Parents are the greatest detectives in the world. Forget Sherlock Holmes. Parents have him beat. You have to notice the tired eyes of your three-year-old who is overdue for a nap or the suspicious odors your teenager brings home from a night out. When it comes to nurturing your children’s talents, your own detective skills are your best asset. As parents, you need to search for clues of your children’s biggest or smallest talents.
Parents who have earned their gold shield as talent detectives do four things really well.
- First, they search for their child’s smallest abilities, not just the big Broadway stage ones.
- Second, they ask teachers, coaches, instructors, camp counselors, and friends what they’ve seen their children do well.
- Third, they ask their children the “what did it feel like when…” questions that children hate but parents need to ask.
- Finally, they allow their children to experiment and not specialize too early.
If you use these techniques as a talent detective you can gather a wealth of information about your son’s or daughter’s hidden talents. Let me explore each of these methods in more detail to give you a plan of action you can start today.
Natural Talents: The Importance of Searching for Your Children’s Smallest Natural Abilities
When you think about all of the people you knew throughout your life, you can probably point to a few who had very visible, exceptional talents in class (the straight A student), sports (the fastest runner) or the arts (the pitch-perfect singer). They were the ones who stood out from everyone else and seemed to have been born with a big gift.
Many parents believe that these biggest and most visible talents are more important than small ones, but they are not.
Even the smallest talents are big in context for each child and how he or she uses them. Is the talent for recognizing different emotions in someone’s voice less important than throwing a hard curve ball in baseball? No, because a talent in recognizing emotions has lead many people to become successful therapists, educators, and managers.
Is the talent to play with dolls and have them carry on conversations with each other less important than mastering multiplication tables earlier than other classmates? No, because that talent has lead many people to become successful writers, actors, and sales people.
Like any explorer searching the billions of stars in the night sky for the North Star to guide the way, you need to pay close attention to the smallest actions, words, and emotions of your children to discover their natural abilities. When you notice a small talent, ask yourself, “How can my son or daughter use that ability more fully in his or her life? How can I help my son or daughter enjoy and develop that talent? How can my son or daughter use that ability later in life as an adult?”
Positive Feedback: How Positive Feedback From Others Can Help You Discover Your Children’s Hidden Talents
There are many people who spend time with your children during school, sports, play, and hobbies. As parents, we tend to ask the adults who teach or coach our children how to improve deficiencies such as, “How can John be better at… or improve in… or be more like…?” We have been taught to carry with us an imaginary measuring tape to determine how our children are measuring up to others.
While parents like to know about their children’s successes, they spend a disproportionate amount of time talking with teachers, coaches and instructors about gaps and deficiencies. If parents discuss only performance gaps, they leave behind important opportunities to learn about their children’s talents.
For instance, a client had a nine-year-old daughter, Amy, who went to a summer camp at a local YMCA. The kids swam, played games, and performed arts and crafts. Amy woke up each morning enthusiastic to get to camp to play with her friends.
When the camp ended, a counselor told Amy’s mother that Amy needed to learn how to talk less when the counselors were giving instructions. This was important information for her mother because she knew that Amy was always a chatter box and needed to know when to listen. Amy’s mother could have left the conversation at the “gap” level, but asked one important question of the counselor, “What did you notice Amy doing well during the different activities?” The counselor said that Amy did a good job playing tennis because she was able to control the ball well for someone who had never played before.
This one, simple answer lead Amy and her parents down a road that created a life-long love for tennis. After the camp, Amy’s parents exposed her to tennis at a local club which motivated Amy to play with friends in a youth tennis league. Her enjoyment lead her to play in high school, in local tournaments, and in college. To earn extra money while in college, Amy became a certified professional tennis instructor. Since graduation, Amy has continued to play tennis in USTA team leagues.
Amy’s example shows the ripple effect of a parent asking a camp counselor what her daughter did well. Imagine the information you will get about your son or daughter by asking the same question to teachers, coaches, and instructors over the years. Always remember, the smallest comment about even the smallest ability can be a sign of a special gift that can be developed and enjoyed.
Talking With Children: How Your Children Can Teach You About the Talents They Enjoy Using
Because parents have a lifetime of experiences, they can be wonderful guides for their children. Parents can help children understand how their behaviors today can affect their lives down the road.
However, as guides, parents can often give too much advice and not ask children enough about what they think and feel. What children experience mentally and emotionally when performing in school, sports, arts, play and hobbies can provide you with a wealth of information about what comes most naturally to them.
To learn from your children, you can ask them, “How did you feel during…? Why did you feel that way? Can you give me one example? What did you like the most? What did you not like?” Do not bombard your children with these questions all at once or directly after an experience. Instead, space out the questions over a period of time and expect and accept short answers. Children get better at reflecting on their own experiences as they mature. So, you need to appreciate whatever answers you get and not ridicule them for giving you limited answers. Over time, they may improve in their ability to describe their experiences to you.
The more information you get from your children about their performances in different environments such as school, sports and the arts, the more you will discover the abilities and environments they enjoy. This information will give you greater insight into ways to nurture your children’s talents.
Discovering Children’s Potential: How Exploration and Practice Helps Children Discover the Talents that Motivate Them
The adult world demands that people specialize and plan logically. Exploration and practice are often thought of as the domain of childhood, while adults are expected to be concrete and always prepared. This is an unfortunate situation for adults because exploration and practice need to be life-long values and activities. But many parents try to develop their children’s talents through an adult lens of specializing early and mastering things immediately.
One of the greatest gifts you can give your children is the option to explore different activities, subjects, sports, hobbies, people, and art. As they mature, they will make their own decisions about where and how to specialize. You may, at times, need to assure them that they can make decisions and apply themselves, but their time spent exploring will help everyone learn what their most natural and rewarding abilities are.
I see too many parents who feel pressure to have their children specialize early when variety is more important. There are some children who do have talents and self-motivation that require specializing at a young age. However, you need to be certain that the decision to specialize is in the best interest of your child’s long-term development as a person. Do not base your decision on an expert who wants to make money or a reputation from training your child or on the desire for scholarships. Base it on what your child needs developmentally as a person today to help him or her mature into a self-motivated and self-reliant adult.
Expression of Talents, Gifts, and Caring
The path for parents to discover and nurture their children’s talents requires detective skills over many years and a sympathetic ear to listen to what your children want and need. The journey is a two-way partnership between you and your children that can lead to rewarding expressions of talents, gifts, and caring for the whole family.
The Highlands Ability is an effective tool in discovering your child’s natural abilities. If your child is in high school, college, or is a young adult, contact us to learn more.