Diamonds In The Rough
Moms and Dads, one of the most important things you can do is discover and nurture your kid’s natural talents. The first few years of your kid’s life are critical to her overall development and you don’t need buzzers and bells or a library of books to create a family culture of success for your kid.
By talents, we’re not talking about reading at an early age or doing a math problem in an advanced class. Your kid’s natural talents are much more subtle and require careful and deliberate observations. Unfortunately, and all too often, Moms and Dads are on the lookout for problems or faults in their kids, specifically in behaviors considered to be academic. For example, “Is my kid reading, writing, or ready to do math?” “Is my kid ready for kindergarten, prepared for new math, or reading above grade level?” For many parents, these questions are just the beginning, ultimately leading to, “Will my kid get in the best college?”
The good news is there is no right time or age when kids should be performing or exhibiting any of the above behaviors. Readiness for kindergarten or any grade for that matter is very subjective. Forcing our kids to learn about academics when they are not ready can have harmful effects on children. In fact, a growing body of research by teachers, psychologists, and educational researchers has concluded that placing kids in preschool and kindergarten too early may inhibit and prevent their intellectual and social development.
By focusing on their kid’s talents, Moms and Dads can play a key role in the intellectual, emotional, and social development of their children. The bottom line, kids have natural talents that are as different as there are kids — where every kid is a diamond in the rough, ready to evolve into greatness.
How Talents Develop
Without going into too much detail, let’s discuss how your kid’s talents develop. During the first year of life, his brain forms about a hundred billion neuron cells that are linked together by several hundred trillion synaptic connections. These connections create a neural network that processes and exchanges enormous amounts of information.
During infancy, there is an explosion in the formation of neural networks resulting in tremendous learning and memory development as your kid adapts to his surroundings. This continues to around age 3 when the number of synapses or connections hits a peak and the brain starts to remove synapses that it no longer requires. While this reduction is at first genetically driven it soon is dependent on your kid’s experiences. In other words, synaptic connections can either be strengthened or weakened depending on how often the connection is used.
Experiences not only determine what information enters your kid’s brain, experience influences how the brain processes and organizes information.
According to the Gallup Clifton Strength-Based Model, “It is not true that the more synaptic connections you have, the smarter you are or the more effective. Rather, your smartness and your effectiveness depend on how well you capitalize on your strongest connections. Nature forces you to shut down billions of connections precisely so that you can be freed up to exploit the ones remaining.”
Constant stimulation causes these connections to grow and become permanent and if a kid receives little stimulation the brain will keep fewer of those connections. Most important, it is through these connections that your kid’s talents develop.
Identifying Your Kid’s Talents
By providing everyday activities to stimulate your kid’s thinking and behaviors, you’re helping to strengthen various neural connections that increase your kid’s learning efficiency and capacity. In this sense, the positive interaction you have with your kid during their early years determines their overall brain architecture, which provides the blueprint for your kid’s talents and ultimate success.
The Gallup CliftonStrength-Based Model is an excellent path for Moms and Dads to follow for creating the necessary environment to grow their kid’s talents. Talents are defined as naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied.
You can learn a lot about your kid’s talents by simply watching and listening to them. Generally, when your kid learns rapidly and masters something with limited effort, you can conclude a talent or set of talents is associated with your kid’s success. By asking open-ended questions, such as why do you like doing this activity and would you like to do this activity again, you can gain a great deal of information about your kid’s natural abilities.
You can also learn about your kid’s talents in not so obvious ways. For example, we tend to lump homework into a general activity. Comments often spoken from Moms and Dads are, My kid hates doing homework or It’s like going to war to get my kid to do her homework.
However, if you were to deconstruct the homework your kid is doing, you just may find it’s not homework, generally, that your kid hates but it’s the type of homework that is causing your kid so much stress. For example, your kid may hate math homework but enjoys science or history. Or, your kid may hate doing problems and answering questions, but loves to do research on the Internet. Be careful about lumping things together and drawing broad-based conclusions.
Here are a few helpful hints.
Ask your kid to become more attuned with his thoughts and reactions to what’s going on in school. To do this, you might give a special journal to your kid to record her thoughts and opinions around what she is thinking about school. Make sure you tell your kid this is a private journal and you will never review it and that your kid will determine what she wants to share.
To jumpstart your kid’s thinking have her record her thoughts on the following questions:
- When you enter your classroom what are your immediate thoughts?
- When your teacher is lecturing, presenting a lesson, or providing information on a subject what are your reactions?
- Are you interested?
- Do your eyes glaze over when your teacher is talking? Are you gritting your teeth or watching the clock?
- Are you thinking to yourself, when will this class be over?
- Thinking about your answers, how are you feeling?
- Why do you feel or think this way?
Obviously, the above questions and their comments suggest areas that are less likely to represent your kid’s talents and interests.
A Word Of Caution
Your kid may be reacting to the personality of her teacher or the way the subject matter is presented. Ask open-ended questions to determine what is really taking place and be understanding with your kid. Feelings and emotions are often difficult to express.
Ask your kid to make comments in her journal or notebook which suggests his talents and interests. Use these questions to jumpstart your kid’s thinking.
Sample Talent-Based Questions
- When are you excited about attending a specific class or participating in a certain activity?
- Thinking about a specific class or subject, are there times when you think I like doing this and I want to do it again?
- What is it about your teacher that you really enjoy?
- Describe the last time you really enjoyed learning something new in school?
- What is most exciting about learning a new subject?
After a few weeks, ask your kid if he is willing to share and discuss what he has discovered from his own observations and recordings. Your goal is to support your kid and do what you can to make sure he gets to do more of what he enjoys: his talents and interests.