I still remember when our eldest son Lance was 3 and curious about almost everything around him. He loved to watch his father drive our car and would often bring along a toy steering wheel and follow the road’s twists and turns, honking his horn whenever his dad did. Thus, we were not surprised that when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he eagerly answered, “A driver!” Later on, that was followed by other, equally interesting dreams: to be a village security guard (imagine seeing so many cars pass by!), then a “vacuum cleaner” (which was what he thought the salesman demonstrating the vacuum cleaner was called), and when he was 6, the Pope (what a big leap!).
It was only in high school that Lance’s interests and talents began to shape his dreams. Discovering his skill in telling stories through stage and video productions, he decided he wanted to be a filmmaker and thus pursued a related course in college.
Our other children have equally interesting dreams. Our 18-year-old daughter wants to be the next Ellen Degeneres (“but marry a boy”). Our 13-year-old’s desire is to be a pre-school teacher and author. And our youngest son? At 11-years old, he dreams of becoming the first Filipino to play in the NBA. All these dreams are lofty, may possibly cause not a few raised eyebrows, and admittedly will require much hard work, grit, wisdom, and a watchful eye for those rare opportunities that will hopefully come along the way.
What are your child’s dreams? And how do you give your child the encouragement and support he will need to nurture those dreams? Here are a few lessons my husband and I have learned in our desire to help our kids achieve their dreams:
Respect your child’s dreams. Young children’s amibitions can range from seemingly impossible (“be a princess”) to silly (“own another planet”). Whatever their dreams are, show them that it is good to look to the future and imagine themselves doing what they love. Never put down a child’s dream with comments like, “You won’t earn enough money with that job.” Or “That’s too difficult.” The sky is the limit as far as dreams are concerned, especially for young kids. Besides, dreaming is free! Help them focus and define their dreams later on as they get older.
Explore why your children want to be what they dream to be. Ask questions like, “What do you think you will like about being a fireman?” “What do you think is fun about being a chef?” This communicates that dreams spring from what we love to do and what we are good at. This will also give you the opportunity to encourage your child to look beyond the material trappings of a dream, e.g., a six-figure salary, glamour, or fame, and focus on how something they enjoy can be used for the good of others.
Provide your children with opportunities to discover and hone their talents. Knowing one’s gifts and being able to develop and find joy and meaning in them are important steps to shaping one’s dream and working towards achieving it. Expose your children to art, literature, science, music, sports, and other fields. How can they discover they’re good at something they have never tried? Put away the tablets and visit museums, art galleries, or libraries, watch a play or concert, bake together. Encourage their inclinations without pushing too hard. Work on creative projects with your artistic child or let her take art lessons. Expose your athletic child to sports clinics and friendly games with other kids. Give away your future author’s works as gifts to relatives.
Don’t be discouraged when your children’s dreams change over time. As our children grow and discover more about themselves and the world around them, their dreams, even the ones they seemed to be most passionate about, may change. Our son Lance seemed determined to be the director that would change the face of Philippine cinema until he had the opportunity to study abroad and there discover new fields that also matched well with both his passions and talents, and where he could still put his filmmaking skills to good use. This made us realize that although the specific expression of a person’s dream might change, its core can still remain the same: in his case for example, to create something that can spur positive change in the lives of many.
Introduce your children to inspiring role models and achievers in their chosen fields. Lead them to add noble goals to their dreams. As our children get older and their dreams and ambitions become clearer, guide them to aim for noble goals. Help them realize that dreams become much more meaningful and relevant if they uplift the lives of others and make a positive difference in the world. Present to them the inspiring stories of world changers, heroes, and even saints who devoted their lives to serving others and making the world even just a little better. Help them realize that dreams that serve only oneself are empty ambitions that will bring about the kind of happiness that is shallow and meaningless.
Finally, let your children own their dreams. Ultimately, their dreams are their choice and making it a reality is in their hands. As parents, we strive to motivate, inspire, encourage, and guide so that challenges along the way can be conquered, and failures overcome. Perhaps one of the most important lessons they will learn is that dreams require perseverance and hard work, along with the support of many who make the journey sweeter and the hardships bearable.
So, in the words of the famous philosopher, Dr. Seuss, we cheer on our children, “…you’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So… get on your way!”