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 Woman reading Essential Reads

» A Culture that Engages Every Family, Steven M. Constantino, Ed.D.

» How to Revitalize Your School-Parent Compact, Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Ph.D.

» How Do You Know if You're Really Open to Partnership, Anne Henderson & Karen Mapp

»PTA--Gateway to Engagement, Advocacy, and Access, Meryl Ain, Ed.D.

» The Power of Asking-Instead of Telling, Jody McVittie, M.D.

» Empathy in Action, Rick Ackerly, Ed.M.

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Five New Year's Resolutions for Parents

By Marilyn Price-Mitchell Ph.D.

New Year’s is a time to reflect on the past and make plans for the future. Why not use this time to reflect on the genius in your child, and then make plans to nurture that genius throughout the year?


My fellow blogger and colleague, Rick Ackerly, wrote a fabulous book this year, The Genius in Every Child. A former elementary school principal, Ackerly writes convincingly about the importance of long term development over a child’s short-term accomplishments.

If we focus on the genius that comes from developing character, curiosity, and creativity in children, then children learn to thrive from the inside out.  

Ackerly claims that education is backwards. 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 a few important bits of advice to add to your New Year’s resolutions!

Five Resolutions for Bringing Out the Genius in Your Child


 1.      Engage Your Child in Meaningful Conversation

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.

 2.      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.  As elaborated in Learning from Mistakes: Helping Kids See the Good Side of Getting Things Wrong, nothing is more important to long-term success than allowing children to take responsibility for their actions, including learning from failures.

 3.      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!

 4.      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.  As I wrote in Route to Happiness: Fostering Initiative in Children & Adolescents, when children learn to overcome obstacles, they are more likely to live a life of happiness and well-being.

 5.      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 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 a school principal as well as his experience as a father and grandfather.  If you’d like to follow his work, he writes a helpful blog aimed at parents of elementary-school-age children called The Genius in Children and is also on Facebook and Twitter. 

Image Credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.Net

Posted on December 26, 2012 by Marilyn Price-Mitchell Ph.D.

Marilyn is co-founder and president of the National ParentNet Association. A developmental psychologist and researcher, her work focuses on positive youth development, youth civic engagement, and family-school-community partnerships. Follow her blogs at Psychology Today and Roots of Action.  Find her on Twitter and Facebook.

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