Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Helping Children Excel

Last night I saw Shawn Johnson win a gold medal in the balance beam finals at the Olympic Games. We had been watching the gymnasts ever since the Games had started, so we got to see their emotional roller coasters and could imagine what it felt like to be there- and how one wrong move could end their dreams. How nerve-wracking just watching it!

But last night, Shawn Johnson just BEAMED. She isn't even my child and I teared up just thinking about the work that went into that one event. The YEARS and HOURS of practice and training are something that most kids could not even imagine. Then I saw her parents, holding each other and bawling. What a great story! I can't even put into words how happy Shawn was when she knew she had the gold. She couldn't stop smiling. She waved to the camera, and you could tell she was finally able to relax. After all, she had not been able to get a gold medal until this event final. She had a silver for team competition, silver for all-around, and silver on bars until this final event. Her teammate and competitor, Nastia Luikin had already earned a gold on all-around, so it was just icing when she silvered next to Shawn Johnson's gold on beam.

Switching sports really quick, then there is Michael Phelps. Need I say more? LOL I actually grew up swimming, so that is a sport I definitely watch. Obviously he is a little more expressive and manly with his joy. If you watched any swimming at all, you know what I'm talking about. But watching these athletes and others compete- and excel- is not only pure joy, but a reminder of all the positive things that come out of helping children excel.

None of these athletes could be where they are without their parents. But what many parents don't realize is that we don't have to raise olympic athletes in order for our kids to gain the same pride and joy that we see at the olympics. It happens every day at little league games, summer swim programs, singing competitions, boy and girls scouts, academic competitions, and other competitive events. I still remember the amazing catches, and the look of amazement on swim coaches when I actually swam as fast as I told them I would- even though they didn't believe me. Not only did it feel wonderful at the moment, but I still remember them, even 25 years later. There is just something about working toward something, and it paying off.

Now you may be asking, what about when your child doesn't win? What if silver is the best they can do? The one thing I don't like about the Olympics is that you walk away with a feeling that gold is first and silver is last. That probably helps athletes do their best in training, but to see them disappointed when they get second is a little sad. With our own children, that is part of life. Sometimes you will win. Sometimes you won't. (Unless you are Michael Phelps and you take all the gold medals yourself!) Some kids will work harder for the next time. Others will quit completely. My feeling on it is that if your child was meant to do a certain sport or activity, they will love it so much that they look past the second place finishes, and even the last place finishes. Their passion for it drives them more than the recognition, and when they finally do win or place better, it's just the icing on the cake.

Helping children excel is important, but it's even more important that we do it in a loving, nurturing, and positive way. We have all seen the parents that push too hard. We are probably even that parent from time to time. My rule is that you should try what you want to, and finish out the season and give it your best. But you can't quit half way through, and you can't give up before the season is over. I actually play ball with my kids: soccer during soccer season, and baseball/softball during that season. This is how I can help them, by teaching them the skills they need and giving them a chance to practice.

In academic areas, it's really easy to excel when you homeschool. It just sort of happens. I think this is because they see their parent excited about the subject, and also because they still have a love for learning.

If I had to give three steps for helping children excel, they would be:
1. Be involved
2. Be active
3. Be loving
Yep, even when your child strikes out AGAIN, there will be something positive he did in the game that you will be able to point out. Focus on those things and keep on practicing!

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