If you’re like most parents, then I bet you think you’re doing everything you can to help your child be successful.
Okay, maybe not everything you should be doing – but a lot.
Between the music lessons, art therapy, private tutors, hyperbaric therapy and special gluten/casein-free diet, there isn’t much more you could fit in – or so you imagine.
But what if I told you about the one thing you might be doing that actually increases your child’s chances of failure?
Success isn’t about having the best teachers or being the smartest kid in the class.
Maybe you think your child is guaranteed to be a success if you follow the magic formula: the most demanding curriculum, taught by the best teachers, at the best schools. Followed up of course, by the latest in educational software and extracurricular “enrichment.”
When it comes to recognizing intelligence as more than doing well in school, well - we’ve come a long way baby.
No longer is the kid who sits in the front of the class answering all the questions considered the smartest in the bunch.
At last, Howard Gardner and his theory of multiple intelligences has finally penetrated the masses. Teachers now know that the world’s future dancers, artists, architects – even politicians- are just as smart as the teacher’s pet.
If that’s so, then why do we find so few children that are highly creative?
Maybe it’s because we parents are engaging in some bad habits that literally crush our children’s creativity, almost from the moment they are born. If we want our children to truly be creative-even the therapists, landscapers, and animal whisperers-then here are 8 habits that we need to avoid like the plague:
Creating and evaluating at the same time.
You can’t build a bike and ride it at the same time. They’re two completely different activities. Likewise, creating and evaluating are activities that take place literally on opposite sides of the brain. So whether your child is in the process of creating a new dance move or a new recipe, save the critique for later.
In the same vein, you can encourage your child not to worry about what other people will think while they are in the throes of inspiration. Reassure them that there will be plenty of time to check out their work when they are ready.
The expert syndrome.
So your child has thought of something that goes against all the rules? Get over it. Throughout history some of our greatest inventors have bucked the norm, and in doing so, given the world some of our most important discoveries.
Let your child work it out on his own, and if his theory doesn’t work out, he’ll find out soon enough.
Fear of failure.
There’s really no way around it: at first, you’ll suck. There’s no question about it because everyone when they first start out sucks. Mozart, Picasso, John Steinbeck: everyone starts out a long ways away from where they end up.
So help your child get over the idea of not succeeding every time. Hold a red-letter failure party, if you have too. Just make sure they understand that failure is crucial to success. Not only does it force your child to reconsider the problem from a different (possibly better) angle, but without failure there would be no success.
Fear of ambiguity.
Most people like to remain in the comfort zone. They naturally shy away from anything that is unfamiliar, or doesn’t make sense. Sometimes, though, the act of creation involves quite a mess: think of finger paint, for example, a product that many mothers wish were illegal.
However, in order for your child to create, he (and you) need to learn how to tolerate a little mess and confusion. Order out of chaos, construction out of destruction; sometimes the process is more important than the product. So get out those aprons, and let the games begin.
Lack of confidence.
In children, lack of confidence is often tied to a need for perfection. I remember my daughter as a young child, refusing to draw pictures of people. I began to worry if maybe there was some deep psychological reason for this, and so I dug out a picture of a child’s drawing to show her.
I was floored when she looked at the stick figure and literally laughed out loud. “Mommy, that doesn’t look ANYTHING like a real person!” she stated, indignant. “That’s a ridiculous picture.”
Occasionally lack of confidence in children may also be due to a need for approval. Some children fear rocking the boat, lest they be asked to dock at the next shore. Reassure them it’s okay to make mistakes, and make sure they know you love them because of who they are-not for what they produce.
Discouragement from other people.
Okay, it’s true: sometimes other people can be real downers. Whether they intend to or not, some people have a tendency to pick on the negative and ignore the positive.
Be your child’s rock: help her weather the storm of people who feel threatened by your child’s willingness to tackle the unknown. If necessary, keep things under wrap until you have to.
If your child does end up hearing a bit of negative sludge from the black hole society, help them write a list of all the good things about their creation. Then take an ad out in the New York Times Sunday paper. Well, maybe putting it on the fridge is good enough.
Being trapped by false limits.
I once spoke to a friend who was has a disabled child. Searching for a diagnosis, she noticed that every professional gave a diagnosis consistent with their specialty.
Sometimes we can only see what we are used to seeing. It takes a lot of effort to break out of the mold and do a little bit of “lateral thinking,” but with practice, it can be done. You can help your child think out of the box by encouraging them to imagine they are someone else. Make up a name, a city where they live, and a fake history. Then help them to put themselves in that person’s shoes through role-play.
Next, present a particular problem or issue, and guide them in imagining how their character would respond. Not only will your child learn how to step out of their self-made corrals, but they will also gain a valuable interpersonal skill.
Feeling overwhelmed because you have a few of these bad habits? Don’t sweat it. Try tackle a new problem each week, rotating back to the first one after the last habit.
After all, you never know if your child is the next Columbus, Einstein, or Ignaz Semmelweis.
It's easy to forget what true success is when faced with the daily trials of parenting. It's helpful to take a step back from time to time in order to consider what success is, and how we can help our children get there. Here are the top 5 ways you can help your child succeed in life:
1. Help her develop a hobby. In the days of computer games and internet connectivity, hobbies may seem outdated. However, having a hobby is useful for several reasons.
One, a child can become the "expert" in whatever they choose. This can be a real boost to self-esteem, especially for a child who might have challenges in other areas. Second, by constantly rearranging, adding to, and exploring her area of interest, she is practicing the fundamental habits of scientific investigation.
2. Let him make mistakes. Often parents find it difficult to stand by and let their children suffer the pain and disappointment mistakes bring. In reality, mistakes are simply learning opportunities. Teach your child to look at mistakes as a chance to find out "the right way to do things."
True, they can sometimes be embarrassing, humiliating, or worse, but they also give us a chance to grow and be a better person than we were. Better yet, you can model the correct behavior when you find yourself in the midst of a mistake. Instead of self-accusations, blaming, or predicting doom, you can explain to your child that you made a mistake. Your child can then listen as you work out a solution to the problem out aloud.
3. Help your child perform an act of kindness for others on a regular basis. Helping others is a sure way of teaching your child to give back in return for all that he has been given. Teach your child to recognize all the good that he has- and everyone has at least one good thing in their lives-allowing him to take the focus off of what he is entitled to.
Doing so will make him feel more powerful, and he will start to realize how he is able to change the world around him for the better. And by the way, acts of kindness should be anything but random. Randomness implies you are doing it "just because," and not for any specific reason; it denigrates that act to a whim or a fancy. Performing acts of kindness is not about you feeling good enough to help another person: it is about helping another person because they need it.
4. Celebrate small successes. There is no such thing as instant success. We may hear about someone seemingly "making it big" overnight, but of course that's because the TV cameras don't record all the hours that person spent working hard to get where they are now.
Explain to your child that they are like soldiers on a battlefield. Soldiers don't try and capture the whole country at once; instead they focus on conquering one section at a time. This is what a "battlefront" is. Show pride in the fact that your child has managed to win a little bit of the battle, and express your confidence in him being able to conquer the next step.
Sometimes you get to the point where you are sick and tired of rescuing your kid from disaster.
It’s not like you don’t care. You do. But eventually you start to wonder if maybe your son isn't doomed for life if you don't stay up until 2 am to finish that (very, very overdue) science paper.
Or maybe, just maybe, your 13 year old daughter won’t melt into a puddle of steaming goo if you let her take the bus after she refuses to get out of bed on time – for the third time this week.
Somewhere in the deep recesses of your brain (the one that used to function a lot faster way back when) you know it’s not the greatest way to teach your kids responsibility, independence, or any of those other high-falutin’ ideas you used to trumpet when the kids were still cute little balls of fat that spit up on you occasionally.
But somehow watching your kids fail feels like getting a test back full of red x’s.
Hi! I’m a parent of 8 children, 3 of whom have learning disabilities. I have over 20 years experience working with kids and adults of all ages. My specialty is disabilities on the autistic spectrum, and language delays.