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Encouraging Heroes. You can be one too.

(Editor’s note: please welcome Susan’s post on how to parent exceptional children. Thanks Susan!)

Parents with talented children seem to fall into two very distinct categories. They turn into Godzilla, push their children far too hard, and end up the subject of a tell-all book and/or miniseries years later. Or they swing the other way, wildly, seemingly taking no interest in their children’s artistic development, and being largely unsupportive of their child’s innate gifts. Neither way is particularly healthy for the formation and growth of a young person. There is a happy medium, but it requires an action all parents secretly dread, relinquishing some control of your child, for it to be successful.

Recognizing Your Child’s Gifts

Everyone believes that their children are the best. They do. It is part and parcel of being a parent. It is more difficult to recognize when your pride in your child’s abilities might actually be completely on the mark. All children tend to find some artistic outlet that they enjoy quite early. Whether they are humming songs in their crib, writing haiku in kindergarten, painting surprisingly lifelike flowers in second grade with their water color set, or rocking out to old Jackson 5 tunes in the living room, children naturally gravitate towards one art form or another.

As a parent, your job is to watch and listen. Sit back on the reclining couch and enjoy their act of discovery. If you are lucky, your child will ask you for further participation in their chosen art. More likely, you will need to look for signs, such as a child that dances around the room whenever music is played, or a child that will happily focus on sculpting with ‘Play-doh’ for hours on end.

Fostering their Talent

Being artistically gifted is actually a combination of two factors – a strong affinity for a particular art form, and then regular, appropriate exposure to that art form. Once you have recognized that your child shows some aptitude, and more importantly, interest, in a particular artistic discipline, ask around your community for a well-respected teacher who is good with children. The latter part of that sentence is very important.

Going straight to the piano teacher who coaches the college students at the nearby conservatory is a recipe for disaster, unless the teacher is also known for their ability to successfully coach children. Children learn differently than adults, and the level of intensity with which they should begin their training, in any art, must be carefully modulated. The last thing you want to do is work your child so hard and with such fervor, that they end up hating an aspect of themselves that they were born loving. If your child loves to dance, enroll them in one dance class, not every class on the schedule. If they want to take more class, they will ask. Your only role in your child’s early artistic development should be to “dangle a carrot”. If they want to take a bite, your child will walk forward, and happily reach for what you are offering.

Knowing When to Back Off

Knowing when to ease back on your child’s focus on an art form is incredibly difficult. Backing off can become necessary for a number of reasons. Maybe your child has reached an age where they want to focus on something else. Let them, but keep exposing them to their original interest. Chances are, they will return to it someday, recreationally or professionally. Maybe their pursuit of a particular art form is jeopardizing other aspects of their lives. This situation is particularly difficult. If your child’s grades are failing because of their focus on their art form, either adjust their schedule, or find a school system or institution that allows them to focus on both arts and academics equally. If their chosen art form is doing damage to their self-image, then it may be time to look for a new teacher, or take a break all together.

Let Them Be Themselves

All children are gifted at something. Whether it is ballet, paper folding, or catching frogs one-handed, everyone is born with an ability at which they excel. Helping your child find their inherent abilities can be a truly joyful experience for all involved. Remember, the joy comes from the act of discovery. So let go, and watch your child blossom.

Susan is a mother of two and works as an amateur designer when she isn’t writing. She’s provided this concise guide to raising gifted kids on behalf of her favorite sofa sales company.

Earnest Parenting: advice for parents of exceptional children.