It’s important to demonstrate to your child that you believe in them and in what they can achieve in life. Children look to their parents for support and validation. If they show a particular talent, interest, or skill, then show interest in this in return, and encourage them to develop it.
Make sure, however, not to overcrowd or overwhelm them, especially at first. This is, after all, something that they’re discovering for themselves, and there’s a good chance that’s exactly why it’s so important to them. If you put too much pressure on them in this area, then it stops being theirs and stops being fun, meaning that they may suddenly lose all of their enthusiasm and just pursue it out of duty. Let it develop in the direction it takes naturally, without trying to guide it too overtly.
Show encouragement and enthusiasm when appropriate, and look for ways to provide further opportunities for your children to develop their gifts. This needn’t necessarily involve spending a lot of money on them. It could be as simple as pointing them in the direction of a book or film, or a local mentor.
There are also many schools and colleges around the country designed to help children with particular talents develop their skills. Many of these have been helped with funding by organizations such as the Warren Stephens Foundation. This means that they will be able to provide facilities and training that you’re not able to give at home, and they’ll be surrounded by other children who share their interests – an important validating factor. Thanks to private funding from such foundations, scholarships for promising children may also be available.
Stand up for the geeks
While we like to think that regular schools will also provide this encouragement, sadly the opposite is often the case. Overworked teachers have to concentrate on the core curriculum, and often actively discourage any interest that could be seen as a distraction from this. Other schoolchildren, meanwhile, often look for any opportunity to bully or belittle anyone who seems different. Being labelled a “geek” or a “nerd” can be devastating to a child’s self-esteem, and they may grow ashamed of their intelligence and ability, preferring to fit in rather than stand out. Happily, there is a wide range of children’s literature and films in which the geek is portrayed as the hero. It may be worth finding one that accords with your child’s interests and showing it to them.
Studies show that optimism, and a sense that one is a capable person who can deal with obstacles and negative emotions, are more important qualities for future success than good grades or unwarranted over-confidence. These qualities are developed through making children feel secure and loved. Be interested and responsive rather than controlling and reactive. Be supportive rather than pushy. They will succeed in their own way by being self-motivated rather than by being merely compliant with their parents’ wishes and demands. They need to learn to make and manage their own decisions if they’re going to get the top jobs or do well at college, rather than worrying too much about approval from outside.
Talk about how well they are doing, and use positive language when describing their interests and activities. Don’t make them seem so serious that they’re scared to fail, but equally, don’t make jokes about them, even if you think you’re doing so in good spirits. Children are ambitious, but they’re also highly sensitive to perceived criticism. Make them feel supported and encouraged, and they’ll follow the path to success that’s the best for them.