Being the best by being unique

April 11, 2012

in Artistic Prodigies, Future of Education, Raising children

Many parents worry about academic performance of their children, viewing it as a competition against peers. They worry about global competition in maths and sciences, about the amount of hours a child can study to compete for the top schools and future universities. Not all parents are like that of course, but I see an increasing trend of parents pushing their children harder to be at the top.

The problem is, there are millions of smart and hard working children and it is near impossible to score the highest in tests. There will always be another child who is a bit older, studied a bit harder, whose parents know a bit more and will end up scoring higher than your child. What if there was a way to escape all the stress? What if there was a way your child could be the best and achieve something special while thoroughly enjoying it and spending her time exactly as she wishes?

I think there is such a way, and it is open to any family that keeps a very open mind about their children’s talents and passions. Have you got a firm idea that your child has to become a doctor or lawyer or banker? Do you think your child absolutely has to go to a top university and get a degree, no matter what? Are you worried that your child might just be interested in cars or becoming a surfer rather than excelling at college? Do you rejoice in your child’s artistic or musical interests but then suddenly worry when your child gets absorbed by them and neglects other school work? Then you are like 95% of parents I know (myself included!) because this is how most of us have been raised.

But let me also tell you this: people will be best at doing what they love and are born for. Assume you are in a job you don’t enjoy and you have a colleague who absolutely loves this job and the company and can’t think of any better place to be. How well is your performance going to compare? You are always going to struggle and work harder and be miserable but most likely never be as good as the other person who simply loves what they’re doing. It is the same for school children. If one child is forced to study a history text, no matter how much time he spends, and another child loves history books and spends all their weekends and afternoons happily lying on the sofa with a hot chocolate devouring history books, no amount of studying will allow the first child to do as well as the second child.

Obviously, you want to focus on the very basics and make sure all children learn to read and write and do simple calculations properly. But beyond that, encourage your child to dive into areas of passion. Expose you child to many activities and ideas, stories and pastimes, and see which ones he enjoys. I am not a very artistic person for example, and I just didn’t think of painting with my daughter when she was still a tiny toddler. Then, when she started nursery school, they told me she absolutely loved painting and that even when they spent an hour painting, she would be the only child crying inconsolably when the hour was up and they took the brushes and paints away. Since then, whenever we go to a restaurant or on a trip, I always make sure to have pens and paper in my handbag and let her doodle and paint any moment she likes.

You can do something similar with small children who love numbers and calculations. Give them easy calculations first, and then give them challenges and teach them how to go about tackling harder problems. But you can do the same if your child loves sport or dance or business. If they love dancing and say they want to be a dancer all their life, don’t kill the dreams then and there by saying it is just a hobby and they need to do something “proper”. Just keep an open mind and tell them they can be anything they want, as long as they love doing what they’re doing.

There is such focus on being “realistic” and preparing children for a life of school, university and a job, but there is also an increasing awareness that the most successful people in sports, business and the arts became so because they dedicated 100% of their time to their passion and neglected everything else. Don’t assume this is only the case for exceptional geniuses and that your child needs to be realistic. Why shouldn’t your child be an entrepreneur, an opera singer or a chef? Or a hotel manager or a surf teacher? Keep your mind open. You will see how much happier and also more successful your child will become because of it. Because if you let your child follow their talents and passion, she will be unique and she will be the best!


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