One of my favorite movies is "Searching for Bobby Fischer". It is based on the true story of Josh Waitzkin, an eight-time National Chess Champion who began playing at age 7. He dominated the chess world in his youth and now excels in martial arts. This article is not about him.
This article is about your children and how to recognize their talents and find balance.
You may or may not be raising a prodigy, but all children have natural talents and here's how you might begin to recognize them:
Spend time with them and let them lead the way. Ask what they would like to do or play. Children are inclined to play what they love, and that is a good indication of where their talents lie. They will, to a certain extent, mimic what you do in order to try and please you, but given the opportunity you will be able to notice certain things that they are drawn to, such as art, music, chess, science, etc.
Plan outings that expose them to a variety of learning opportunities. Visit museums, science centers, aquariums, zoos, and factories. Observe them. Watch what makes them light up, then try to give them personal experience by giving them a fish bowl, some paints, an electronics kit. Observe whether it continues to hold their interest.
I remember being 6 years old. My mother sewed a lot and would give me scraps of fabric. One day, I went to the bedroom and sewed her a ridiculous-looking bra; two little flat, white triangles and some elastic. Of course, it did not fit. Though she could have assumed that I was just copying her abilities, she continued to encourage me in this and many other areas. I received loads of kits such as, leatherworking, mosaic tiles, paint-by-number, science, etc. I was exposed to many things through field trips to a wide variety of places. Today, I am a novelist, a journalist, and one crackerjack of a seamstress. I love what I do and find satisfaction in knowing when I get tired of it I can move to something else for a while.
Once you have recognized them, here's how to help nurture them:
Try to avoid disparaging remarks, such as, "Oh, you can do something more than be a hairdresser or bricklayer." Happiness and self-esteem come from being able to do something you love very well and we can't dictate that something. We aren't them. Encourage them and admire their works.
Perhaps you do have a chess prodigy, or the next Mozart or Rembrandt. Do your best to find balance and give them opportunities in lots of other activities. Try not to be guilty of pushing them so hard that they grow to hate what they do well. Often parents see a talent and push children so hard in that direction that there is no room in their lives to just be a kid.
I love the example of the parents in "Searching for Bobby Fischer." His mother noticed early on that he was a natural chess player, and found him a mentor. While they did encourage him and find him a mentor, they also took him fishing and let him play baseball. They seemed to have found the perfect balance and Josh has grown up to excel in many areas.
I read in a psychology book that what children love to play between the ages of 4 and 6 will offer insight into where their talents lie. So observe, encourage, and find balance. Who knows, maybe you're raising the next Josh Waitzkin.