By Wanda Whitehead
During orientation meetings for parents, I receive many thoughtful questions. Two of the many questions are the sparks for this article: “How do we bring out the best in a child?” and “How can we encourage a child to discover his/her passions?”
Recognize that your child is the maker of themselves. This understanding guides your approach to all conversations and issues. As you do this, your child will see themselves in this light, growing with the knowledge that, who they become is up to them. Respect your child’s independence. We are blessed with this wonderful young person in our lives. We can nurture them with love and respect as they develop themselves. This is not unlike the plant that does the work of growing given the nutrients of the soil, water and sunlight. Recognize that there will be similarities between you and your child and that you are not the SAME. We are all unique. Enjoy this in your child!
Demonstrate and encourage a growth mindset. A growth mindset is an essential way of thinking that opens doors for children. A child who thinks they can’t learn or change their thinking or intelligence or abilities with right attitude and commitment, can easily stop growing in these ways. Help children change “I can’t” statements into “I can with effort…” Language creates mind sets. When we craft thoughts and language around growth potential, our children can see their own potential for growth and change.
Make sure there is time to explore. Children need time to discover themselves and their interests, unplanned time. Each child does this in different ways. Some children dive into one thing at a time becoming completely absorbed while others dabble with many activities and experiences. Don’t get in the way of a child who is deeply engaged in a subject or exploration of their own.
A child even needs time to be bored. I see boredom as the step just before self-initiative and interests arise. Many children these days don’t get to experience the fruits of boredom as they quickly bring in an easy fix: a screen device. Take away screens, and boredom can turn into amazing play and exploration. Plus, you do not need to “fix” the situation so that your child is not bored. The child needs opportunity to do this for him/herself. Eliminate or seriously limit screen time. This becomes lost time when in pursuit of passions and self-expression.
Promote self-discipline. Acknowledge your child’s effort in tasks such as his ability to focus, or her persistence with an activity, or the ability to make choices and learn from mistakes. Natural consequences are powerful teachers. Allow appropriate degrees of autonomy with expectations of responsibility. These are qualities that a child needs to pursue interests. Set clear limits based on family values that you can consistently keep.
Listen well and make time to connect without interruptions. This can be challenging when we are so booked ourselves. So often our own agendas take precedence that the child’s “voice” can be lost. Set aside connecting time- put work and cellphones aside. Let your child know by your full attention that they are important to you.
Promote healthy living choices. Encourage good food choices. Make sure your child gets plenty of sleep. Give them lots of outdoor time including time in the natural environments.
Share your passions with enthusiasm. Make room in your lives together for the little sparks of interest your child might share with you, even when this might take you into areas you know nothing about. Show balance in your own life by making time for self, time for family, time for work, and time for play.
Most important of all, be a role model for what you hope to see in your child.
About the author: Wanda Whitehead is Casa di Mir Montessori School founder and Director of Education, and former head of school (1989-2018).