So You Think Your Child’s A Genius?
Do you secretly see a budding genius in your child? Well, you may be right. At least Rick Ackerly, author of The Genius in Every Child, thinks so. And he makes a darn good argument!
A former elementary school principal, Ackerly writes convincingly about important conversations in today’s world of education and parenting. He wants parents and teachers to focus on the long term development of children rather than short run accomplishments.
Ackerly would like grownups to shift from a focus on test scores to a focus on enthusiasm for the genius in children. That genius comes by developing character, curiosity, and creativity.
Education is essentially backwards, Ackerly claims. Most people think of education as something we do to someone else:
Education is leading, not directing. Education is leading the genius out into the world to function creatively, effectively, and gracefully within it. Doing something to anyone is not education. Mobilizing the child’s genius, their inner authority, their teacher within, is critical for the success of the enterprise. Genius is the engine of education and the taproot of our learning.
How does Ackerly propose to bring out the genius in children? You’ll need to read the book to fully absorb the value of Ackerly’s own genius, but here are five important bits of his wisdom.
Five Tips for Bringing Out the Genius in Your Child
Getting children to engage their genius through dialogue is an art that requires good timing and specific, open ended questioning. The worst kinds of questions elicit short answers, like “How was school today?” Answer: “Great!” Instead, you want your child to engage in meaningful conversations about what they are learning. A good example, “What did you learn about dinosaurs today?” will move the conversation much further along.
Let Your Child Fail
This is the hardest thing for parents to do, but essential for facilitating genius. By the time children enter kindergarten, they have been taught certain formulas for success. For example, they know their parent’s values, why they should look both ways when they cross a street, etc. But after the age of five, parents need to shift gears. They need to let children explore and learn (safely) from their own actions and experiments. In Learning from Mistakes: Helping Kids See the Good Side of Getting Things Wrong, I concur that nothing is more important to long-term success than allowing children to take responsibility for their actions, including learning from failures.
Give your Child Consequences and Forgiveness
Part of being a genius lies in testing boundaries. All children do this. It’s up to parents to set boundaries and consequences in order to help define reality for a child. This also helps children learn to regulate their behavior in positive, non-aggressive ways. Genius’ will test and test again! Forgive them for doing so, remain consistent with consequences, and allow space for your child to be creative! Yes, this is a balancing act!
Believe in Your Child’s Genius
All children have strengths and weaknesses. The most important thing, in and out of school, is that we allow them to be themselves. Of course, we want to help children build on their strengths. But they also become confident and determined when they courageously work to overcome their weaknesses. Children want and need accurate feedback. Their confidence comes, not by constant praise and success, but by believing that success stems from their own internal strengths like hard work, effort, and persistence. In Route to Happiness: Fostering Initiative in Children & Adolescents, I agree that when children learn to overcome obstacles, they are more likely to live a life of happiness and well-being.
Allow your Child to Achieve Greatness
Achieving greatness is different than being excellent or the best. Allowing children to achieve greatness means liberating them from all comparisons. If they are compared to classmates who are doing some things better than them, children learn to become self-conscious. Their genius diminishes.
Ackerly’s book, The Genius in Every Child: Encouraging Character, Curiosity, and Creativity in Children, is well worth the read. He combines solid research in child development with real stories of the children and parents he has helped shepherd over the years as school principal as well as his experience as a father and grandfather. His style is warm, often humorous, and extremely authentic. If you’d like to follow Rick Ackerly’s work, he writes a helpful blog aimed at parents and teachers of elementary-school-age children and is also on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo of Boy: FreeDigitalPhotos.Net Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a free review copy of the book referenced in this post. Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend books or services that I believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”