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Every child has talents. Some you might not see today…but they are there, rest assured. One of the many jobs you have as a parent, is to recognize those interests and talents and maximize your child’s chance of capitalizing on them. In today’s pedcast, I am going to get very personal and show you how this worked out in my life, with the hopes that my story may be helpful to your family.
The Doc Smo Story -The Elementary Years
I was born into a middle class family, being the third of four children. I was the only boy however, which definitely worked to my disadvantage in my early years as you are about to see. I also had the poor fortune of being born late in the calendar year and starting first grade at four years of age. Another strike against my success. My two sisters were excellent students and made getting great grades look easy. Of course, each year, when I encountered many of the same teachers as my sisters, I would get the comment, “Oh, you are Peggy and Sally’s brother”. Well, I learned to recognize what that comment really meant- we will expect big things from you academically. You have big shoes to fill. Unfortunately, my feet were much smaller than theirs as I quickly found out. My elementary years were filled with academic angst. I passed each year with acceptable grades but with many struggles. My reading was particularly troublesome and some of my worst memories of school were reading aloud in front of the class, a practice that was very in vogue during my childhood. I think the teachers thought that if they humiliated me enough, my reading would improve. Unfortunately, this strategy didn’t work for me. It just gave me great anxiety about public reading and speaking. I am sure that in today’s world, I would have had a diagnosis like dyslexia or a reading disorder- but not in the 1950’s. All it got me then was daily humiliation. In addition to having difficulty reading, I recall a lot of talk about my fidgeting and having trouble sitting still. My father seemed to be particularly troubled by this fidgety trait of mine, to the point that he offered me $5.00 if I could sit totally still for one minute without moving. Five dollars! That’s the equivalent of $45 in today’s world. Sadly, I never got that $5.00. No, my elementary story sounds a lot like a child who would carry a diagnosis of ADHD and a reading disorder in today’s world.
Doc Smo Story-The Middle School and High School Years
But that was elementary school. I started off middle school grouped with the lowest achieving students, section 1 out of a total of 14. Rock bottom. But something happened during the summer of my 7th grade. I discovered that my house was full of interesting books and my reading was getting good enough that I could actually read and understand them. Thanks goodness my parents bought books! James Mitchener, Kurt Vonnegut, and Phillip Roth started to become my friends. My math skills had always been good but now when I hit the 8th grade, my reading skills were starting to catch-up. By ninth grade, I was actually taking English classes with the big dogs, the brainiacs in my school. By the time I finished high school, I was taking many of the advanced classes, especially in the sciences. I had achieved a lot of catching-up but I was by no means, at the top of the class. I still wasn’t my sisters, but I was closing in.
Doc Smo-The College Years
Then came the transition to college. I’ll never forget my high school counselor talking about my college choice, advising me not to go to Duke University even though I had been admitted. He bluntly told me I would fail. The reality was that I had probably been admitted because I had been the captain of my high school tennis team and we had been state champions during my tenure. I had a lot of grit on the court and a wonderful backhand. Fortunately, I chose to ignore my college counselor’s advice and matriculate with all these class valedictorians I called my classmates at Duke. But I knew I had a secret weapon… my early academic difficulties I had taught me to work harder than everyone around me. This trait compensated for a lot of my deficiencies. At the tender age of 17, I had learned that hard work is more important than innate intelligence. I decided that I was up for the challenge. That was my plan, anyway. And it worked! I had to drop tennis after two years because it added too many demands on my time and I was often in the library on Friday and Saturday nights until it closed, but I did it. I graduated with high honors and was admitted to medical school. A dream that many of my valedictorian classmates never achieved I might add.
So, How Did I Overcome My Limitations?
So how did the 6th grader who could barely read, me, manage to garner this type of life success? Well, I’ll tell you:
First, my parents were always there for me. They believed in me and didn’t let the school put limits on me. When I didn’t do well, they just told me to try harder. I wasn’t belittled or punished by them, just held to a high standard and encouraged to work harder.
Secondly, my parents recognized some of my talents that were not academic and facilitated opportunities for me to pursue these activities. My father recognized that I had good eye hand coordination and foot speed so he thought tennis could be my ticket. Of course he was right. Tennis opened a lot of doors for me in life and for that I am very grateful. And for my mother, she recognized that I had an artistic side. She encouraged me to try photography as a hobby, helping me build a darkroom and giving me enough money to buy a used camera. This definitely changed my life.
Thirdly, my parents taught me that failing was OK as long as you learned from your failures and did your best. They definitely didn’t shield me from the pain of failures and for that I am very grateful. My father would always tell me to be “The best I could possibly be at whatever I chose to do”. His advice has served me well.
How Can My Story Help Your Children
So how can my story help your parenting journey achieve great things? Do what my parents did for me, encourage, encourage, encourage. Hold your children to the highest standards that you think they can achieve and help them pursue their interests and talents beyond academics. And, if their academics are not up to par, get them help and be patient. Cognitive development is not a linear affair. People don’t reach their peak cognitive ability until age thirty five years and many, like me, mature more slowly. A struggling child has plenty of time to grow and improve. And always demand their best work but remember that the sting of failure is your children’s best teacher and motivator. I believe that ultimately, your children’s life success will come down two things- learning to enjoy working hard and learning to be motivated by failure. Both, skills that you can nurture in your children today. Happy holidays.
If you value the information and perspectives you get from Portable Practical Pediatrics, consider taking a moment to rate it where you get podcasts. And your comments are always welcome. This is Doc Smo, hoping you have a holiday season full of joy. Until next time.