Before I launched the Kite Kid Mama blog, my original tagline was, “Helping the differently-wired reach their potential.” I liked the sentiment for the most part; however, something didn’t hit the right note.
I knew it was the word “potential,” but I wasn’t sure why. From a definition perspective, it was accurate; yet somehow, it felt wrong.
When I read Smart Parenting for Smart Kids by Eileen Kennedy-Moore, PhD, and Mark S. Lowenthal, PsyD, it became clear. Before diving into the book’s core teachings (which I love, by the way), the authors have an important message.
It’s how slippery “potential” can be – especially these days, where the pressure to excel is everywhere. And it isn’t just directed at parents; kids are seeing the messages by the time they’re toddlers! (ABC Mouse, anyone?)
In addition, parents are lining up in the school driveway an hour before the dismissal bell, so they can get their kids to extracurricular activities on time. (In the spirit of full transparency, I was in that line each Tuesday, and that’s where I read most of this book!)
As Kennedy-Moore and Lowenthal point out, “From all sides, the message is “Start early; go faster; do more.”
The burden this creates
The danger in this, they say, is that it’s “easy for thoughts of potential to slip from ‘possibility’ to ‘expectation.’” Adults know these kids can accomplish much more if they simply apply themselves, right?
“What’s surprising to us is that the greatest anxiety about achievement – in both parents and kids – often surrounds the children who have the most scholastic aptitude,” Kennedy-Moore and Lowenthal say.
This not only leads to an enormous fear of failure, it produces excessive emphasis on what they do, instead of discovering and celebrating who they are.
“They start to believe that they are the performance,” say the authors.
The dangers of this are enormous, as this excerpt so aptly points out:
Good, but misguided, intentions
As anyone with a “kite kid” knows, they’re already highly motivated in the areas they’re passionate about. In fact, if anything, you may need to reign them in every once in a while.
For example, my eight-year-old, aspiring engineer has already decided he’s going to attend Georgia Tech. This isn’t surprising because they’ve been a client of mine for four years; however, I occasionally remind him that as much as I love Georgia Tech, too, he has plenty of time to decide on a college – and major!
Rethinking the goal
We must allow them to “be kids” (as much as they’re able) and try different approaches and activities. And even let them fail at times, which builds one of the most important life skills: perseverance.
As I heard neuroscientist, writer and speaker Nicole Tetreault, Ph.D., say in a recent webinar, “You don’t have to be a child genius or a prodigy; you can be yourself. You don’t have to succeed and achieve all the time.”
Supporting and encouraging them, but also allowing them to explore and fail, will reap a huge reward – deciding what personal fulfillment means to them.
I can’t think of anything better, and I doubt they can, either. And they’re pretty smart.