We each have our own gifts. Some guys excel at sports and could easily toss a football around all day long. Throw a math problem in front of them, however, and they're likely to wrack their brains for hours coming up with an answer. Other guys, though, may excel at math problems and logic puzzles, but would probably catch a bloody nose before they could wrap their fingers around an incoming pass. Which is all just a way of saying that our brains are wired differently. Sometimes we pass that wiring onto our kids; sometimes we don't. Like every other human on the planet, your children will grow into their own unique gifts, and they'll probably show signs of these gifts from a very early age. People don't usually just have the ability to do something really well - they also have a drive to do it, which is what makes a unique gift honestly unique. They excel at something - like math and logic, or physical activities, or art and design - and it gives them a sense of pride that they're better than others at that talent. They also tend to genuinely enjoy the process, as well. Math geniuses love the process of finding the one, true answer to the mystery of numbers in front of them; athletic stars love the thrill of competition, the rush of adrenaline and the glory of the win. Kids don't generally realize they're talented - it takes someone else to point it out. Maybe a teacher notices that your daughter finishes her reading tests long before everyone else does. Maybe the other kids in class point out that your son can kick a ball farther than anyone they know. Once they find out, they get that first sense of pride, that first sense that they really are special and that they can do something no one else can. None of that pride matters, however, if at the end of the day you denounce their new-found ability. If you tell them drawing is for losers, or that football will never take them anywhere, you run the risk of squashing something in your child that may lead to real, true happiness. A child's unique gifts should be fostered and supported, and it falls upon you to do so. Follow these rules to make sure your kid knows he's appreciated for what he's good at:
- Determine their skills - Prior to 1983, educational skills were measured in two categories: mathematics and language. With the publication of Howard Gardner's book "Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences," however, theorists began to follow Gardener's new eight categories: reading, math, forming relationships, athletics, design, music, understanding oneself and understanding nature.Your child could fall into any of these categories, and you should see clues at an early age. An early walker may have strength in athletics, while the child you can't get away from crayons is probably going to be strong in design. Keep an eye out for your child's strengths; you may find him or her excelling at the most unsuspecting times.
- Encourage their skills - If they don't know they have strengths, they'll never be able to hone them. If you spot your child excelling at something, let them know. Even if it's not something they'll necessarily retain, the boost in self-confidence will be wonderful for them. Once they learn that Mom and Dad will support them in their pursuits, they'll become more willing to learn new things.
- Help them apply their abilities at school - Gardener categorized educational strengths, which is to say he determined eight areas in which students learn and excel. For a child who thinks spatially, design is more his style than mathematics. If he's having trouble at math, trying putting his problems in terms that he can understand. Instead of just computing the addition of two numbers, have him visualize. Use apples instead of numbers, and teach him to view numbers in groups of tens or fives. A box of 23 apples, then, would be four groups of five apples and one group of three.
- Don't expect them to be you - The worst thing you can do as a dad (other than run off, that is) is expect your child to be a miniature version of you. Yes, you had glory days of football in high school, or yes, you were your class' high school and college valedictorian. That doesn't mean your little boy has to be, too. Remember: you weren't exactly like your father, and it hurt when he was disappointed when you didn't do what he wanted you to do. We're all people, and we all want to be ourselves. Don't take that away from your kids.
- Don't put financial expectations on their abilities - The next worst thing you can do is expect your child's strengths to earn him money. Kids don't need to be thinking about money yet. They've got their whole lives to worry; for now, let them be kids. If you turn their ability into a future job, they may grow less interested. They do what they love because they love it, not because it's going to make them rich. If you put that expectation on them, they may feel like failures even though they're doing what they love.