I was watching my granddaughter play a game on my phone and marveling at her dexterity and intuition. She appreciated my praise and began teaching me the game (a snail crawling around and finding exits to different situations) and then having me try each level after she had completed it.
It would have been so easy to say, "Oh, I get it. I can figure this out on my own." But, I instantly noticed the pride she was feeling in being able to teach an old dog (if you don't have anything nice to say ...) a new trick. I allowed her to continue her tutoring, asking her questions that I knew the answer to so she could show me more.
Before it sounds like I'm some kind of gaming genius, let me clarify. I caught on quickly, but she did do a lot of genuine teaching.
It got me really thinking about allowing our children to have some "expertise" in areas of their life that matter most to them. By doing so, we encourage them to gain more knowledge in more areas.
There has to be balance, though. No one likes to be around a know-it-all smarty pants who contradicts them. We can create monsters if we marvel at every little thing a child does. One of my pet peeves is children who say, "Didn't you know that?" with a smug, condescending look.
Finding the middle ground is something all parents have the ability to do, if they just listen to their inner-parent. The one thing I want all parents to know is that they are endowed with the keys to parenting. They have the intuition to raise the children that were loaned to them. God doesn't send them here without blessing us with an internal guidebook.
Here are some ideas and the fringe benefits that come from giving children a little expertise:
1. Notice their interests
Notice what your children are passionate about — art, music, Minecraft, skateboarding, chess, science, whatever. Ask them questions about their interests. Ask if there is anything you can do to support them. Challenge them to learn more.
2. Tell them how much it means to you
Encouraging children by letting them know how much you enjoy watching them is so much more important than being proud of them when they excel. If they know they don't have to win all the time or be the best, but that they should just enjoy the practice and learning, they will likely try to learn more.
3. Suggest an exchange
A good way to balance their expertise is by showing them yours. Offer to exchange knowledge. You teach them chess; they can teach you to rollerblade. They can show you how to do the new math; you can teach them to bake a pie. Find something they want to learn and teach them, but ask them to teach you something in return.
If you can see that there is something your child really, really goes for, why not consider getting them some mentoring to further their expertise. Many times, this can be bartered for or look into classes at a community center or community college. This gives them something that is theirs alone and makes them the family expert at it.
5. Their dream, not yours
Use caution when pushing your child toward her passion, making sure it is her dream and not something you always wanted to do, but never had the opportunity. Follow your children, watch them, listen to them and go from there.
6. Let them ramble on
This is something that is difficult for most parents who have their minds on a dozen things that all seem to be a priority. It is easy to shut down and not hear when the kids ramble on about their field of expertise. Try to focus on them and their passions. Bedtime tuck-in is a great time to listen and have a little one-on-one, asking them if they did anything to further their knowledge that day.
7. Keep them well-rounded
All of this being said, now it is time to add one caution. Some kids become so keenly involved in their single expertise that they become one-dimensional; driving everyone around them nuts. Make sure to keep them involved in other things so that they have a well-rounded schedule of activities and don't become one of those adults whose apartment looks like the inside of the Starship Enterprise, complete with everything in that motif.
Not jumping in and telling your children that you know everything they are involved in is difficult and requires great restraint. But, letting them be an expert in something or other will encourage them to continue on and learn a lot about a lot. Hopefully, they will grow to love expanding their minds in a variety of passions.