Tapping into your child’s potential

In our society, parents desire to give the best to their children. Enrollment in expensive, well-reputed school, purchase of the best educational resources available in the market and opportunity to participate in a variety of fun and enriching experiences are some ways parents cater to the needs of a growing child.

Parents living in this century feel the pressure to focus on providing the best education to their offspring (more than any other time in the history of our civilization) for a wide range of reasons. Many of them feel that their own educational experiences were mostly defective. Others believe that a good education has the potential to make people successful, responsible, and caring. And there are others who recognize the importance of a good education in preparing their children for the complex, uncertain, highly challenging future.

However, the future is unknown. While parents assume that a particular kind of education would prepare children for the future (work and life itself), they cannot guarantee it. Hence everyone approaches the whole issue by relying on subjective experience and judgment about what constitutes the best education. In reality, no one can actually say what their children really need, and how they should be assisted in acquiring them.

With this background information, let us explore ways to increase children’s potential to deal with an exciting and unpredictable future.

1. Children’s quality of life is proportionally affected by the quality of relationship they enjoy with parents, siblings, and other significant individuals in society. Ask any adult what he or she remembers from his or her classes or school/college/university and the answers would invariably point toward experiences that are based in relationships (e.g. “I had a great Chemistry teacher who encouraged and supported us,” “I remember this one time when we sang Happy Birthday to our teacher in the middle of a test,” and “Our principal was a strict man and never smiled.”). It is uncommon to hear answers such as, “I remember how plants make food and the formula for photosynthesis,” or “I remember all the events that led to the Second World War in sequence,” etc. In other words, people recall relationships more readily than what they learned at school. This is not wrong. This is simply how humans are. Hence, there is value in focusing on providing children with healthy, positive social-emotional experiences both at home and school. When children feel happy, they are ready and want to learn. Children who experience fear, insecurity, distrust, doubt, threat, and rejection are highly stressed, frustrated, and do not want to learn. Parents and teachers who genuinely love and care for their children provide them with opportunities to grow as functional individuals who are happy with themselves and others around them. This is a very important characteristic for survival and success in the future. Children who have a good quality of life grow up to become successful individuals. Good quality of life does not come from giving children all that they want (monetary sense), but from giving them sufficient exposure to positive human relationships.

2. Believe in your child – by nature, humans like to compare themselves with others. However, our tendency is to compare ourselves with those who are better off. When we do this, we feel small and disadvantaged, leading to negative feelings toward our own capacity to grow and achieve in life. Children learn to engage in social comparison early in life from parents and teachers. Because of this, many individuals develop negative attitudes toward themselves – they doubt their own potential, and before long, they believe that they are good for nothing. DO NOT compare your child with another child. There is no value in doing so. In fact, when we compare one child to another, it destroys the self-image, motivation, and confidence of both. Several research by Dr. Carol Dweck from Stanford University indicate that adults send a negative message to children when they use labels such as smart, average, or dull. In reality, these do not exist (ranking only exist for the purpose of employment, university admission, etc). They do not represent the true ability or potential of a child. Hence, parents and teachers must be careful not to compare children with others, including themselves. Every child is special. Every child has his or her own strengths. Children who succeed (regardless of school achievement records) are those whose strengths are tapped into and nurtured. A child’s strength could be in an academic subject. It could also be in non-academic areas. As parents, we should be open to accepting children’s strength without judging the field/area in which the strength is manifested. For example, in the past, when children did well in dance class or athletics, parents shunned the idea by telling them that these are not going earn them a living. Today, these pre-conceptions are proven wrong. In fact, when one area of strength is celebrated and nurtured, other areas of life undergo significant improvement as well. Believe in your child, sincerely. Believe that he or she has a special place and role in the world. Be supportive in bringing the best of your child. When parents and teachers believe in their children, the latter develop positive attitude toward themselves and become internally motivated to climb up the ladder of success.

3. Empower rather than spoon feed – We can take a horse to the river, but definitely cannot force it to drink from the water. At the end of the day, every child makes his or her own decisions about a variety of things. Parents and teachers who think that they have complete control over children’s lives are making a big mistake. While children may listen and obey, they are forming their own personal mental framework as to what they want and do not want. Psychologically speaking, children who are allowed freedom to engage in collective decision making are well-adjusted and responsible compared to those for whom all decisions are made by parents and/or teachers. This should begin early – earlier than most adults think is possible. For example, when a mother bakes cookies, she could ask her two or three year old to join in – the child could be involved in deciding about the type of cookies to be baked, the shapes, the flavor, etc. By involving children in this manner, they get to engage in higher order thinking, form preferences, and defend their choices. Creativity can be introduced and sharpened through a variety of simple, day-to-day activities at home and school, if parents and teachers spend a little bit more time thinking about designing learning experiences suitable for children.

Adults have spent a lot of time teaching children. It is time to stop teaching and start inspiring! Children who are inspired do more than what is expected of them. They push their own limits to continue treading new and challenging territories. Success for such children is inevitable and real. These are the kinds of people who will face the challenges of the 21st century, wisely.

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