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Releasing Your Child’s Learning Potentials

  • Barbara Curtis Author, Mommy, Teach Me!
  • 2007 21 Aug
Releasing Your Child’s Learning Potentials

No one has to force a little child to learn – it’s part of their nature.  When your toddler turns the light switch off and on, he’s not trying to annoy you.  He’s simply a baby scientist researching cause and effect.

When your daughter figures out a way to give herself a boost – by dragging a stool over to reach the stuff up on the counter – she’s passed her first test in engineering. 

The truth is, bringing up a child is like watching a continuously unfolding miracle – as long as we can turn off that nagging inclination to say “Stop!” and tune into the learning potentials God has built into his little creations. 


What if I told you that the Terrible Twos are a myth, that tantrums are not normal, and that a child whose independence needs are met appropriately is most unlikey  to have a meltdown in the mall?   

Certainly the drive for independence can become dangerous – as when your child lets go of your hand and darts through the parking lot.  That’s where limits and discipline come in.

But when you find your child trying to pour his own milk, his behavior is neither dangerous nor defiant.  It’s simply the natural result of the way God built our kids – with a drive to learn to do things on their own.

When your child shows interest in learning a new task, do your best to make it possible. 

Give your child choices whenever you possibly can: Let him pick out his own clothes and dress himself. Look for ways to make difficult things easier:  A child with crocs and elastic waistbands can experience the satisfaction of independent dressing early on.

As your child grows, anticipate ways to encourage more independence. As soon as he can tell time, buy him a clock and let him wake up to his own alarm and morning routine. Let him make his own pb&j. Teach him to make a few simple meals.

As you begin to respond with patience and consideration to your child’s drive for independence, you will begin to see immediate results in a calmer, more tractable child.  But you will also be investing in the future as your child grows in confidence and competence.

Let’s face it: Parenting is really a job we should be working ourselves out of each day.


While the sensitive period for independence is pretty self-evident, adults are often surprised to learn that the child’s potential for order is also established during the early years.  But that’s because it’s subtle – and very dependent on the environment we provide.

Order provides stability and security.  It encourages concentration and efficiency.  When a child knows where to find things, he can function more independently. 

Start with the basics: a child-sized table and chair – not in the bedroom, but somewhere in the midst of the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Besides a stool in the bathroom to enable him to take care of his needs, a stool in the kitchen will open a whole new world to him as he becomes part of meal preparation.

Put a peg rack at his height near the front door so he can hang up his own jacket when he comes in. A boot tray un­derneath will keep dirt off your carpets and help him re­member where his shoes are.

Keep things organized in an attractive way.  Opt for shelves over toy baskets. Use clear plastic containers to sort and hold things like small blocks, lacing cards, pegs, and puzzles.  Teach your child to take out one exercise at a time, to spend as much time as he wants with it, and then to put it back before taking out anything else.

Order provides your child with a feeling of security. When he knows where to hang his jacket, where to put his shoes and toys, he feels confident and secure.  Your understanding of your child’s need for order, and your loving provision will nurture this potential in his life and work. This will make it easier for him to accomplish all that he under­takes.


While the old adage, “Children should be seen and not heard” was certainly harsh, today’s cultural climate, with parents who indulge noisy kids during church, movies and plays is certainly an example of a pendulum swung too far.   Now it seems anything goes: “After all, they’re only children.”

But that approach leaves out a vital piece of any preschooler’s education.  Ask the parents of teens who discovered too late the consequences of raising kids without self-control to balance their independence.  For the best results, these two really must go hand-in-hand. 

Helping release a child’s potential for self-control begins with helping him master his own body.  Use balance beam exercises and old-fashioned games like Mother, May I? and Simon Says.

In situations like church, be clear in outlining the expected behavior.  Challenge them to take control over fidgety hands and restless legs: “You are the boss of your own body. You can tell it what to do.”

Teach them to control their tongue when speaking to siblings – no bad language, name calling, sarcasm, or put-downs. 

Also to control their reac­tions to life’s frustrations: a child who learns that ending up with an extra buttonhole at the neck is not cause for a major meltdown, but simply a signal to start over.

Little lessons in self-control will set our children on a path that leads to responsibility, in­tegrity, self‑government, and self-esteem. Another important reason why when it comes to teaching our children we need to think big but start small. 


From her observation of early 20th century Italian slum children absorbed in manipulating bread crumbs, Maria Montessori concluded that the drive to learn was so intrinsic - and so strong - that children would learn to focus on anything in order to fulfill their potential.

In our culture, kids are less likely to suffer from a lack than from an overabundance of claims on their attention.  Their visual fare is crowded with swiftly-shifting images, requiring little sustained focus. 

Now think of what’s required for kids in high school to master complex math or produce term papers.  Consider work adults are called to do in many different fields – from surveying boundaries to following a recipe to flying a plane.  What’s required?  Concentration. 

In our modern urgency to make our kids smart, we are going about it all the wrong way.  Though we surround our children with educational programs and materials, ironically the very richness of their environments may make it more difficult for them to learn to concentrate.

Here’s how you can help:

Observe your child.  Notice what activities she sticks with and let her know how happy you are when she’s completely involved in a particular task.   Encourage her to stick with a task until it’s completed.

Offer choices.  Your child is more likely to focus on an activity she prefers, so let her choose.

Model concentration.  When you work on a puzzle together, e.g., exaggerate your own focus.

Encourage repetition.  When your child completes something, before putting it away and moving on to something else, ask, "Would you like to do it again?"

Keep in mind that it’s better for a child to spend a half hour concentrating on one activity than to spend ten minutes here and ten minutes there.  If you are not seeing the concentration you would like to see in your child, keep trying materials until something clicks.

Feeling challenged?  When I feel that way, I remember what Elisabeth Elliot says: “Do the next thing.”  Just remember, God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips those He’s called.   And as surely as He’s called you, He will see you through.  Even as you are conscientiously working to help your children realize their God-given potentials, He is helping you reach yours. 

Barbara Curtis has 12 children - including three adopted sons with Down syndrome - and 10 grandchildren so far. She is  also an award-winning author with nine books and 800+ articles in print publications including Focus on the Family, Guideposts, Christian Parenting Today, and The Washington Times.

Barbara is a popular speaker at MOPS and women's events, as well as writers' conferences.  Online you can find her at MommyLife and Mommy, Teach Me!.