So this evening is the grand final of this year’s Britain’s Got Talent showdown! Thousands upon thousands of acts have been put through their paces and the UK will decide this evening who has that special something – that star quality, that celebrity vibe! But what about the millions out there that are stars in their own rights, never to be discovered, signed up by Simon Cowell and propelled towards Hollywood – what about the everyday person, the everyday child that has their latent talent hidden away? How important is it for us as parent’s to help our children discover what talent or gifts they have and why is it so crucial that our parenting reflects this commitment to our children?
Recently I sat and listened to my boy play piano. He’s 13 years old and has taught himself having had a couple of lessons when he was tiny but nothing since. Of course, as his Mum, I love hearing him play, but more so I am constantly amazed at the standards he’s reaching by himself and some of the stuff that’s he’s now composing himself and whilst a large part of me obviously bursts with pride at his achievements, a larger part is sad that this wonderful gift, is only enjoyed by the four solitary walls of our music room without being shared with the outside world. It’s not because I want him to have fame or fortune or some sort of lucky break, because, that’s quite simply not what is important but more so because, for a multitude of reasons, this lad’s light is being hidden under a bushel. But when I examine that more, I have to ask myself why that is important. Why is it important not to hide our light under a bushel and what intrinsic benefit does it have to anyone by sharing such a light anyway?
Encouraging our child’s gifts and talents, I believe is an intrinsic part of parenting. I don’t believe that any child is necessarily more special than the next; I don’t think my children are any better than anyone else’s (well except to me obviously) and I am under no illusion that my boy is going to be some famous concert pianist but what I do believe is that helping a child discover their own unique gifts is one of the most precious things we, as parents, can do for our children. Helping them to realise what they can do and accept what they can’t do. Helping them to be content with their lot and grateful for their blessings in life whatever they may be. Helping them bring out of themselves the one thing that brings them to life, that imparts some sort of elixir in their being that drives them to go that bit further, fills them with confidence, inspires them and compels them forward. That is what I believe passionately is what parenting is about. It’s not about keeping out head in the sand or the clouds or any place that isn’t firmly based in reality but it is about encouragement, support and nurture. Nurturing a child to have the confidence, believe in themselves and to take risks. Helping them to be able to critically evaluate and to be realistic whilst encouraging them to work hard, focus and stay motivated in developing their latent potential whether that be as a pianist or a Picasso, a plumber or a pilot. a preacher or a politician. Each of us, I believe, has something that is “our special something”. It could be anything from a skill to a unique state of mind, or a strong academic ability, or vocational attribute. But whatever it is, by helping our children develop or even hone in on this, they will in turn maximise on their strengths which in turn will help their weaknesses.
I was explaining this to my budding pianist and said to him to imagine his ability to play piano like growing a sunflower. When it reaches full height it is magnanimous – it stands proud with its glorious head radiating towards the sun giving joy to all who see it. The key though is not necessarily in the glory of the sunflower but in the two other by-products of the growing process. Firstly examining the stalk, sometimes it is possible to realise that microbes of seemingly insignificant or weaker matter (all be it weeds or epiphytes) have been raised up alongside the mighty sunflower and secondly the gardener may well be encouraged by the success of their sunflower to try their hand at growing other plants. So too is it evident that by playing to our strengths, using our gifts and talents, we harness our weaknesses and develop them and bring them on simultaneously and the fear of facing weaknesses and working on self-improvement diminishes. So for my boy, his music is his strength. The more he plays and the better he gets and the more confidence he gains from playing to others and sharing the beauty of his music and the more he is able to see the positive outcomes from using this gift, the more he is bolstered to take similar risks with the things he’s not so good at. Or take for instance the child that is able to take excellent photographs and shines in his artwork. Seeing the consequences of running with his strengths and by gaining confidence, he considers that maybe he hasn’t anything to fear by facing his weaknesses and having a go (in this case, his Maths). By instilling that confidence his Maths grades rise – maybe not as magnanimously as his photography/artwork but still more than they might otherwise do.
This is often what is missing in education and in the classroom with many over stretched teachers and curriculum focussed and tight timetables interrupting the abilities of institutions to nurture each child individually but that is no excuse for parents not to play their part in encouraging and supporting their children and indeed I believe they have a responsibility to do so. The world we live in is all about risks and knowing how to take calculated risks. Those who are unsure of themselves can all too easily be consumed and spat out by the wider community especially when they become engulfed by what they cannot do. As parents it costs nothing to offer such encouragement. It isn’t about availing lucky breaks, or presenting those “once in a lifetime” opportunities. It also isn’t about shelling out a small fortune. It is purely about a mind-set and a commitment to our children. It may be that as parent we chose to invest in a particular venture, but money will not buy a child’s gift or somehow instil a latent talent and so it is about encouraging them. My boy hasn’t had piano lessons because we cannot afford them and yet he has sat down and taught himself because deep inside him was a need to express himself through such a medium and as such clearly has a gift bursting to get out. That’s not to say, if someone offered to take him on and give him lessons, I would see that as un-necessary but the crux of the matter is that he is encouraged intrinsically and spurred on to do the best he can with the means available because he has been brought up to believe that he can and so he has.
Encouraging our children to shine brightly therefore needs to take a prominent place in our parenting regimes. It is not about developing a brash, cocky child who fails to appreciate their own areas of self-improvement but by understanding and fostering our children’s unique gifts and talents to enable them to ‘grow’ the deeply attractive quality of security and quiet confidence. They can then step gently yet purposefully through life with a calm determination and serene integrity of knowing where their strengths are, playing to them whilst avoiding the suffocation of being hung up on their weaknesses. That to my mind, then transcends education in its narrow context and facilitates a skill set that will go far beyond the classroom. That is what it means to encourage a light to be shone, to be taken out from under that bushel and bought to the fore so that with grace and courage we constantly move forwards without being held back. And that is why children, need caring, loving parents to spend the time with them, encouraging them (realistically and passively) to shine bright at the things they do well; to grab life and excel at their strengths.