Young stars in the making
Young stars in the making
15:20 (GMT+2), Tue, 23 March 2010
How to raise a child who’s able to make the most of her abilities – whatever her talents may be.
When you watch your child play, do you detect a certain flair, perhaps for kicking a ball, drawing stick people or even negotiating between warring factions at the soft-dough table? If so, how can you help her make the most of these talents? “To maximise your child’s potential in any area, you need to give her the opportunities to develop her skills within a loving environment,” says Andrew Holtom who is from an organisation committed to helping moms and dads help their children reach their full potential. “As a parent you need to be sensitive to your child’s needs and respond to them.” So if the next David Beckham, Lily Allen or Kofi Annan is squishing baked beans and spilling juice in their high chair, here’s how to bring out the best in them.
Your child doesn’t have to be superbrainy to be a thinking child. If she’s quiet and contemplative, it could be that she’s watching and taking it all in. With the right encouragement, you can nurture her inclination to observe. “Babies need experience to help their brains to grow,” says Holtom. “Without these, the brain’s neurons can’t make the connections babies need to think faster and more directly.” But that doesn’t mean you have to sign her up for every possible baby activity. “The experiences she needs are stimulation and interaction,” adds Holtom. “The most important things you can do right from the start are to talk to your baby and read books to her. Have proper conversations, and don’t just give instructions. “When you read, point to the pictures and explain what you can see.
” The next most important thing is to play with her. “Your baby is like a scientist trying to make sense of her world,” Holtom explains. Adapt your games as her understanding expands, making problem-solving gradually harder and introducing role-play from 2 years. If your child is naturally quiet, use open-ended questions to encourage two-way interaction. “Jake loves playing with soldiers and army toys,” says Gilly Houghton (32), mom of Jake (3) and Millie (2). “So I sit down with him and we make up stories where his soldiers go to hospital when they’re hurt. That way I hope I’m teaching him that in the real world shooting someone with a gun has consequences and isn’t a game.”
- From around 8 months, create a ‘safe’ cupboard with interesting objects for her to explore and play with.
- From 12 months, try a game of matching objects and colours – gather kitchen items or things you’ve collected from the garden.
- From 2 years, put several items on a table and ask her to close her eyes. Then remove one and ask her what’s missing.
A gentle child
Your little one may show great compassion, but she’s still going to need guidance from you to learn how to balance her needs against those of other people. “Sometimes we expect children to be kind and gentle before they’re ready for it developmentally,” says Holtom. “At 2 or 3 years, your child is the centre of her world.” However, talking about other people’s feelings will help her begin to understand that what she does can have an impact on others. Similarly, helping her to find words to express herself rather than through actions, such as biting, will develop her social skills. It’s also important to set a good example. “If you comfort a child who is hurt or upset, you show her how to be kind to other children,” suggests Holtom. “Ruben has always been very caring, but this side of him has really surfaced since his little brother, Noah, was born,” says Jennifer Huybrechts (34) mom to Ruben (2) and Noah (2 months).
“He’s always very concerned about his little brother, and the other day I saw Ruben kissing his fingers and toes, something he’s never seen me do. I tell him what a sweet boy he is and how proud I am of him.”
- If your child hurts another child, comfort the other one before dealing with your tot to emphasise how she’s made the other child feel.
- Use pretend-play to practise social situations where kindness is involved.
- Encourage your child to ‘take turns’ rather than to ‘share’ – it’s a much easier concept for her to understand.
A creative child
Most kids love to get messy with soft dough or paint, but what if you think that your little one might have a particular creative talent? “Creative thinking is just as important as analytical thinking,” says Holtom. “But like any talent, it has to be nurtured.” The trick here is to provide a wide variety of materials to experiment with and then to hone in on the ones she appears to be interested in. “Let your child take the lead,” advises Holtom. “Your idea of what you’re going to make might go right out of the window, but that doesn’t matter. The product isn’t as important as the process.
” So remember, you might want her to create a nice animal but, hey, a splodge painting can look every bit as good stuck on the fridge! How you respond to your child’s creations can also have an impact. She’ll love praise, but make comments too, such as, “I see you’ve used lots of red in this painting” By asking her to tell you about what she’s made, it gives you a chance to engage on her level. “Francesca loves making things and colouring,” says Louisa Bromley (37) mom of Joshua (6) and Francesca (3). “I keep her craft things – apart from paints – where she can reach them, so she can use them when the mood takes her. Sometimes I give her ideas to get her started, but then I let her develop it in the way she wants.”
- Provide different materials – netting, wool, cellophane, polystyrene, ribbon, cotton wool – to use when painting, modelling and sticking.
- Go for a walk, collecting things along the way, and then make a collage with the items you find.
- Find ways for her to play messily – in the garden, in the bath, or on a plastic tablecloth.
A musical child Encouraging your child’s musical abilities can also help her development in speech and language skills, problem-solving, reading, maths, reasoning and spatial recognition. “Some experts say that exposing young children to music makes it easier to learn to play music in later childhood,” says Holtom. “Sing and play a variety of music at home and in the car, and make up songs together. You can also let older children record their own music.” Introduce household ‘instruments’ – from wooden spoons and saucepans to bottles filled with different amounts of liquid. Use lots of intonation in your voice when you speak, and encourage her to explore the range of her own voice. “Rosie’s always responded to music on the radio,” says Becky Wright (28), mom of Rosie (3) and Phoebe (2). “We took her to a concert so she could see Michael Bublé, and she loved it! We also listen to nursery rhymes and play along with musical instruments.”
- Make musical instruments; use kitchen towel tubes stuffed with paper for drumsticks, containers filled with rice or beans for shakers and saucepan lids for cymbals.
- Dance to music, waving scarves, ribbons and feathers around.
- Make up your own songs or put your own words to familiar tunes.
A sporty child
If she’s going to ‘bend it like Beckham’, she’ll need the right encouragement. “Enthusiasm is what’s important, so your response is vital,” says Holtom. “If you’re playing a ball game, instead of saying, ‘Oh dear, you missed!’ or criticising and constantly correcting, say something that’s more encouraging.” A range of physical activities is also likely to kindle enthusiasm. “Pre-school children are acquiring and perfecting basic skills such as walking, running, kicking and catching,” explains Holtom. “Given opportunities to practise and build up their confidence, your child’s more likely to want to be active throughout her life.” “William has always been happiest when he’s outside running or kicking a ball, so we’re always out in the garden or the park,” says Jo Edwards (38), mom of Lucy (7), Isabel (4) and William (3). “I try to give him lots of opportunities to try different things.”
- Throw a ball into a laundry basket to practise aiming and help her eye-to-hand coordination.
- Bowl a large ball to knock down 2-litre bottles.
- Have a go yourself – and show your child that it’s okay to miss the target.
Ways to raise a polite child
You won’t produce a polite child unless you are a polite parent,” says Holtom.
Be polite to others. Your child will model her behaviour on what she sees you doing. Talk respectfully to your child. Say ‘excuse me’ if you have to leave a game to answer the phone.
Respect her rights and property. Don’t barge in if he’s playing quietly, or insist that she must share her toys. Prepare her for new situations. Before going to story time at the library, remind her that she needs to sit quietly – and explain why.
Don’t ridicule her in front of others. Give gentle reminders in private instead. •