Expert Editions vol. 4: How to unleash our children’s potential

children's development

“What we instil in our children will be the foundation upon which they build their future.” – Steve Maraboli

…that’s a pretty huge responsibility to have as a parent, but it’s without doubt that if anyone holds the key to our children’s potential it is us – the parents. But how exactly do we go about making giving them the best shot at life in this world? It is that notion that is the focus for this instalment of Expert Editions, where I will be in conversation with Dr Wanda Draper, internationally recognised Human Development Consultant, Child Development Specialist and author of Your Child is SMARTER than you think to explore how exactly we can unleash our children’s potential.

Do you think we, as adults and parents, give enough credit to our children’s capabilites and potential?

We do not give enough credit to them.  They have tremendous capabilities and potential.  We simply have to unleash that potential.  The capabilities are present unless they have brain damage.  The potential depends on their opportunities and encouragement from others.

How can we better appreciate our children’s perception of life and the world around them?

Talk with them.  Even toddlers get a sense of your appreciation by your voice tone, eye contact and how you treat them.  With children three and older, you can make such comments as, “I can see/understand why you think that.  Tell me about it.” Avoid such statements as, “When you get older, you’ll understand.”

Do you believe that every child has the capacity to succeed in life and school?


What are, in your view, the keys to success in helping children to succeed in life?

Five characteristics in a child will lead to success:

  • Self-confidence
  • Getting along with others
  • A broad view of the world/a sense of wonder
  • The ability to focus until the task is complete
  • Self-evaluation—”How am I doing?”

From a theoretical point of view, what can parents do to help create, and nurture those building blocks?

Show interest in the child’s work. Make positive comments and avoid negative ones. For example, “I see you made an 88 on your test.  That’s great.  You only missed four out of 21 questions. Would you like me to take a look at those four with you? Consider the difference in a negative statement such as “Why didn’t you do better?” You knew those answers last night.”

And from a practical perspective, could you give some examples of easy to implement practical approaches?

When a child brings something home he/she created or worked on such as a paper, theme, or artwork, show interest and take a look at it immediately.  For example, “I’d like to see what you wrote.  May I look at it?”  Then comment such as, “You did a good job on that. I enjoy seeing your work.” With older children, talk with them. For example, discuss current events and what’s going on in the world and their views about it. Or, talk about sports or other interest they have.

Make time in your home-life to create a place and time for your child to study. Let children carry the responsibility for their school work.  As for other aspects of life such as dating or social events, talk with children about their involvement. For example, “What time do you think you should be in since your the one who’s participating.”  When there are limits, involve children in helping to set them.

What would you say is the main change we need to make in our parenting behaviour to help facilitate the above?

Take a genuine interest in children and share time with them.  Let them know you care.  Stay positive and give support without “preaching or nagging.”

We can’t turn back the hands of time, but is it ever too late to help unlock your child’s potential?

Never too late—never! They are more eager than you think to have parents involved.

Anything else you would like to add?

Children of all ages want to feel loved by their parents.  There are four things you can do to make life better with them:

Use their names when they do something you approve of. Avoid using their names when they do something wrong. They like attention and will do a lot to get it.  Using their name connects their identity with the deed—or misdeed.  Use it in a positive way and their behaviour will follow.

Avoid using negative contractions such as “don’t” because the brain processes action verbs before negative contractions. Instead, say what you want them to do instead of what not to do. For example, “Talk with your brother” is positive. On the other hand, “Don’t shout at your brother” is processed in the child’s brain as “Shout at your brother.” “Don’t drive so fast” will be processed as “Drive so fast.” “Don’t drop your stuff all over the house” is processed as “Drop your stuff all over the house.”

Avoid such statements as, “How could you be so clumsy?  Haven’t I taught you better than that?”  Instead comment on the problem, “That sure made a mess. Do you need some help to clean it up?”

Model the type of behavior you want in your children.  You are their most effective teacher by your everyday actions.

Wanda Draper is a Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences in the College of Medicine, University of Oklahoma (OU). She serves as President of Education Futures International, and for 17 years she served as Executive Director of the Oklahoma Child and Family Institute. She has authored 16 books including Living and Working with Children, Your Child is Smarter Than You Think!, The Caring Parent, Caring for Children, and Is There A Nanny in the House? Find out more at the Educations Futures International website here.

Check out other issues in the Expert Editions series here.


  1. This is the type of article I would love to have read as I was on my early parenting journey. It confirms a lot of what many parents may do but wonder if it is enough. Loving communication throughout their growing years works. I now run parenting workshops based on personality and positivity because I so believe that parents need affirmation throughout their journey and a few tools are helpful too! Thank you. Kate

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