© Svetlana Larina | Dreamstime.com
As much we want our kids to be absolute aces at the activities they attempt, the reality is no one can be top dog at everything. Similarly, no single child can fill all the roles in a family. True excellence, at anything, is darn tough to achieve.
Praise Effort Over Outcome
Your kid is one smart cookie. But before you start filling out Ivy League applications while she’s still in diapers, let us remind you: human beings are smart; especially in the very early years of life when the brain is thundering with activity. Young children constantly watch, listen, and respond to what is happening around them. They often even amaze us with their wise observations.
As parents, we need to provide support for our children’s interests, but not be false in our praise. When your daughter graduates from high school, she likely won’t be the valedictorian and captain of the soccer team, lead in the spring musical, and editor of the school paper. But with effort, she might hone some of those talents, which may have an impact on the life path she takes.
Praise your children for the effort they put into their true interests. By guiding them to new experiences and activities, they can sample life’s offerings until they find those roles that fit. When they discover a skill they show both an interest in and aptitude for, let them know you’ve noticed. Remind them they aren’t doing it well because of some natural awesomeness they were born with, but because they enjoy it enough to give it their full attention, keeping at it until they get it right.
The Best at Everything
When your child sees a violinist performing, she finds a pair of objects to simulate a fiddle and bow, and mimics the movements of the musician. It’s cute, but also gets the parent thinking about aptitude and inherent talent. This kind of pretend play can be a useful cue to parents that it’s time to find an instructor and begin lessons. Perhaps you’re dealing with a philharmonic first chair in development, but chances are your child is beginning a phase in which they will learn some music theory, perform a few recitals, and potentially take their playing into middle or high school.
And that’s commendable. Learning music, like gaining a language or mastering a sport, is good brain food. It enables your child to see and think about ideas in new ways. It shows them that achievement is directly related to practice, especially when you’re there congratulating her on how well she sticks to practice, and how she’s steadily improved over the years.
At home, similar rules apply. A younger sibling might aspire to be the family swimming champ, just like her brother, but just can’t master the butterfly stroke. The instinct is often to praise her, and tell her she’s almost there. Instead, it might benefit her to be reminded of other things she does well. Maybe she’s the family caretaker, always comforting those in need, or the family chef who makes a great egg salad. Taking cues from our children is key. When they find an interest, help them apply themselves to developing a skill and encourage their perseverance. Let them know they don’t have to be the best at everything to be happy, but they must put in the work to excel at what they love.