HERE—it's quite extensive!)
As a parent, I want my children to fly, too. I grew up in a household that encouraged talent development in a big way, and I owe my parents a great deal for being so supportive of all of my endeavors. Without their support (emotional and financial) there is no way I would have developed my own talents to the extent I have. They also taught me to continue developing my talents throughout my life, and that I can always learn new things and be whatever I want to be.
Naturally, I want to do the same for my own girls. Here are five things I try really hard to do as a parent, but in the process of writing this post, I am realizing that I have many improvements to make in this department!
1. Encourage them to read as much as possible
If your child is curious about something, don't just tell them about it or direct them to the internet. Go the library and check out books. Lots and lots of them! Make time for reading all kinds of books together when they are too young to read for themselves, and have all kinds of books on hand for them to pull off the shelves and read when they are older.
I love to buy books for my children. They always get at least one book for Christmas, it's a Valentine's Day tradition to get a new book, and I usually buy several new books for their summer reading bins. Reading broadens their horizons and teaches them new things and they won't even realize how much they are learning because reading is so much fun, too.
2. Give them lots of opportunities to try new thingsChildren don't always just naturally know what they are interested in or what they are good at. As a parent, it's your job to give them opportunities to find out. This can be done in many ways and doesn't have to involve a financial commitment.
Go play soccer in the park with your kids to find out if they like sports. Sing with them and watch movie musicals to find out if they love theatre and music. Have art supplies on hand so they can experiment. Let them help you in the kitchen and learn more about cooking. And if they do show an interest in something you hadn't thought about before, find ways to expose them to that thing further.
Take them to art museums to see great art. Take them to concerts to hear great music and see great theatre. Introduce them to great literature by either reading it to them or recommending they read it themselves. Or show them the great literature in movie form.
And if you can swing it financially, get your kids in music lessons, sports, and/or other similar activities. My girls are required to do music lessons, but they have also done art camps and clinics, sports, and other various activities that come up that they are interested in doing. It's often a sacrifice of both money and time, but the girls have grown so much that it has been worth every bit of trouble.
3. Say yes whenever possibleThis goes hand in hand with #2, but when your child does show an interest in something, say yes if you possibly can. There are understandable restraints (time, money, transportation, etc.), but many of them can often be overcome with creative thinking. Your kid wants to join the soccer team but you don't have enough money to pay the registration fees? Can you do a fundraiser with your child like selling baked goods to your neighbors? Did you ask Grandma & Grandpa? (My parents have paid for swim lessons, music lessons, and several other things when we haven't been able to swing it financially--I know I'm lucky, but it never hurts to ask!) Don't have the time? If your child wants it enough is she willing to cut out another activity? Can you have a friend help with transportation? We can always find a million reasons to say no in order to make our lives easier. But we miss out on so much opportunity and growth when we say no.
Last year, my girls all wanted to be in Fiddler on the Roof at the university. Inwardly, I groaned a little bit, because I knew it was going to make my life crazier than it already was. But I let them do it, and it was a once in a lifetime experience for them. I'm glad I made that sacrifice. This semester, Bria decided she wanted to join volleyball. Again, the inward groan. This semester is one of the craziest yet for me, and many of her practices and games conflicted with my own opera rehearsals. I did have to miss some of her games (and she had to miss one because of her orchestra concert), but we made it work. She had a wonderful experience and gained a lot of self-confidence (she hasn't tended to feel she's good at sports) and I'm glad I said yes. Now she's joined the track team, to which I say "good for her!"
Sometimes it's harder to say yes to the little things. I find myself really wanting to say "NO WAY!" when my kids want to do an art project or some sort of science experiment in the house. In fact, I actually do say "NO WAY" to these things way more often than I should. I'm mostly thinking about the mess that will ensue and how much I don't want to deal with it. But we should say yes to the little things, too.
A quote by one of my heroines, Marjorie Pay Hinckley, helps me to remember why we should say yes to our children as often as we can:
“My mother taught me some basic philosophies of rearing children. One is that you have to trust them. I tried hard never to say "no" if I could possibly say "yes". I think that worked well because it gave my children the feeling that I trusted them and they were responsible to do the best they could.”Don't you love that? Not only are we helping children to nurture their talents by saying yes to them, we are showing trust and giving them a sense of responsibility as well.
4. Allow them unsupervised play timeThis goes along with saying yes to the little things, but let them have some time every single day to just be free of chores, music practice, or whatever else we require our children to do. Requirements are a good and necessary thing, but so is free time. I am in awe of the things my children do in their free time. As I type this, Chloe is sitting at the table near me working on building a lamp for her American Girl Dolls out of Q-tips, cardboard, and a plastic Easter egg. It even looks just like the Pixar lamp! Isn't it cute?
One Saturday, Chloe came downstairs and asked if she could download a particular photo app onto the iPad. I didn't see any problem with it, so I got it for her, and she scampered off. A few hours later she emerged having made this:
I was absolutely floored. She has since made a few more stop-motion videos and has involved her friend in it, too.
Bria tends to read in her spare time, or browse Pinterest, and learn all sorts of new hair-styling tricks. That girl can do some pretty amazing braid things on her sisters' and her own hair. I love it! Sophia likes to go outside in the backyard and conduct interesting experiments or build forts and things. One time she came in after having experimented with feeding dragonflies water droplets and wrote out her findings. Maybe she'll be an entomologist someday.
Children absolutely need this time to learn without their parents hovering over them every spare moment. This is the time where they really figure out their own interests and develop talents and skills that you may have never even thought of (like making stop-motion videos!).
5. Don't pigeonhole themSince The Maestro and I are both professional musicians it would be very easy to just stick our children in musical activities and be done with it. We do require music because that is important to us, but it is also important to be well-rounded. And our children are not us. Bria is adamant that she will not be a violinist when she grows up, which is just fine with us. But we also know that the things she is learning in her musical endeavors will help her in whatever she chooses to pursue later in life and right now. It might not be obvious to her that the self-discipline she has learned by practicing her violin daily for ten years helps her in her schoolwork and even her volleyball.
Likewise—and I have been guilty of this—don't put your children into a box. I have done that a little with Chloe because she showed such an amazing artistic ability from a very young age. I didn't realize that I was doing harm in two ways:
First, I was sending her a message that she was ONLY good at art. I personally hate it when people think I am ONLY a singer, so I realize that this is true. She likes to make sure I know that she isn't just an artist and that she likes to do other things and is good at other things.
Second, I was making my other children feel that they weren't good at art. No bueno. Take it from me, don't do that. Besides, I was wrong. My other two are pretty great artists, too.
Look at what Bria recently did in her art class at school! She never showed a real interest in art until recently, and I am chastened, because this is a talent that can and should be nurtured if she would like it to be.
Let your children tell you what they love. They know best. It's great to require certain things, like music, but otherwise take your cues from them and let them spread their wings and fly like Tinkerbell!
Purchase the Tinkerbell DVD here: Disney's The Pirate Fairy DVD
Purchase the Tinkerbell Book here: Tinkerbell: Two Pirate Tales
See the linky parties I link up to here.