an activity, it can become so enjoyable that performing becomes the reward. The youngster learns that some work can be truly engaging and that if he tries hard he will be internally rewarded. He sticks with it, because he believes that the crystallizing experience will occur again and again.
Unfortunately, before some children can develop such an internal compass, an absence of support stifles their talent and extinguishes their ambition.
Every human being has a gift—usually more than one, experts say. But it takes courage to see it and confidence to play it out. That's why we need help to see our gifts and to believe in them—and in ourselves.