Thursday, April 28, 2011

True Gift

Have you ever met someone trying really hard to be someone they're not? It's painful to watch - especially if you know the person well enough to see their true gifts.

Each of us has a unique mix of gifts and talents. Sometimes it is hard for parents to see their child's true gifts. So many things get in the way. We have expectations: musical families expect musical children; athletic families expect athletic children. We aren't necessarily seeing this gift in the child; we are expecting to see this gift in the child. Another thing that blinds us to our child's true gifts is the child's behavior. It's often hard to see past constant wiggling or incessant talking to a child's creative or leadership abilities. We are distracted by what the child does, especially when the behavior irritates or embarrasses us. Our own dreams for the future or failure from the past can also color the way we see the child. We've probably all known someone who wanted to "go pro" in some field but didn't, for whatever reason, who is now pushing a child to "go pro". It's obvious - in other people. One more thing that can get in the way is the hectic pace of daily life. When children have no time to experiment, they miss out on a lot of self-discovery. Downtime is a child's laboratory.

Here's the good news. Failure to recognize the gift doesn't kill the gift, and parents are not solely responsible for helping a child find his or her gifts. When researchers at the Youth and Family Institute started looking at what factors were present for children who "succeeded" (stayed in school, stayed off drugs, had healthy relationships, etc.) they found 40 common factors among successful kids. One of them was especially pertinent to this topic; they found that successful kids had at least five caring adults in their lives. Every caring adult will see different things in the child - gifts that they recognize because they share them, or because it's something they prize in a person or simply because they are seeing the child through fewer layers of emotion.

So where do you find these caring adults? Like so many things with your children, it's simply a matter of paying attention. There are people all around your child cheering him or her on through life - teachers, coaches, scout leaders, choir and band directors, your friends, grandparents aunts and uncles or step-parents, even the person who sits behind you in church and plays peek-a-boo with your toddler. Make time for your child to be with these people. Listen to what they have to say about your child. Notice what they notice and learn to encourage those qualities in your child.

You can help your children be who they are created to be. Trust that their unique gifts will serve the world and support them in finding and using those gifts. They may wind up in a different pond from you but, with the help of other caring adults, you can still teach them to swim in their own baptismal waters.

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