Potential: Winged Possibilities to Dreams Realized!
This article describes how to observe, reflect, and respond to hidden potential in children.
As parents, how many times have we heard, "Tracy is not working to her full potential," or "Robert is capable of much more"? Many of us have encountered these words on school report cards, during teacher conferences, from athletic coaches, piano teachers, or from family members. What is potential?
What unleashes potential? As we examine these questions, we explore strategies and ideas for freeing the power within our children to discover their interests and to develop their strengths so that their dreams may be realized.
The dictionary defines potential as "power; existing in possibility; capable of development into actuality." Potential may be an internal passion; it may be determined by circumstances and opportunities; or it may be a combination all of these ideas.
Think about this story. A pineapple producer harvests pineapples before they are fully-grown. This is done because the pineapples must fit inside the cans used for packaging. The pineapples, however, have the potential of growing to be much larger and possibly much sweeter. All they need is the opportunity to grow. These pineapples could be so much more. Their potential is not freed, possibilities are not known, and development is limited.
What can we learn from the pineapple story? Children too, need opportunities for growth. There isn't a one-size-fits-all approach. How do we know that we are parenting in a way that fosters the development of what is possible in out children?
Children give us dues that help us recognize their potential. As parents, we need to open our eyes to the everyday actions of our children. Parents can help their children find the power within themselves by using the process we call Observe, Reflect, and Respond (ORR). ORR is a model for parents to think about and act on their children's behaviors. Observing and reflecting on behaviors in each of the following categories of characteristics can alert us to the presence of potential. Once the behaviorsare recognized, our responses may help that potential become performance.
When observing and reflecting about our children, it is helpful to begin by understanding what each of following categories of characteristics means in order to organize our thinking.
"Within every child's brain is a mind teeming with ideas and dreams and abilities unrealized. The greatest thing we can do - as parents, teachers and friends - is to nourish that potential, both intellectual and humanitarian, so that each mind can fulfill its promise to the benefit of mankind."
Dr. Ben Carson
Thinking is the process of logical reasoning. It is the act or process of knowing. Children often let us know what they are thinking about. They may tell us in words and show us through their actions and behaviors.
Responsibility occurs when people are able to answer for their conduct or follow-through on an agreement to do something. Children often show us through their actions that they can start and finish a task or that they understand responsible behavior.
Work into Parts is the ability to know the steps to follow in order to complete an assigned piece of work. Your child may demonstrate that he or she has an understanding of how to complete tasks successfully.
Creative Ability is a person's command of imagery and the ability to be inventive. Children share their crea.tions of the mind in a variety of ways, including artistic, musical, poetic, literary, and spatial expression.
Appreciation of Beauty is an individual's response to a thing that gives pleasure to the senses. Children can let us know verbally, non-verbally, and artistically that they recognize beautiful things.
Interactions with Others can be defined as the cooperative and interdependent relationships of an individual with the members of a group. Children can be observed as they engage in activities with others.
The following charts offer specific examples of each of these six categories. Column one describes a specific observable behavior you could make about your child; column two lists questions that you can ask yourself during reflection time; and column three offers possible responses that may unleash the potential observed in your child. These are some examples designed as jumping off places for your individualized responses. Mentors, coaches, family, friends, and others can also use the ORR (observe, reflect, respond) process. Once you modle and teach the process, children themselves can observe, reflect, and do their own activities.
There are times when we observe behaviors in our children that we do not think are constructive. For example, a teacher may say that a child always has a smart remark and acts like the class clown. The challenge becomes, first, one of reflecting on the behavior and then channeling our response in order to influence the behavior so that it is more constructive and positive. For example, in this situation the reflective questions may include:
Responses may include ways to validate the child's sense of humor but work on strategies to help the child use humor appropriately. Some possibilities are: ask my child to share funny anecdotes with the family; ask my child to write stand-up comedy routines and perform them for the family; enroll my child in a drama class; and/or explore school or community comedy clubs designed for students. When interviewed, many professional comedians have told of how, as youngsters, their class clown behaviors were turned around by finding public outlets for their talent through the guidance of parents, teachers, or other significant individuals. Their potential was nurtured and realized.
Social, emotional, and sensory experiences shape the brain in the early years more than information does. Our culture shapes us in the early years, too. That occurs when the brain has the most capacity to organize itself, taking advantage of all the neurons to lay the framework in language, music, math, and art. The cells do not engage if there aren't opportunities, and without opportunities, the possible connections are never made.
Potential can be unleashed in different ways including recognizing opportunities, identifying requisite skills, and working in a positive climate. Our role, as parents, is to offer guidance and direction to our children so they will develop their talents and realize their gifts. Using the ORR (Observe, Reflect, and Respond) process can provide specific ideas that give inspiration, stimulation, and affirmation to our children.
What inspires a child to want to try something new, practice a skill, and be persistent? A writer, athlete, inventor, artist, parent, or teacher may provide inspiration to our children. Other external sources of inspiration may include the drive for success, rewards, fame, and money. It is the response parents can give that may inspire a child to do better, try something new, learn from mistakes, or help others.
In one focus group with children, several9-13-year-old boys were asked, "What inspires you?" Surprisingly, their responses reflected an internal inspiration--one that comes from inside. "When I do well at something, it inspires me to do better," "If! play soccer well, I want to play it more." This internal inspiration can also motivate and challenge a child's views.
Two other aspeCts of freeing potential are stimulation and affirmation. Many children need to be jumpstarted to begin a task or pursue an interest. A positive statement or encouragement from a peer, parent, or instructor can contribute to unleashing their potential. The reinforcement takes place through our words and our actions. This support acts as an affirmation for the child. Affirmation builds confidence, and confidence frees children to become risk-takers.
Transferring and applying the response component of the process to a variety of situations outside of the home is another important step. School is a great place to explore possibilities. Teachers benefit from knowing a child's interests and strengths. Children and parents are encouraged to share this information with their teachers to help teachers make more effective and respectful responses to their students.
Parent/teacher conferences are opportunities for the participants to learn from one another. Prepare for a conference by observing your child in the six categories and answer the following questions from your perspective. Then when you discuss them, you and your child's teacher will become partners in unleashing your child's potential.
Breaking Work into Parts (Task Analysis):
Creative Ability (Imagination):
Appreciation of Beauty (Aesthetics):
Interactions with Others (Social Ability):
Our observations, reflections, and responses to our children's behaviors give us insights we can use. Talk to your child about his/her strengths. Role-play with your child how to appropriately share personal interests and strengths with others. In this way, parents can help their child become a self-advocate. For example, a child who has musical talent and ability may approach the teacher and ask if it would be possible to write and perform a song as an alternative project in social studies. In a math class, a child may become a risk-taker during a discussion and share an alternative way of solving a particular problem.
The school setting is not the only place outside of the home where a child's potential can be freed. Parents and children can transfer advocacy skills and opportunities to any venue, including athletics, community activities, the arts, or family outings and get-togethers. The world, then, becomes the place for a child's ideas, dreams, and abilities to become realized. Remember the pineapples!
"What is potential? It is having persistence, not giving up, courage, and if you have any of these qualities, well, then, you have potential in case you were wondering if you have it or not. If you look deep inside yourself, you will find potential ... to work with something until it's finished. How do you tap potential? You need a good reason. You need to want to do something. Make it fun and interesting. Maybe a friend to encourage or help you. You need a reward, like an "A" to keep you going. Knowing you've accomplished something equals a spin in your wheely chair."
Maire Claire Diemer (9 years old)
Resources For Children Ages 3-8
Resources for Adults
Linda Barnes-Robinson is an Instructional Specialist in the Gifted and Ialented Office, Montgomery County Public Schools, Rockville, MD.
Sue Jeweler, a writer and retired 30-year veteran teacher, is a part-time professional for Montgomery County Public Schools in Rockville, MD.
Mary Cay Ricci is an Instructional Specialist in the Gifted and Ialented Office, Montgomery County Public Schools, Rockville, MD.
Copyright material from Parenting for High Potential, a publication of the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC). Reprinted with permission. Further reprints require permission of NAGC.
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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