Of course everyone was born with talents and strengths—especially your kids, right? So how do you as a parent go about encouraging your child’s strengths and talents?

It is one thing to excel at something yourself; it is another altogether to dream about your darling baby doing something altogether special and magical. We all get a thrill out of doing something well, but parenthood expands us, adds another dimension altogether to our capacity for pride and admiration. We want our kids to succeed, make their mark, be special, but how do we do that without turning into the Tiger Mom?

Watch and encourage them from an early age. Provide them with the right opportunities as early as possible. Give them the best diets, the best care and nurturing, the best learning tools. Watch them and how they play: do they display an affinity for music, the visual arts, math, science? Granted, many of these areas can simply be fun experimentation for kids, but some of these early loves can genuinely indicate a latent talent in a given area. For instance, your little girl who spends hours patiently teaching teddy bears how to do their ABCs and 123s could someday be a gifted teacher. You never know.

…But Don’t Go Nuts! Early intervention doesn’t mean play Baby Einstein 24/7 or ONLY buy toys in the currently en vogue brain stimulating colors and styles, or when they get older fill every moment with flash cards and educational efforts. Remember the movie Parenthood, with Steve Martin, and the poor little girl whose parents turned her into a toddler genius science experiment? Oh, how she longed to simply bang her bucket-clad head into trees like the other kids, while she was made to count random dots on flash cards and recite square roots? NOOO. Run screaming. Sure, kids are like sponges, but their brains are designed for all kinds of stimuli, and play is necessary. They need some chaos, some daydream time, some time with friends and relatives. It’s all part of making the thriving, well-rounded person you always wanted your kid to be, not some over-stimulated, freakish automaton.

Give them Lots of Love. Love and support are key ingredients to formulating a healthy self-esteem in children, and a healthy self-esteem is important in exploring your talents and strengths. Without it, they will feel unsure, less than equal, and shy.

Trial and Error. So what if their first…and second…and fourth…fad interest didn’t pan out. What is the worst that can be said: that you provided the opportunities for them to experiment, and for them to gain some experiences? However, there is a limit to this. Being a dilettante isn’t fashionable anymore, like it was in the days of the Enlightenment; now, trying everything is seen as being a symptom of ADHD and a lack of follow-through. Find the middle ground between these two schools of thought, as your pocketbook and your patience can afford.

Don’t Compare. This means don’t compare them to their peers or their siblings. Of course, the world does all the comparing for us, by way of statistics and scorecards, but you, my friend, are neither coach nor judge. You are mom, and mom is always, always on their side, as a cheerleader and supporter. Never mind that Jenny did better in track than Junior, or that Kevin got a better scholarship than Lucy…be proud of what your kid accomplished, and don’t belittle them for not being “good enough” or “as good as” someone else. This causes negative self-esteem, which we already dealt with. Bad.

Be Real. This is a big one. Face it, mom, not every budding gymnast will wear a gold medal one day, neither will every potential artist be the next Marc Chagall. This doesn’t mean encourage mediocrity, it means be realistic. Many kids who are forced into the limelight at an early age resent it—and their parents—later in life, and the relationships have painted the tabloids more times than we can count. You don’t want to be one of those, do you? Make it your kids’ choice what they do, ultimately, with some judicious encouragement and advice from you. Regardless of the outcome, they will be just fine, as long as you have loved them a lot along the way.