Watching my children grow and develop makes me appreciate the abilities they demonstrate, even now at an early age. For instance, my oldest daughter often acts as a mediator with her peers and my youngest daughter has a stealth agility (great at the park, not so great on the furniture at home). I see things in both my kids that remind me of myself, or my husband, or a family member… And then there are times when I see something in them that makes me scratch my head!
One of the beautiful things about our world is how unique each individual is. It may be cliché, but it’s true: our world would be boring if everyone were the same. And I am grateful to live in a time and society in which most people desire to help children discover and grow in their abilities and talents. As I raise my children, and in the past when I taught in the classroom, I try to encourage the distinct abilities these incredible young ones have.
Here are a few thoughts on how we can encourage our children/students:
- Know who your child is. This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s an important starting place. We are often distracted by the daily activities of parenting that encompass the wide range of feeding, diapering/clothing, instructing, disciplining, chauffeuring and so on. These are all necessary and valuable tasks, but completing these tasks alone cannot and should not be the sole purpose of parenting! (For teachers, the distracting activities may include lesson-planning, meeting program or administrative goals, assessing and evaluating, balancing whole group and small group or individualized instruction.) Make it a point to go deeper to knowing who your child is: those things that excite, motivate, frighten, bore and challenge your child.
- Listen to your child. Again, this may seem obvious. But recently in a public setting, I heard a child trying to get her father’s attention several times. Even when she tugged on his sleeve, he didn’t seem to hear her. My first reaction to this scene was not to judge that father as a terrible parent. Instead, I felt a pang in my heart as I wondered how often one of my daughters tries to get my attention and I don’t notice. We need to be ready to listen to our children and engage with them. Note: this does not mean that the world revolves around our children.. But can we at least acknowledge their desire to be heard and assure them that we will listen when it is a good time for sharing and listening?
- Use affirming words and language. Among educators, there are debates over how often to praise students and what entails meaningful feedback. (Research shows that “Good job” is less effective in motivating learners than something specific like “Wow, I today that noticed that you made your goal of ____. You can be proud of that!”) You don’t need to hand out a gold star for every little thing, but take some time to consider where you can be more encouraging in how you speak to your child.
- Allow your child to participate in activities/experiences that will challenge and excite them. My oldest daughter has wanted to take swim lessons for a while and now that she has shown enough maturity to respond well to a swim instructor and follow directions in a safe manner around the water, we’ve enrolled her in one. She loves it and is growing in confidence and ability each week! If your child is interested in a sport, musical instrument, language, art – whatever it may be – look for programs or outlets for them to express that interest. For families on a tight budget like ours, see if there are local park district offerings at an affordable price, ask someone you know to teach your child a skill, call around to find the best prices or offers available (our swim lessons were $20 cheaper when we signed up for a morning session). Groupon can also have some good deals in your area! Or if none of those seem to be an option, just take a simple first step – like buying some paint and a watercoloring book for your child who wants to explore art.
And to wrap up the theme of encouraging your child’s abilities, check out the book Harold Finds a Voice by Courtney Davis. This story is an excellent read-aloud and has bright, bold illustrations that engage young children. My daughters really enjoyed watching parrot Harold try to imitate everything from a vacuum to steamboat… Until he finds his own unique voice!
Best Ages: pre-k to 2nd grade