Christmas is a season of celebration and joy, but it is also the time of year when we all focus on gifts. Let’s forget about material gifts for a moment, and think about the gifts that our children bring to their lives.
One of the big problems with special education, and with education in general, is the focus on children’s weaknesses. We get so involved in figuring out what’s wrong that we forget to figure out what’s right. The emphasis on weaknesses is really pretty foolish, because we base our lives on our strengths.
Schools don’t have the time anymore to appreciate the whole child – all the different gifts that children can have that may have nothing to do with school learning, but can have everything to do with living a good life. Teachers need to value all of the gifts that children bring to school. Success breeds success, and the confidence, energy, and motivation that success brings to children just seems to spill over into everything else they do.
There are lots of different ways to be “smart”. “School smart” requires logical, sequential reasoning skills, a good memory, and the ability to thing abstractly. But we all know people who have a “green thumb” with plants, or who have a wonderful way with animals. Others have a wonderful way with people – they have great social skills and they have a sense of how people feel and how to help. Lots of people who have trouble reading can take an engine apart, figure out what’s wrong, and put it back together perfectly. Some of the most spiritual people I’ve known have been very simple people in other ways. I’m always impressed with people who are talented in the arts. The problem is that it isn’t until high school that students really get to explore and use these other kinds of gifts.
Although we are all judged in our first 18 years of life on our ability to be “school smart”, for the next 50 years we actually get to do what we’re good at! I know several people who were very successful at school, but who have failed at living a happy, productive adult life. I also know many people who struggled in school, but who are very successful in life. I was a school psychologist for 35 years, and a lot of the kids I evaluated in the past have grown up and had families of their own. I see them everywhere I go, and I can tell you for a fact that “school smart” is not a ticket to success. It certainly helps, but it’s no guarantee.
So what should we do as parents? We need to work very hard to help our children do as well as possible in school, both with learning and with discipline, and then work just as hard at helping them find their gifts. When I talk to parents, I tell them that their most important job is to find out what their child is good at and make sure the child has every opportunity to excel in that area. We all have to be good at something, or we just give up on ourselves.
Remember! Sometimes we adults get so focused on a child’s weaknesses that we forget about strengths, and strengths are what each of us builds our life on.
The last and maybe the most important thing to say about finding a child’s gifts is this: You have to love the child you’ve been given. We don’t get to pick for our children. All we can do is give them lots of opportunities to figure out who they are and what they can do, and then support them and love them as they become the person they’re meant to be. It’s their dream and their life. We don’t mold children, we unfold them.