"Mom! I want to go with you!"
A trip to the electronics store. I was hoping to go alone. You know, time to enjoy quiet; time to think without questions. After all, it is ONLY the electronics store.
My mind rattled through all the pros and cons.
- They grow up fast.
- I need a few quiet moments.
- It was a chance to spend individual time.
- I should seize the moment!
"Yes, you can go."
She put on her shoes. We got in the car and talked all the way to the store. We parked and shopped. Paid. My daughter carried the box, proudly, spring in her step--a wide smile beaming across her face. She insisted on holding our purchase all the way home.
She was energized.
After ten minutes of silence, she asked.
"How could I work at that store?"
Followed immediately by,
"I just love it there! All the electronics, the gadgets, the cables."
How do we help foster strengths and interests in our children (especially when it is not what we had in mind)?
- Be open. When my daughter announced she wanted to work at an electronics store, my immediate thought was not impressive. I wouldn't have won Mommy Points. Why would you want to work in an electronics store? Stellar, I know. Thankfully, having been in this place before with other children, I learned from mistakes; held my initial thought. Counting to five helped.
- Avoid a defensive/reactive posture. By waiting, even just a few seconds, I was able to offer an open, positive response. And, being in the car I didn't have to worry about impatiently shifting my weight or a tapping toe, thankfully. I have spoken those unintended messages before.
- Ask a question. Asking a question keeps conversation and relationship open. This is another hard lesson I've learned. I'm a global-thinking fixer. I see conclusions (sometimes wrong conclusions) and big pictures before the speaker, so waiting for a response or waiting to hear the whole story takes discipline.
"You asked a great question. What skills do you think you would need to work there?"
- Wait for a response. If the child is processing thoughts, a response may take a few minutes. And likely, he or she hasn't encountered the scenario at hand in the past. When I keep active and engaged while offering patience, the conversation with my child stays alive. When my mind wonders or I feel something else tugging for my attention (and there are many of those!), my daughter knows.
"I would need to learn about computers, cameras and equipment."
- Affirm and ask another question. Affirmation keeps the conversation moving forward and also allows children to internalize that their thoughts are worth processing. Remember, the reason the conversation started was to answer a pending question or entertain an important thought. A piece of affirmation and a follow-up question provides motivation toward considering perspectives and ideas which might not be clear, YET!
"Indeed you would need to know about those things. How could you learn more about electronics?"
- Don't fret. In the process of thinking things out--engaging in dialogue--it is helpful to remember that just because it is said doesn't mean it will happen. Children and young adults (and I would venture to suggest even adults) express ideas which will never come to fruition. This is part of processing thoughts. In other words, if a child or young adult mentions a possibility for employment or the intention of attending an event, it is an opportunity to learn conversation skills and decision making--another opportunity to share and consider. When I short circuit the process of my child or young adult's thought process prematurely, progress halts. I've had to remind myself that my children need opportunities like these to develop soft skills: problem solving, conversational etiquette, consideration of other people, adaptability, time management, and emotional intelligence. If I cut them off, define all the problems and solutions, discourage conversation, I place my children and young adults at a great disservice. Decision making, Interpersonal skills, work ethic, and research skills must be practiced and experienced before my young adults forge out on their own.
- Welcome the unexpected. It may be a passing thought. It might never happen. However, when I welcome and am open to the thoughts of my children, there is a greater chance they will come to me when really big things come to the forefront of their mind. Today's thought about working at an electronics store may be tomorrow's thought of whether an entire savings should be used to buy a car. As a parent I've had to keep my hands open. A desire to work in an electronics store isn't the end of the world. In fact, it could be the catalyst needed to deepen a relationship or it could be the gateway to a lucrative career (or a stepping stone to fixing Mom's technology).
- Brainstorm. What began as a question ended with a wide-open slate of possibilities. Together my daughter and I discovered several ways she could learn more about electronics. As we talked, she became more engaged, more excited, asking if she had to wait until middle and high school to start. Of course not, learning can start immediately! Perhaps there is something you can do or offer today to fuel the excitement in your leaner.
- Open to possibilities. As a homeschooled student, my daughter can learn from an array of environments: online tutorials, online certifications, shadowing, volunteering, mentors. And, she has time to do so! JOY! What possibilities wait for your leaner?
- How can I help? I am a busy mom with full days. Believe me, it is not easy for me to ask for more to do. However, when my children face a new endeavor or potential change, they usually embrace the chance to have someone walk along side them, cheer them on. I WANT to be that cheerleader. In my twenty-seven years of parenting, I've learned if I don't get excited--walk alongside, ask how I can help--my children will find someone who or some place which will provide for this need. Companionship is something we all need, children, young adults, and adults.
- What's the next step? The next step may not be obvious or easy. Even for me as an adult, I'm often not clear about what my next steps might be. It's silly for me to think my children will know, every time, what their next right steps will be. Helping to identify a next steps and then encouragement to follow through offers another opportunity to affirm and build relationships as well as soft skills and life experiences.
What strengths or interests are your children or young adults asking you to foster?
Those strengths and interests may begin with a question and end with answers. Or, those strengths and interests may begin with a request to tag-along and end with an opportunity to walk alongside. And even still, those strengths and interests may start with you--the parent--pointing out an area you see your child could excel, something of which he or she may not even be aware.
Potential is ripe, right where you are--your child and you--together.
Oh, I forgot to mention.
Within twenty-four hours, my daughter had spent a good bit of time watching online tutorials and how-to videos about building computers, extracting parts, wiring circuits and more. And her interest began with a tag-along opportunity, some engaging conversation, and insight into next steps.
I wonder what she will do tomorrow?
I wonder what your learners might discover TODAY!
This blog post is intended to offer an example of personal experience. It is in no way intended to be legal advice and should not be taken as such. Parents own the sole responsibility for the training and education of their children.