Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (February 2, 2017)
“I want to be a ninja!”
When I asked a class of primary one students what they want to be when they grow up, the answers were varied and creative but the one that stood out the most was a very bright boy whose eyes lit up when he said he wanted to be a ninja. He talked about how we could be stealth and bounce off walls when being a ninja and could use the skills to save people and “kill bad people”. I appreciated his creativity, his zest and his sharing.
Towards the end of class, students were asked to complete a worksheet that included the question: ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ and to draw a picture of themselves. I was looking forward to seeing this boy’s visual interpretation of being a ninja.
As I looked at the boy’s worksheet, I was taken aback. It said “When I grow up, I want to be a doctor”. It didn’t say that he wanted to a ninja, instead it was to be a doctor. I asked him why he changed his response and his answer broke my heart. He said “I will get in trouble with my parents if I don’t say I want to be a doctor.”
As a parent, I know what it’s like to have dreams for your child. My husband, being a doctor, would love to see our son become a doctor too. But it’s one thing to have dreams and aspirations for our children, and another thing to impose our dreams onto theirs.
What happens if we kill their dreams:
1) It’s stripping away their decision making ability. We are effectively telling them that they don’t get a choice in their future and it doesn’t equip them to think independently.
2) It’s telling them that their ideas aren’t as valuable as ours.
3) It’s telling them that their gifts and talents are static and will lead to one option of job for them in the future. As opposed to helping them develop a growth mindset that enables them to tackle any challenge in the future.
4) It diminishes their self-esteem with the message with that they cannot achieve the dream of their choice
So we must encourage our children to share their dreams with us and to empower them with the confidence to pursue them. Ultimately, they may not end up doing what they thought they wanted to (how many of us really do?) but it’s about facing their future with autonomy and independence. So how do we do that?
Teach our children to develop their skills to the best of their abilities Teach our children that whatever they do, they must work hard and do their best. Building this ‘muscle’ of dedication will help children in pursuing whatever dreams they choose. Whatever skills and talents they have, they should be given the opportunity to develop them to the best of their ability
Teach them how to introspectively understand themselves and their strengths In knowing what goals and dreams to pursue, it’s essential to know how to identify one’s strengths. Growing in this intrapersonal intelligence will help identify what one is most suited for. For example, someone who has no interest or show no strength in Math probably shouldn’t choose to be an accountant.
Instil in them the confidence and courage to pursue their dreams By giving them independence in doing tasks and letting them face risks, it strengthens their confidence and in having more confidence, it gives them the courage to pursue whatever goals and plans they have.
So let’s let our children dream!