Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D.
Richard loved to tinker with mechanical devices. As a six-year-old, he took apart an alarm clock. At nine, he helped his dad fix the lawnmower. In high school, he spent hours tearing apart and rebuilding stereo equipment. Now, as a young adult, he’s a sound technician for a professional theater company. Richard’s parents encouraged his interests at an early age, which helped him become a successful adult. However, Richard was never labeled as “gifted.” In fact, he had trouble with math in school.
The definition of “the gifted child” has traditionally been based on school-related skills and limited to the upper five to ten percent of children who achieve high test scores, write well, and excel academically. These are certainly important, but there may be hundreds of other ways for children to show their gifts. “Today’s intelligence researchers emphasize that nearly all children—not just the celebrated five percent—have special talents,” says David G. Myers, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. Studies at Harvard University bear this out, suggesting that kids can display intelligence in many different ways—through words, numbers, music, pictures, athletic or “hands-on” abilities, and social or emotional development.
As an anonymous observer once said: “All children are gifted, some just open their packages later than others.” You can play a crucial role in awakening latent talents or developing current strengths through experiences you give your child at home. Here are 50 ways for you to bring out your child’s best, regardless of how his gifts are packaged:
1. Let your child discover her own interests. Pay attention to the activities she chooses. This free-time play can say a lot about where her gifts lie.
2. Expose your child to a broad spectrum of experiences. This may activate latent talents. Don’t assume that he isn’t gifted in an area just because he hasn’t shown an interest.
3. Give your child permission to make mistakes. If she has to do things perfectly, she’ll never take the risks necessary to discover and develop a gift.
4. Ask questions. Help your child open up to the wonders of the world by asking intriguing questions: Why is the sky blue? Find the answers together.
5. Plan special family projects. Shared creativity can awaken and develop new talents.
6. Don’t pressure your child to learn. If children are sent to special lessons every day in the hope of developing their gifts, they may become too stressed or exhausted to shine. Encourage, but don’t push.
7. Have high expectations. But make them realistic.
8. Share your work life. Expose your child to images of success by taking him to work. Let him see you engaged in meaningful activities and allow him to become involved.
9. Provide a sensory-rich environment. Have materials around the home that will stimulate the senses: finger paints, percussion instruments, puppets, etc.
10. Keep your own passion for learning alive. Your child will be influenced by your example.
11. Don’t limit your child with labels. They may saddle her with a reputation that doesn’t match her inner gifts.
12. Play games together as a family.
13. Have a regular family time for reading, listening to music, talking, etc.
14. Have reference materials available to give your child access to the world.
15. Allow your child to participate in community activities that interest her.
16. Use humor, jokes, and [funny] stories to encourage creativity.
17. Don’t criticize or judge the things your child does. He may give up on his talents if he feels evaluated.
18. Play with your child to show your own sense of playfulness.
19. Share your successes as a family. Talk about good things that happened during the day to enhance self-esteem.
20. Provide your child with access to a home, school, or public library computer. (It’s important to provide supervision for any children going online, so that they don’t end up browsing the wrong sites.)
21. Listen to your child. The things he cares about most may provide clues to his special talents.
22. Give your child a special space at home to be creative.
23. Praise your child’s sense of responsibility at home when she completes assigned chores.
24. Visit new places as a family.
25. Give your child open-ended playthings. Toys like blocks and puppets encourage imaginative play.
26. Give your child unstructured time to [think] and wonder about things.
27. Share inspirational stories of people who succeeded in life.
28. Don’t bribe your child with rewards. To constantly use incentives to get children to perform sends a message that learning is not rewarding in its own right.
29. Suggest that your child join peer groups that focus on her gifts.
30. Discuss the news to spark interests.
31. Discourage gender bias. Expose your child to both feminine and masculine toys and activities.
32. Avoid comparing your child to others. Help your child compare himself to his own past performance.
33. Be an authoritative parent.
34. Use community events and institutions to activate interests. Take trips to the library, museums, concerts, plays.
35. Give presents that nourish your child’s strengths.
36. Encourage your child to think about her future. Support her visions without directing her into any specific field.
37. Introduce your child to interesting and capable people.
38. Think of your home as a learning place. The kitchen is great for teaching math and science through cooking.
39. Share feelings. A child’s gifts can be stifled by repressed emotions.
40. Encourage your child to read.
41. Honor your child’s creations.
42. Do things with your child in his areas of interest.
43. Teach your child to trust her intuition and believe in her capabilities.
44. Give your child choices. It builds willpower and fuels initiative.
45. Show your child how to use books to further an interest. For example, how-to books for the hands-on learner.
46. Set aside an area of the house for displaying creations and awards.
47. Encourage your child to tackle areas that are difficult for him. Help him learn to confront any limitations.
48. Be a liaison between your child’s special talents and the real world. Help her find outlets for her talents.
49. Introduce children’s literature that honors and develops gifts. Books like The Little Engine That Could encourage a “can do” attitude.
50. Accept your child as he or she is.