If your child shows a flair for kicking a ball, drawing stick people or even defusing warring factions in the sandpit, how can you make the most of her talents. Read on for some expert advice on maximising your child’s potential.
“To maximise your child’s potential in any area, you need to give her the opportunities to develop her skills within a loving environment,” says Pam Holtom of Parents as First Teachers, an organisation committed to helping mums and dads help their children reach their full potential. “As a parent, you need to be sensitive to your child’s needs and respond to them.”
So if the next David Beckham, Lily Allen or Kofi Annan is squishing baked beans
and spilling juice in their high chair, here’s how to bring out the best in them.
Your thinking child
Your child doesn’t have to be super brainy to be a thinking child. If she’s quiet and contemplative, it could be she’s watching and taking it all in. With the right encouragement, you can nurture her inclination to observe.
“Babies need experiences to help their brains to grow,” says Pam. “Without these, the brain’s neurons can’t make the connections babies need to think faster and more directly.”
But that doesn’t mean you have to sign her up for every possible baby activity. “The experiences she needs are stimulation and interaction,” adds Pam. “The most important things you can do right from the start are to talk to your baby and read books to her. Have proper conversations, don’t just give instructions.” When you read, point to the pictures and explain what you can see.
The next most important thing is to play with her. “Your baby is like a scientist trying
to make sense of her world,” Pam explains. Adapt your games as her understanding expands, making problem-solving gradually harder and introducing role play from 2 years. If your child is naturally quiet, use open-ended questions to encourage two-way interaction.
- From around 8 months, create a ‘safe’ cupboard with interesting objects for
her to explore and play with.
- From 14 months, try a game of matching objects and colours – gather kitchen items or things you’ve collected from the garden.
- From 2 years, put several items on a table and ask her to close her eyes. Then remove one and ask her what’s missing.
Your gentle child
Your little one may show great compassion, but she’s still going to need guidance from you to learn how to balance her needs against those of other people.
“Sometimes we expect children to be kind and gentle before they’re ready for it developmentally,” says Pam. “At 2 or 3 years, your child is the centre of her world.”
However, talking about other people’s feelings will help her begin to understand
that what she does can have an impact on others. Similarly, helping her to find words
to express herself rather than actions, such as biting, will build up her social skills.
It’s also important to set a good example. “If you comfort a child who is hurt or upset, you show her how to be kind to other children,” suggests Pam.
- If your child hurts another child, comfort the other little one before dealing with
your tot to highlight to her how she’s made the other child feel.
- Use pretend play to practise social situations where kindness is involved.
- Encourage your child to ‘take turns’ rather than to ‘share’ – it’s a much
easier concept for her to understand.
“He loves his little brother”
“Ruben has always been very caring, but it’s really come out since his little brother, Noah, was born. He’s always very concerned about Noah, and the other day I saw him kissing his fingers and toes, something he’s never seen me do. I tell him what a sweet boy he is and how proud I am of him.”
Jennifer, 34, froand mum to Ruben, 2, and Noah, 2 months
“I want to teach my son that guns hurt people”
“Jake loves playing with soldiers and army toys, so I sit down with him and we make up stories where his soldiers go to hospital when they’re hurt. That way I hope I’m teaching him that in the real world shooting someone with a gun has consequences and isn’t a game”
Gilly, 32, mum to Jake, 3, and Millie, 2
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The garden can be a great place for messy play
Your creative child
Most kids love to get messy with soft dough or paints, but what if you think that your little one may have a particular creative talent? “Creative thinking is just as important as analytical thinking,” says Pam. “But like any talent, it has to be nurtured.” The trick here is to provide a wide variety of materials to experiment with and then to hone in on the ones she appears to be interested in.
“Let your child take the lead,” advises Pam. “Your idea of what you’re going to make may go right out of the window, but that doesn’t matter. The product isn’t as important as the process.” So remember, you might want her to create a nice animal but, hey, a splodge painting can look every bit as good stuck on the fridge!”
How you respond to your child’s creations can also have an impact. She’ll love praise,
but make comments, too, such as, “I see you’ve used lots of red in this painting.” By asking her to tell you about what she’s made, it gives you a chance to engage on her level.
“Francesca loves making things and colouring,” says Louisa Bromley, 37, from Sheffield, and mum to Joshua, 6, and Francesca, 3. “I keep her craft things – apart from paints – where she can reach them, so she can use them when the mood takes her. Sometimes I give her ideas to get her started, but then I let her develop it in the way she wants.”
- Provide different materials – netting, wool, cellophane, polystyrene, ribbon, cotton wool – to use when painting, modelling and sticking.
- Go for a walk, collecting things along the way, then make a collage with the items you find.
- Find ways to have messy play: in the garden, in the bath, on a plastic tablecloth.
Your musical child
Encouraging your child’s musical abilities can also help her development in speech
and language skills, problem-solving, reading, maths reasoning and spatial recognition.
“Some experts say that exposing young children to music makes it easier to learn
to play music in later childhood,” says Pam. “Sing and play a variety of music at home and in the car, and make up songs together. You can also let older children record their own music.”
Introduce household ‘instruments’– from wooden spoons and saucepans to bottles filled with different amounts of liquid. Use lots of intonation in your voice when you speak, and encourage her to explore the ranges of her own voice.
- Make musical instruments: use kitchen towel tubes stuffed with paper for drum sticks, containers filled with rice or beans for shakers and saucepan lids for cymbals.
- Dance to music, waving scarves, ribbons and feathers around.
- Make up your own songs or put your own words to familiar tunes.
Your sporty child
If she’s going to ‘bend it like Beckham’, she’ll need the right encouragement.
“Enthusiasm is what’s important, so your response is vital,” says Pam. “If you’re playing a ball game, instead of saying, ‘Oh dear, you missed!’ or criticising and constantly correcting, say something that’s more encouraging.”
A range of physical activities is also likely to kindle enthusiasm. “Pre-school children
are acquiring and perfecting basic skills such as walking, running, kicking and catching,” explains Pam. “Given opportunities to practise and build up their confidence, your child’s more likely to want to be active throughout her life.”
- Throw a ball into a laundry basket to practise aiming and help her eye-to-hand co-ordination.
- Bowl a large ball to knock down 2-litre bottles.
- Have a go yourself – and show your child that it’s okay to miss the target.