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What your child is most likely to be good at as a young adult may be apparent by age three or four.

This is the conclusion of Howard Gardner, Harvard developmental psychologist and originator of Multiple Intelligences theory. According to Gardner, people are hard-wired for particular talents. These innate capabilities are part of an individual’s brain structure and are present at birth and remain present throughout life. By the time a child is three or four, she is physically capable of expressing her innate abilities. These are the ones the child will find easiest and most interesting as a school-age child, in high school, in college and throughout her career.

Think back to your own earliest recollections of what you enjoyed as a young child. Mull over this, because it might take a while before you connect with who you were as a little kid. Once you do, notice if what you liked to do then are things you still like to do now – or would like to do if you had the time – or plan to do once you have the time. If Gardner is right you’ll discover that who you were as a small child is still part of your innermost self, right now.

This realization can help you if you’re thinking about changing jobs or trying to take a hobby to the next level. It can help you if you’re feeling dissatisfied with your life and think there must be something missing. But it also can help you guide your older child or teen in choosing a career or college major. What she is likely to find most interesting – and therefore where she will be most successful – is in the field she found most attractive as a very small child.

Obviously, your teen as a four-year-old wasn’t interested in microbiology or interior decorating. But he might have shown aptitude and curiosity about the details of things or the ways colors go together. He might have been fascinated (or horrified) by germs or he might have redecorated his room with crayons. Think back. What incident stands out as your child’s amazing accomplishment or ongoing obsession at age four?

My younger son at age four organized a preschool-size work crew and built a treehouse from scratch. He also didn’t ever want anyone to tell him what to do. Today, despite holding a college degree in something completely different, he owns a home improvement business and is happily his own boss.

My older son did not attempt any painting during his preschool career until one day, at age four, he created an abstract masterwork of amazing sophistication. This painting hangs still – 30 years later –  over my mantel. He went on to pursue a fine arts degree and works now as a designer at one of the country’s top video game companies.

What happened at age four foreshadowed for both my boys where they would be most successful and most happy as adults. Their path has been duplicated by notable people in all fields: early interest signals innate ability. Howard Gardner was right.

This is information you can use, as you help your older child pick extracurricular activities, weigh high school course options, or settle on a college major. It can also tell you a lot about yourself.

Glimpse the future – and understand the present – by looking back to the child who was and still is.


© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.