The Three Necessary Ingredients for Developing Your Child’s Potential

With February being “Sow The Seeds of Greatness Month”, I thought I’d talk a bit about how to help your child reach his or her potential.  If you know anything at all about me or the rest of the staff here, you know that we believe in the potential of children—all children. While we all live in a culture that defines us by what we can’t do, we believe that we should be defined by what we can do.

All children have unique talents. All children have the potential to do something great. Sometimes it can be hard to imagine that, but that does not mean that it is wrong. I often think of Stephen Hawking when I think about this. He has one of the greatest minds in physics, yet he cannot speak, he cannot write, he cannot move. While the motor neuron disease did not steal these abilities until after he became an adult, it does not change that there was a time in the recent past in which society would have made the mistake of casting him aside.

Obviously I have no idea what it is like to live with a Motor Neuron Disease such as the one Stephen has. Nor do I know what it is like to live with one of the countless different afflictions that would steal away my ability, or the ability of someone I love, to seem like everyone else. What I do know is that most of us get held back by obstacles that are much smaller than that. I also know that sometime in the future, many things that seem impossible today will be possible because someone believed they could overcome the obstacle. That is why it is so important to never lose faith in potential. Don’t let yourself, or anyone you love, be defined by what they can’t do.

It is also important to remember that you don’t have to be famous to do something great. Greatness is unique to the individual. A great contribution will be different for everyone. However, there is something these contributions will have in common. They will come from the individual’s unique talents combined with a passion to use them. While those talents and passions may seem small now, they are the seeds of greatness.

So the first two things you need to do are:

  1. Recognize what your child can do
  2. Believe in your child’s potential

The third thing you must do is to help them develop their passion. This is what will spark their internal drive to develop their talents.

If I could have only one wish for my children it would be that they spend their lives following their passions. I don’t care what their profession is, as long as it is something that fills them with so much passion that they can’t help but keep doing it. The sense of purpose and fulfillment that comes with following your passion makes a big impact on a person’s life even in areas outside their career.

Finding out where your talents lie, and how you feel most moved to use them, is key to developing confidence and feeling comfortable in your own skin. This can be especially important for children who aren’t quite sure where they fit socially, and have trouble molding to fit the expectations of those around them. For a child, having a passion to pursue something in spite of the issues they may be facing in life can be a source of comfort. It can also be a means of connecting to others who share similar challenges and abilities.

With this in mind, we have two important questions to explore:

  1. What is it that keeps so many people from exploring their passion?
  2. How can you help your child avoid the same fate?

Studies show that today’s children are unhappier than ever, stuck performing tasks they hate and do not see as having any purpose. One could argue that people end up doing things they hate because they have to, but that still does not answer the question of why they have to.  The reason people have to do things they hate is because they failed to follow their passion. They failed to follow their passion for the same reasons they lost their creativity—fear, lack of opportunity and distraction.

It is impossible to talk about this without mentioning the increasing standardization in our school systems. Standardization kills creativity and individualism. It is true that there are some skills and some cultural beliefs that everyone needs to get by in our society; however, we live in a time with substantial and diverse problems. Those problems will not get solved by a “standardized” population of people that know the same things and think the same way. These problems will get solved by people who think differently; people who look at the same problem and see something different than everyone else sees. (That is the essence of creativity by the way—being able to see and do things differently.)

Being that the trend toward educational standardization is gaining steam, it is up to parents to help their children avoid falling into the standardization trap. It is up to parents to help their children find and follow their passions.  So how do you do that?

The first thing to do is to take a step back and spend some time thinking about your child’s life.  Think back to when he was a baby, a toddler and up to now. Outside of television and video games, what are the things the things that have really captured his attention?  Now what are the things that your child has a natural talent for?  Within those answers you will find clues to your child’s passion and the seeds to his future. To help those seeds grow you have to give your child the opportunity. Don’t pack his schedule with extracurricular activities. Make sure he has time away from gadgets, people, homework and other distractions. The reason you are doing this is to make sure he spends time letting his mind wander. As he does this he will find creative ways to entertain himself. By doing that, he will tap into his core personality and passion.

When he does this, feed his passion. Buy the supplies he needs to do it. Help him learn how to find the resources he needs to follow his passion. Stay out of his way and don’t go crazy. If he leaves a mess, leave it out so he will be enticed to come back to it. Don’t worry if you can’t imagine how he’ll ever make a living doing it and don’t worry if he bounces around a bit. Just let his mind go where it needs to go. Think of yourself as a guide, but keep in mind that while you may be able to see and understand some things that your child cannot, you are both discovering who he really is and what he is really passionate about.

As long as your child is true to himself, one day all of these different things will come together in a unique way. He may not be rich. He may not be famous. But if he follows his passion he will make an impact, and he will be happy. What is more important that that?

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Jason Marrs

Jason Marrs is the Director of Research and Awareness for the Where I Can Be Me® social skills program. Read More