A world of possibilities is unfolding before your Young Scholar. Often a parent needs to support his or her Young Scholar not only by providing opportunity, but by actively protecting the playful joy and freedom of exploration. How do we avoid the pressure to turn curiosity into “achievement”? How do we keep the fun in finding-out when well-meaning friends or relatives are quick to remark that six-year-old Susie will be the “one to cure cancer” and eleven year old Billy is “going to be the next Shakespeare”? How do we consciously keep our own dreams, pressures or expectations – i.e., going to Harvard – from inadvertently becoming burdens to our YS’s? And how do we support our YS’s to keep that drive to be “the best” from getting in the way of taking a chance on something new?
Here are a baker’s dozen of the most important tips – some, but not all, of what can be found in the Seminar:
1. Joy! To know what brings you – and your YS – joy is terribly important! In order to help the playful joy and freedom of exploration thrive in your child you have to model the behavior – so the spirit of playful joy and freedom of exploration must remain alive in you! (I’m not suggesting you should romp around in a party hat with a goofy smile on your face, I’m talking about engaging your world with open-minded curiosity and appreciation rather than well worn assumptions and default thinking). Treat yourself to some time to think about what REALLY brings you joy, however small.
Talk about it all the time! The beautiful sunrise! The comfort of a hot cup of cocoa! Hanging out on the couch watching old movies! By sharing daily joy as it arises and voicing your appreciation of the pleasures neither money nor ‘achievement’ can buy, you give your children the vocabulary and the permission to enjoy just “being”. By talking about what makes us feel happy in a context that disconnects it from reward (an “A”, winning, praise), you help build a foundation that cannot be dissolved by the inevitable disappointments that come to us all now and then.
When YS parents participating in this seminar wrote in about what brought them joy, it was “the little things” in every case.
2. Pressure: If you are running ragged for fear that your children are not getting enough of (fill in the blank with whatever it is)…question the fear. If you are piling mountains of opportunities on your YS’s plate as if there were going to be an intellectual famine next year and they might go hungry if they don’t eat everything all at once…ask yourself whether that manic feast allows you and your YS to savor each new dish. If time is always an issue…remember how fast childhood flies. Parents might want to ask themselves some probing questions. Frequently, what bothers the child is bothering the parent in another form.
Sound familiar? Giving yourself a break is often giving your YS a break too. The stories we tell ourselves are the stories we pass on to our children.
If you want your YS to keep the joy in, allow room for that joy to set down roots, grow a few leaves, bask in the sun and flourish. Set parental parameters as to how much can be done at one time. It is easier to gradually add in new things than to have to pare down.
There were so many other types of pressure and stress discussed in the Seminar that it would be impossible to reduce them to a few valuable tips. I would like to refer you to the discussions on Pressure, Blame and Responsibility, Activities: How much is Enough and The Dreaded Remark for many tips and thoughtful observations from YS parents.
3. Parent-upmanship: That’s generally about the parents and their own anxieties, not the actual, individual, living, breathing, complex children involved. Don’t get sucked into this whirlpool.
4. Success: We and our children have the right to define success for ourselves. If you’re doing what is right for you, success has a way of taking care of itself. Have you ever met the person who got happy doing something that made them miserable all the time?
In our culture we see successful people celebrated at the pinnacle of their particular efforts. This is very misleading. We don't see the whole process and everything that went into it.
Winston Churchill said: "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts."
Can we, as parents, model the attitude that it is COOL to stick with something when its hard. That it takes COURAGE to continue? If we're accepting and open about our own ongoing successes, failures, and the courage it takes to persist -- not in an abstract, complaining, or preachy way, but just by talking about life as it happens – we’re modeling a way to deal with the fact that human fallibility is not a fault, it’s a part of the package.
5. Afraid to make a mistake? Your YS may feel he or she will be disgraced if they don’t know the answer, embarrassed to be wrong. The challenge is to separate one’s identity as “the smart one” from the mechanics of the learning process. Be patient! Look at your own words and behavior: Do you exclaim, “Oh, I’m so stupid….,” when you make tiny mistakes or forget something?
Here’s where stories that show how many of history’s greats have failed along the way, and the world is a better place for their fearless bungling – as Einstein said, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
One more quote from Winston Churchill: “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”
6. Have faith in yourself. Confidence backed up by preparation, resourcefulness and imagination is a pretty formidable thing.
7. Don’t be afraid of unscheduled time – that’s when paintings get painted, cookies get baked, walks get taken, poems get written, stars get gazed-at, inventions get invented, inspiration bubbles up!
8. Avoid “achievement-itis”: Life is not all about awards and activities and approval and always being “the best”. Really. It’s not. It’s up to parents to set the tone here, which takes some self examination and real honesty.
9. Take it easy: If you examine the word “recreation” you’ll find it means “refreshment of strength and spirit” – it doesn’t mean take on another sport and have soccer until seven on Tuesdays and Thursdays, ballet all afternoon on Saturday, baseball on Wednesday and Friday and schoolwork on top of that so that everyone is made miserable in the pursuit of “activities.” What goes in the emotional “necessity” column is at least as important as yet-another scheduled activity.
10. Expectations: Be reasonable! Reasonable expectations are pretty easy to spot. They should not shift under the child’s feet like the ever-changing sands of the Sahara. If you don’t know what’s expected of you, it’s awfully hard to meet expectations! If expectations are clear and rational, meeting them gives a nice sense of accomplishment and belonging. Doing your part actually feels good.
11. Our thoughts are the colors that paint the way we interpret our experience. Reframe: Even the words you use without thinking can strongly shape your YSs perceptions. Instead of saying ‘problem’ say ‘challenge’. Try something new if you want a new result. Change the angle of the approach.
12. Take the pressure off by choosing your moment. Timing is everything. In the heat of an argument, nobody really listens. At a time when nothing is at stake, a little humor, a chat without criticism embedded in the content, a lot of genuine listening to what your YS is trying to tell you about his or her feelings really do make a difference.
13. The Parent’s golden rule: Don’t do unto your YS what you would not want done unto you.
Keeping the Joy in and the Pressure, if not out, than to a reasonable level, is a lifelong challenge. But the results speak for themselves. You’re helping your YS to learn skills that will see them through good times and bad and, in the process, you may give yourself the same gift.
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.
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