With the challenges that even the scientific community faces in following its own credo of “Just the facts ma’am,” how much harder is it for children to think for themselves, especially when they are bombarded hourly with unrelenting social cues to be like everyone else?
Recall that I wrote in an earlier article “Thinking Independently is Risky,” how birth order can influence whether one follows the status quo (mostly first-borns) or is a revolutionary (mostly later-borns). Keep in mind that these are trends and not absolutes. However, by garnering clues from the parenting practices toward first and only-borns and those toward later-borns, we can learn a lot about how to raise independent thinkers.
First-borns tend to receive a lot more parental attention than later-borns, especially since they were only children for part, if not all, of their childhood. As such, parents tend to exert greater pressure on first-borns to succeed, especially through the established pathways provided by higher education. This is especially true among immigrant children, whose parents regard education as the shortest path to climbing the socioeconomic ladder. Parental attention, parental involvement and even parental pressure often mold children to follow the traditional path of hard work and higher education.
As additional children are born to them, these same doting and involved parents naturally become more lenient and accepting. Their later-born children then, given more latitude and often being less overscheduled, grow up more independent, finding ways to engage themselves and stand out that may not always be the most traditional or accepted.
Raising a scientist means raising an individual who values and follows her curiosity, has the patience to see her hard work through fruition and the independence to follow her findings to their natural conclusions, regardless of the opinions of others. Raising a scientist, then, means combining the best parenting practices of both first-borns and later-borns.
In other words, give your child plenty of attention, while at the same time, allow her the freedom to explore her own interests.
Encourage and involve yourself in her education, while disengaging yourself from the outcome. Your daughter does not need to go to Harvard or Stanford to be a successful scientist, nor does she need to become a scientist to live her life’s purpose.
Cut back on her afterschool commitments. Allow her more playtime.
Guide her without directing her. Share experiences with her.
Share your interests with her.
Let her share her interests with you.
Listen to her.
Follow her lead.
You may be surprised where she takes you.