We’ve all heard Gary Player’s famous quote: “The more I practise, the luckier I get!” and how often do we say to our children, “practice makes perfect”? It’s because inherently we know that this is true for most things in life. But practice takes discipline and determination and sometimes breaking through resistance.
Babies practise the same movements over and over again, such as crawling and standing up. This is how neural pathways are formed in the brain. The more a movement is practised, the more myelin (fatty coating of the nerve fibres in the brain) is laid down, making the neural circuit more efficient and thereby refining the movement or skill.
Did you know that babies need to perform in the region of 50 000 crawling movements to wire the brain in preparation for the fine motor skills of reading and writing? Toddlers like the same stories, DVDs, puzzles and games over and over again, because they like predictability at this stage and they enjoy mastering things through repetition. In the classroom our children repeat basic patterns for writing in preschool and then letter and number formation and spelling in the ensuing years. The more they practise the easier it gets. Of late, my eldest son, who has a natural aptitude for maths, has been told by his teacher that more practise is what he needs even though he is already good at this subject.
Top sportsmen and women, musicians and business people don’t just succeed by talent alone. “In fact, the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play,” says Malcolm Gladwell in his excellent book, Outliers: the story of success. He believes that practise isn’t the thing you do once you’re good, it’s the thing that makes you good, whether you are Mozart, The Beatles, Bill Gates, grand chessmaster Bobby Fischer or a top Canadian ice hockey player.
The common denominator he uncovers is that before these people “made it” or became world class experts, they all had 10 000 hours of practise over many years. Now that’s a lot of repetition!
The object here is not to get you to force your child to practise something over and over again in order to become brilliant and make you proud, but rather to illustrate the reason why children do need to do lots of practise and repetition both in the classroom and on the sports field which, as an onlooker, may appear quite boring and feel like a waste of time.
You can help your child to succeed by doing some of the following items on the activity list below, and do make sure you have fun together while doing them.
- Discover their natural strengths/ talents/interests (they all have them, it does not have to be giftedness, and their strengths and interests may not be what you expect or necessarily the same as yours). You can do this by giving them a variety of games and toys to play with and spot their strengths. With my youngest it was obvious from the earliest of experiences with construction toys that he had a very strong sense of symmetry and being able to spot a visual pattern – what he built on the left he built on the right, and this has come through in maths over the years. Who knows how this inherent strength will play out in his career, as it is not something everyone has.
- Natural teachers and nurturers can often be spotted in the way they will gather groups together and teach them or nurse/doctor them. The organisers can be seen managing their friends or even bossing them around. It’s always interesting to observe and see if these traits play out in the classroom and in extra-curricular activities.
- Create plenty of opportunity for repetition and practise – make it as fun as possible, and keep a good balance without going to extremes.
- Be encouraging and patient. Get involved as it helps reduce resistance (a few minutes of throw and catch every day in your driveway can make the world of difference to a child’s sports skills, for example, and they will just love the time spent with you)
- Find opportunities for your child to display or showcase their talents/strengths/interests as this builds self-confidence and self-esteem. You may want to enrol them in an extramural activity to build on their strengths. Just remember that children need a balance between organised activities, free play and playdates. Being overly busy can also shut down their ability to explore and develop their strengths and talents.
- Have a discussion with your partner or spouse about what talent means to you and how you see your children. You may also want help your children to identify their own strengths and talents by taking them through the Mirror Game that you will find on page 283 in my book, Future-proof Your Child to help them to develop their Talent Profile which is a very enlightening and useful exercise to both them and you.
Creative parenting expert, inspirational speaker and co-author of Tech-Savvy Parenting (Bookstorm, 2014), Future-proof Your Child (Penguin, 2008), and Easy Answers to Awkward Questions (Metz Press, 2009)