When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? More to the point, did that childhood dream correspond to your adult reality? If not, why not? Was your childhood wish really so unrealistic? Was it voiced, taken seriously, encouraged, and pursued? Or was it laughed off as just another childhood fantasy that will dissipate along with the belief in Father Christmas or the Tooth Fairy?
Here's an even better question: What about your own children right now? What are their dreams? Do you even know what they want to be when they grow up? Are you encouraging them to voice their dreams? Are you taking it seriously, and encouraging hem to pursue it? Or, are you just laughing it off as just another childhood fantasy?
It is easy to write off childhood dreams as magical thinking. After all, children of a certain age have no idea what is realistic and what is not. Up to about age 12, they still believe in Santa Claus. They watch Toy Story and either want to be an astronaut or a cowboy. This is their passionate desire for as long as it takes them to watch yet another movie.
Even conscientious parents will have a hard time distinguishing between the childhood dreams worth pursuing, and the ones that can be ignored. According to a LinkedIn survey from two years ago, about one and three people of the 8,000 they questioned had obtained their childhood dream job, or was working in a related field. That leaves a lot of wiggle room for analysis. Taking those numbers at face-value still means that two out of three people are not living their childhood dream.
It seems parents have two challenges in this regard. They need to be able to identify which dreams are worth pursuing, and once identified, know how best to encourage that pursuit. Here are a few tips:
- Pursue Everything
Here's a crazy idea; don't try to narrow the list. Don't make a value judgement of what is and what is not worth pursuing. Chase every dream until they burn out on their own. Eventually, one or two will stick. If your child gets sick at the sight of blood, you don't have to tell them that being a doctor is unrealistic. They will figure it out on their own after watching a few surgery videos on YouTube. Likewise, a child with a fear of heights is unlikely to pursue being an airplane pilot. If your child does not want to clean up after the dog, life as a cowboy or cowgirl is going to lose its luster in a hurry.
As a parent, you don't want to be in the business of telling your child what they can't do. They can generally figure that out on their own. You
want to be in the position of telling them about all the things they can do. By pursuing everything, you enable the child to gain the important
skill of identifying the unrealistic.
- Start Training Early
What if your child happens to be the next Mozart? Without early training, you will never know. Musical training literally reshapes the brain. A child's brain is more easily molded. The brain is not the only body part that has to be restructured for music. Fingers must become nimble and independent on each hand. For guitarists, calluses must be grown. For singers, vocal chords must be properly worked. Start late in life and you might achieve mediocrity. To achieve more, the training must start earlier.
Educational videos are particularly successful for children. That is probably because they enjoy videos, and are very imitative. If they can learn geography from Dora the Explorer, a geography-based children show, they can learn to play the guitar with Jamplay's guitar lessons. Regardless of the subject matter, video learning is an effective method for teaching children new things.
Early training not only rewires the brain for excellence in that field, but it establishes the type of work ethic that will define one's career later
- Establish a Work Ethic
If your children play rough and tumble games every time you turn your back, you should probably enroll them into structured sporting activities as a way to both channel their energy, and see if they really stick to the work ethic of practice and training that is required to be proficient.
If your child wants to be a musician, find out what she enjoys and spend a few bones on music lessons. If they get bored with repetitive lessons, that is normal. Encourage them to push through it without being too pushy. If they can get through the tough parts, they might actually have what it takes to make a career out of it.
If your child wants to be a doctor, teaching them anatomy might be a good idea early on. In other words, show them what it really means to pursue that dream. Give them a chance to try it, in as far as there are age appropriate things for them to try. See if it is something they are really interested in spending significant amounts of time on. By establishing this kind of work ethic, they will weed out the things that are unimportant to them. They also get to make real connections between fantasy and reality.
As a parent, the most important thing you can do for your children is to give them the broadest range of possibilities. If all a child knows is producing quick service burgers, that is all they will want to be.
In addition to knowing what is possible, they should also be taught the difference between what is important and what is frivolous. Yes, they can become a model and have pictures taken of them in bathing suits for a living. But is that really the best use of their talents? At the end of the day, is that a well-spent life? Is becoming a sports ball champion the greatest achievement of the species?
Even adults are confounded by these questions. A child has no idea. A parent not only has to help them discover what they could do, but what they should do. These are just a few considerations for bridging the gap between childhood dreams and adult realities.