No two kids have the same developmental journey, and so figuring out what you need to do as a parent to ensure your child reaches their true potential can often feel like an impossible task.
Especially if your child is not the blue ribbon winning, physically attractive child. And those children themselves often see other children getting much more praise.
There is no one developmental path for a Child! The trick for a parent is to figure out your child from the inside out, instead of assuming you know about their insides based on what they do on the outside.
There is a wide spectrum of children out there, with the following two on the ends of the spectrum:
Single minded Focuser: Child develops passion very early in their life, and they stick with it for their whole childhood. They often get the most attention and praise from the family.
“Jack of all trades but Master of None”: Child appears to be wandering around and switching activities, sampling many, but never latching on. I call these kids the experimental scientists.
This second group is especially frustrating: For some kids (especially gifted [i.e., often easily bored], introverted, or more cerebral or “nerdy” kids) their passion is not so much becoming an expert in one thing as developing an ability to be very good at many things. But then they get bored.
They often seem to pale in comparison to more extroverted children who excel at a certain sport or activity and are winning the trophies and blue ribbons. It is especially difficult to have a child who is not the one winning the trophies and blue ribbons, because what can we brag about if our kid is not winning at the local science fair?
Who doesn’t want a kid who is playing at national tennis tournaments? Let’s face it; the kids who are more passionately engaged in activities seem like the ones who will be the GREAT ADULTS.
The Big Mistakes Parents are Making
There is no doubt that a child having a passion CAN develop character and eases the transition into adulthood. But the mistake I see parents making is assuming that if a child does not have a clear passion that they are trying to master, that means that child is defective or not going to be a successful adult. In saying this, it can be especially difficult to parent a child who is quieter or more introverted.
After over 15 years of working with the full spectrum of the lowest functioning to the highest functioning children, parents, athletes, executives, pilots, and military, I want to pass along a little secret: your child’s ability to become a great adult is not dependent on them finding a clear passion before they enter high school.
For example: Some children, including those that are more introverted and/or academically driven, may feel they are investing such large amounts of energy in their daily curriculum that in their off time they wish to decompress. What that translates into is not feeling the need to also be the star soccer player. These are especially difficult children to parent as it is difficult to not try and fulfill our own egoistic needs through our children.
For introverted kids, it can take a lot more energy simply to get through a school day, because they are not wired to want to interact as much as the highly extroverted child.
With these children, the parental challenge is to cultivate them by finding out what activities energize them even if they are activities that we as parents do not enjoy.
The key is to not try and have your child live the life you want for them, but help them discover the life they are meant to live.
Let’s look at two situations: a child who goes to a less challenging school but excels at sports, versus the child who goes to a much more challenging academic environment and is more introverted, maybe even “nerdy”. When they play sports they just do it for the enjoyment of it, or they may not play sports at all.
Which kid is more likely to be successful? Place your bets….
Neither kid is necessarily going to be more successful than the other, in whatever way you define success.
A lot of kids who excel in sports in their childhood burnout, not just in the sport, but in life. Equally true, a lot of kids who go to academically rigorous schools burnout academically, because they were pushed too hard.
The trick is to ensure you help the kid who wins the blue ribbons is going to become a blue ribbon adult, and focus on the functional skill set that you as a parent need to be focusing on developing with your child, aside from any passions that may or may not be there:
— development of a CORE SET OF COGNITIVE SKILLS including analytical and abstract reasoning
— development of RESILIENCE; the ability to bounce back from even catastrophic situations and learn from them
— development of EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE (what is being called “EQ”), which includes the ability to have “social grease”, and navigate diverse social situations. For introverted children it is teaching them to use their ability to have “quiet power”, that is, subtle influence as they use their abilities to listen and say little but when they talk, be heard.
— development of 360° PERSONAL INSIGHT: The ability to honor one’s own towering strengths as well as to look into one’s own closet of skeletons, and in a non-defensive way address our personality thorns. Secondly, the ability to know how to use one’s own strengths to fill in your skill gaps.
— development of TRUE GRIT: not just having the ability to bounce back from things, but to persevere even in difficult times and give your very best
— development of SUSTAINABLE SELF ESTEEM, where the child loves (but is not in love with) themselves for who they really are and is not afraid to be who they really are, even in the face of peer bullying or peer pressure.
— understanding of what it means to feel DEEPLY CONNECTED to another, which teaches the child what it means to have emotional intimacy.
— development of a CLEAR UNDERSTANDING OF HOW HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS FUNCTION. This is one of the most absent skills in the world of children today.
Technology has decimated the social intelligence of our youth. The best way to teach your children how healthy relationships function is to have a healthy relationship with your spouse or partner. The best way to teach your children about this is to actually be in a healthy relationship. Talk is cheap, put your money where your mouth is.
If there are any significant issues getting in the way of the parenting relationship, consult a professional. It is often said that you can tell someone’s values by where they put their money. How much money are you willing to spend on having the kind of relationship with your partner (or friends or child) that you want your child to have with their partners?
And above all, realize that as humans we learn the most by watching others. Your children learn the most not from what you say but from what you do.
So ask yourself this: If your child chose to have the exact kind of relationship you have right now, with someone else, would that give you a lifelong sense of fulfillment, or would you feel like they could do better?
Your answers to these questions should dictate your next steps.