When my oldest was young, we dreaded school beginning. Soon it would start again. She would come home sobbing, “They called me dumb!”. By the end of second grade, she knew she was “dumb”.
My heart ached to see someone so young already without hope. I prayed and studied all I could about those who have difficulty learning. I found myself remembering my own struggles in elementary school, and wondering why the Lord had not blessed me as others. I was startled out of my self-pitying mood, as these words filled my mind, “You have not understood. These are not your weaknesses, but the strengths I have given you.”.
From that moment, I sought to better understand the Lord’s perspective. I read from Romans 12:6 how we all have “gifts differing”. In I Corinthians 12, Paul explains how we are all like different parts of a body; each equally important and essential. I felt uplifted when I read the 46th section of the D&C where the Lord explains how we are each given different gifts so we can help each other.
As our family became complete, we found it filled with a wide diversity of abilities. This made family unity challenging. One logical child could see no value in another sibling’s creative abilities. An outgoing child could not understand a quiet soul’s need to have time to think and ponder. Another declared that studying was a “waste of time” for the only effective “way to learn was by doing”.
Drawing from the Gospel plan, and our backgrounds in education, we discovered some ideas which helped strengthen our family, and protect our children from discouragement in school.
Teach Gospel Truths
Remind children that our purpose in life is to learn and grow.
The Holy Ghost can help us progress.
The Lord has also given us families, and expects us to help each other.
The Lord loves each of us equally.
He has given all of us gifts which he expects us to share.
Different situations in life require different abilities.
Elementary school requires primarily the concrete ability of working with letters and numbers. Our son who easily memorized words, names of States, and multiplication tables, soared.
In the higher grades, more and more emphasis is placed on understanding. This is why our “soaring son” from elementary school occasionally “crashed” in high school. As he declared, “How should I know what it means!?” At this point, he needed extra help in developing this ability.
We try to help our children identify and appreciate which abilities are being used in any activity by using words such as:
“He sure is gifted with his hands. Look at that beautiful cabinet!”
“What a great painting! She must have worked hard to develop that talent.”
Don’t Use Labels
We also try never to use labels, but instead, attempt to identify specific gifts.
When a child says, “He is so smart!” We might reply, “Yes, he certainly has a great ability to memorize the times tables. That is a nice gift to have.”
We find helping our children identify and develop their own talents helps them increase their self confidence, and be less competitive with others.
Such things as having s bulletin board where awards can be posted, and attending their performances has helped to give them the positive attention they need.
Don’t Allow Excuses
A son, hoping to get out of an English assignment, announced that he wasn’t creative. We reminded him that he would just have to work harder when something doesn’t come easily to him. Perhaps he might need to pray, and seek help from someone who was gifted in this area, but he still had to do the work.
Set Reasonable Expectations
If the child is becoming overwhelmed, it may be time for the parent and the teacher to evaluate what are reasonable expectations for this child. For a child who laborious fights his way through one page, requiring him to read a 300 page book could be devastating.
Also, the child may need extra assistance in learning. They may need help in developing little used abilities, or in learning how to use their strengths to help them cope in their areas of weakness. When we accept the child strengths and weaknesses, and teach him in the way he needs to learn, then we are showing our respect for them as children of God.
We need to remember that our child is in school to help him develop his unique potential. When we try to see our child as the Lord sees him, instead of as through a narrow worldly perspective of “smart” or “gifted”, then we are better able to help our child progress.
Some children may be weak in the few specific abilities which are emphasized in a school setting, but they do not have to become discouraged. They can still develop a strong sense of self worth, if we, as parents, help them to know they are sons and daughters of God who have each been given different gifts.