Supporting different interests
Different interests go hand in hand with differing abilities. A four-year-old may be wonderful at kicking a ball but scared of the water, while a seven-year-old may be a fantastic swimmer with poor hand-eye coordination.
The challenge for parents is to support the interests of each. Schedules and the logistics that come with busy family life can make doing this complicated, and often results in a scenario where parents say, “It’s too hard”. The result is that all children end up playing soccer or netball as one child is good at it.
While it’s a tempting solution, Professor Sanders says this is often a mistake.
“There are some advantages in collective family involvement in an activity that’s enjoyed by all, but the principle is to tune into what your children like to do and try to create opportunities for them to participate in that,” Professor Sanders says.
Supporting children’s self esteem
The key to supporting all children’s self esteem regardless of their level of ability at the activity in question is to provide encouragement and feedback regardless of capability.
“Parents should be looking for gradual improvements in their capacity. It’s not a comparison situation where kids are competing against each other: instead children are always being benchmarked against their own prior performance and effort,” Professor Sanders says.
An excellent way to support this type of family environment is to use one dinnertime a week as a chance to support each other’s achievements and interests.
Take turns going around the table, allowing children the opportunity to each share one thing that was special or fun for them during the week.
“That’s a great context as children are getting used to sharing information about what they do with an interested audience. That audience is practising the skills of simply listening or asking an interested question,” Professor Sanders says.
While this exercise is good for those developing new abilities, it also helps the children who have lots of achievements under their belt practise simply talking about one accomplishment in a way that’s not bragging.
“That’s an important social skill,” Professor Sanders says.
For older siblings, when it’s the turn of their younger brother or sister to share, their job is to simply listen and not pass judgement.
“It’s about giving all kids fair air time,” he says.
In order to discourage an environment where sibling rivalry pervades, this type of technique is just as important to use in challenging times.
“You can have weeks that aren’t always plain sailing. Challenges and difficulties are okay too. You want to create a sense that as family members our job is to support each other, not to compare or gloat,” Professor Sanders says.
Ultimately, parents need to keep coming back to what is unique and special about each of their children, regardless of their abilities, personality or interest.
“Yes, they will likely share some things in common, which means there are things you can all share as a family. But it’s inevitable that some children will be much better than others at some things. That’s perfectly acceptable and normal,” Professor Sanders.
Rewards usually follow if the family’s focus is on developing skills rather than getting to an ‘end goal’.
“It means children will always have a sense of satisfaction that they are getting better at doing things. Even if they are coming in the second half of the field in a race, they’ll understand that’s worthy of celebration and note,” Professor Sanders says.