Talent comes in many forms, but it may need to be drawn out for it to truly shine. You can increase your child’s chances of developing a special talent by understanding that true greatness isn’t born, it’s grown. A person can have a knack for performing certain skills, but developing that knack into an extraordinary talent requires a blend of practice, motivation and coaching. Here are some things you can to do tap into and nurture your child’s natural gifts.
Know it when you see it
Before a parent can nurture talent, the parent needs to identify where that talent lies. Children may not be aware of their own talents, but most are drawn instinctively to pursue something they’re naturally really good at. Be observant. Follow their lead. Pay attention to what your child stares at. Being fascinated by something means there’s a good chance the child is developing the mental and neural acuity to be highly skilled at it.
Create opportunities for talent to be displayed
For talent to flourish, it needs openings through which it can develop. Creating opportunities for skills to take root early in life allows children to develop that skill during their formative years. You might not know a child has a flair for percussion until you provide the stimulus. If banging on a set of drums makes your child light-up, you may have succeeded in unleashing potential that otherwise might never have been fully realized. By introducing a child who is athletically inclined to sports instructional videos you could be helping groom a future gold medalist.
Practice makes perfect
All practice is not created equal. Skill development accelerates when children learn to think hard about what they’re doing, making errors and correcting them as they go—a state called “deep practice.” Making mistakes means gaining information that can then be used as rocket fuel for learning. Developing the mindset that mistakes are stepping stones rather than setbacks, will give your child the best chance of eventually becoming highly accomplished.
Support without pushing
Most parents are “helicopter parents” to some degree. The key is to find the right altitude from which to hover. If you hover too low, you’re not giving your child room to grow; too high and you risk having them think you’re not interested in them. It might be more helpful to talk about attitude than altitude. If every issue is seen by your child as about you, you’re pushing, no matter how well-meaning. If they know it’s always about them, you’re nurturing. Pushing is adult-centered. Nurturing is child-centered. It’s best to provide support without pushing. Keep the focus on your child.
Praise for effort
Talented children often think they can skate through life without breaking a sweat. While things seem to come easily to them for now, that won’t always be the case. Eventually they will encounter others who have natural abilities equal to their own. When that happens, the difference maker is how hard they’re willing to work to continue to get better.
Seeing aspirational people ply their craft, then mimicking what they see, is good practice for children with gifts. Encourage them to imagine themselves hitting the perfect note, solving the unsolvable in math and physics, or making a theretofore physically impossible play to clinch the World Series. Imagining is the precedent to doing. Encouraging youngsters to visualize themselves being great at something is only a problem if they think that’s what you expect of them.
Give them a space they can own.
The kind of deep practice required to attain a high level of skill and achievement must ultimately come from within the child. not from the parent, no matter how well-meaning that parent may be. As they get older, children need to be allowed to make their own decisions about how best to further develop their skills. Giving them more decision-making responsibility over time can also help prevent burnout.