All of these people are regularly associated with the word genius.
Now you can add someone else to that list: your kid. In fact, every child is a genius.
Naturally every parent believes that's true of their child, but how often does anyone agree? Psychologist and learning specialist Dr. Thomas Armstrong does. In his words, not every child "can paint like Picasso, compose like Mozart or score 150 on an I.Q. test." Yet according to Armstrong, the original meaning of the word genius is "to give birth" and "to be zestful or joyous." And that applies to every child.
Children have infinite potential
"Each child comes into life with wonder, curiosity, awe, spontaneity, vitality, flexibility and many other characteristics of a joyous being," Armstrong says in our book, The World Needs Your Kid: Raising Children Who Care and Contribute. "An infant has twice as many brain connections as an adult. Young children have vivid imaginations, creative minds and sensitive personalities."
So how can you help preserve and nurture this infinite potential?
Marianne, a mother of two teens, has watched her kids develop their own passions over the years. Her 14-year-old daughter, Chloe, is vocal in her advocacy for animals, while Marianne calls her 16-year-old son, Galen, a "quiet activist." While we think of genius as a very unique gift, Armstrong categorizes it more as youthful passion – and Marianne's kids certainly have loads of that.
Chloe's love of animals became apparent at a very young age. (What mother doesn't love the question "Mom, can we get a puppy?") Over time, that love developed into a determination to help animals in any way she can. Chloe is anxiously waiting for the day she's old enough to volunteer at her local humane society.
Galen's passion lies in helping both people and the environment. He and Chloe have travelled to developing nations and witnessed the striking imbalances between there and here. He has asked for donations to charity in lieu of birthday gifts and grown his hair long enough to donate it to be used as wigs for cancer patients. He's even keen enough to remind his mother, "You're running the water too long" when she forgets. Galen is beginning to sort through his options for post-secondary education, but he knows he wants to do something to help those in need.
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Encourage your children to follow their passions
Marianne has never directly told her children to help someone out or to get involved with a certain project. Instead, she has always encouraged her children to follow their passions and helped out with the details along the way. And while neither of them have painted a masterpiece or patented any world-changing inventions – yet – they have not lost the "wisdom and wonder" inherent in the genius of youth that Armstrong describes. Not to mention the gift they have for making Mom extremely proud.
To start helping your child develop his or her natural genius, Armstrong advises spending time as a family on nature hikes, museum visits and storytelling. Most importantly, parents must recognize that each of their kids' genius is unique and cannot be determined with I.Q. tests. Sharing a passion for learning with your children is a great way to help them unlock the unique potential they have to share with the world.
Tips for parents:
1. You already know your child's a genius. Your challenge and joy is to help them discover their own potential.
2. Take an interest in their interests. If your child is fascinated by something, help them learn more about it – even if the interest changes every month.
3. Encourage effort, not results. Marks and scores are important, but at the end of the day it's most important for the child to feel a sense of accomplishment.
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