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Raising talented children

Updated on November 29, 2013

Raising talented children

Talented children can be a delight and also a pain. A delight when they finally show off their talents and a pain when they hone their skills and polish up their talents. Many people enjoy the music my children make; they probably have no idea how many late hours we have had and how many off-key notes we sustained in our ears over such a long time. However, the drive to perfect their talents never diminished and our parental patience never ran out.

Very early in their childhood I could tell that at least one of my kids was talented. Gratefully, I discovered that the three of them were talented in the arts. The young lady had a keen ear for sounds; she was also very particular about colors and shapes. The young man born after her was a self-starter who taught himself music. Until he broke through the obstacles in his life he was simply another boy in our family. The last of them was known as boogy cheeks; he was the most handsome boy and gentle. He loved people and he started writing and to telling stories when he was only 8. His younger friends looked forward to the new term when Bannie would come to school with new stories: how the spider makes the web, where the magic wand came from, etc.

A talent is a very specific ability or occupation that a person likes and does very well. A talent is stimulating and motivating so that the person who has it is built up and strengthened by it.

As a parent my wish and dream for my daughter was that she would become a Professor of Geography; my son would become a Space engineer, and my last son a Chief Executive Officer of a non-profit organization focusing on youth development. If we asked my wife what she thought concerning these children she might say differently.

Only time can tell who has a talent and what that talent is. These three kids were separated by no more than three years apart. When the girl was 5, the siblings were 3, and 1 respectively.

The keys to unlocking and sustaining children's talents are:

1. Dad must be there to cheer,

2. Home must provide the environment for confidence building

3. The child must understand the broad expectations to excel in every way beside the talent.

Parental involvement has been a key ingredient in my children's success with their talents. The young lady worked her way through the basics of writing music and singing. She spent many hours recording her voice and hearing herself singing. She engaged herself as recording technician and editing. She also imagined a fashion design and performance. The involvement of dad was one solid factor that gave her the inner resolve and kept it building up.

Dad stood in the rain with other parents to make sure her issues were all resolved at school; he went for meetings of the PTA and engaged the community to show his love for her. Dad was the voice she heard in the late hours of night when she arrived from outings to other schools. The blessing of dad was with her.

She also knew that when she got home mom was waiting to welcome her there. She knew that warm blankets were waiting for her. The love of mother was waiting to enfold her within.

Besides, she knew she was loved at home. On occasions when she did not fair very well she knew there was one place where love was unconditional.

Family meetings were a common feature growing up in our family. Family meetings are times of reflection when each person was able to think back on the past. It was also a time of considering what the future held. Often the meeting was noisy and contentious as individuals debated a point of difference. The important point is that everyone in the family had a chance to say what was in their mind and on their hearts.

One of the most important points was perspective. Kids were told to look at life from several perspectives: the bird's eye view: what is life? What is important in life? To answer questions like this required an open mind. Parents were in the best position to explain the importance of a general education in life. Sometimes kids argued that college was not necessary to succeed in life - as much as that was true, the reverse was even more true: a college degree increases one's chances at success in life. More so in the US economy. Without a college degree it is far more difficult to get ahead in any competition.

Also, kids were taught to see life as competitive. Regardless of one's natural talents possession of skills learned in school could enable an ordinary person to set a competitive advantage over those with natural talents.

Ultimately, raising talented kids is like planting a vegetable garden. One must cultivate the soil and fertilize it while also pulling out the undesirable weeds. Any habits that try to form around the character of the children need to be taken down. This is where many families get it wrong. It is like a gamble; if you allow too much you can pay dearly; if you prohibit too much you may equally pay a price.

Kids must be allowed to explore the world around them unhindered. Checks and balances should be set with the involvement of the kids. At no point should the kids be made to feel that they are tied to some rules or imprisoned by some untoward conditions.

I remember the day very well when I sat in the audience at St Mary's University in Maryland. My wife sat next to me. We traveled 90 minutes to get to this lovely place. There was a crowd numbering over 10,000. The moment arrived.

First, the tuning, a noisy process where all these musical instruments open their throats to try out a note!

The President's Marine Band started to play. Then, just above the towering sound of this amazing piece of music one heard a solo Euphonium capping it and sustaining its melody. As the sound of the 40 person band came down to a singing level, the sound of the Euphonium took command and in the most skillful and delightful performance I ever heard and experienced, the sound of our son's instrument was in perfect alignment and harmony, firmly leading the band through various movements up and down; sometimes seemingly disappearing and then as beautifully reappearing on the other side of the melody.

When the performance ended Ian received a standing ovation lasting several minutes from all. The amazing thing that many did not know is that he memorized the entire piece of 15 minutes and played it through without an error. The recording exists to prove the point.

We do not know what the future has for our children; We have a good idea of their talents. We continue to pray for their success through life. We continue to listen to them when they are discouraged and dad stands with them when they feel threatened. Home continues to be the source of inspiration and confidence, and they know we believe that to be successful cannot be defined simply by what we think for ourselves, but how we enrich the lives of others.


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