I suppose that now and then every parent of a young child indulges in the "what will she be when she grows up?" fantasy. Maybe a surgeon or an astronaut? Perhaps a great inventor or even President of the United States? What kind of great possibilities exist for this little one?
Usually such dreaming is harmless, unless of course a parent imposes their dreams for the future rather than let the child figure out his own path. Most of us are wise enough to know that our vision and hopes need to give way to the child's own dreams and aspirations.
More than any particular outcome most parents just want their child to be happy and to have the opportunity to be successful in the world. Besides providing the raw genetic material, which at least in part shapes what is possible for each biological child, what is a parent's role in increasing the child's chances of attaining what the psychologist Abraham Maslow termed "self-actualization"?
In his hierarchy of needs Maslow gave us the image of a pyramid, with the basic survival needs for food, clothing and shelter at the bottom, moving all the way up to self actualization at the top. According to Maslow, self-actualization requires an individual assessment of one's talents and abilities followed by action toward the fulfillment of that potential.
I'd like to suggest that beginning in early childhood reading regularly to your child sets the foundation for both self-realization and self-actualization. Children who are read to are more likely to develop a love of reading; and in reading to your child, you have the opportunity to begin exposing him to the limitless terrain of learning and discovery available through books and literature.
Schools, of course, have their role in educating your child, but no school can effectively do its job unless the foundation has been established and supported at home. As you expose your child to a range of books, you'll witness her begin to develop particular interests and curiosities, all of which is the beginning of realizing her individual set of talents and interests.
As you read to your child, it's not so important whether your three-year-old fantasizes about being a firefighter or a ballerina (or maybe a firefighting ballerina?), but it is important that she dream and vision herself into the future. Such dreaming has the potential to set the stage for what every parent hopes for their child: that he will one day go out into the world prepared to realistically assess his potential, and be highly motivated to realize that potential.
So next time you sit with your child and read the same favorite book for what seems like the hundredth time, remember that it's much more than entertainment, and even more than motivating your child to someday learn to read on her own. You are doing no less than laying the groundwork for your child to one day move up Maslow's pyramid of needs and increase his chances of becoming a fully actualized adult.
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