Encouraging Grandkids to Dream

Posted on: April 2nd, 2012 by Kay Swatkowski

“God gives us a dream a size too big so we can grow into it.”

- author unknown

At the age of five, our son surprised us with this  announcement, “When I grow up I want to be a pastor and a clown!”  Wanting to be a pastor seemed logical and encouraging to us.  After all, he had spent the first five years of his life as a Pastor’s kid and was at church every day.  The clown part still has us baffled.

It seems that children very naturally dream about the future.  They dream about what they would like to be when they grow up.  They dream of great adventures.  They dream of owning a horse or living in a castle.  Their conversations, artwork and imaginary play hint at their wishes, hopes and dreams.

We adults live in such a practical world that we often squelch their childhood dreams with realism.  Conversations that could encourage, stimulate creativity and deepen our connection with our child or grandchild are lost in our advice and words of caution.

The conversation might go like this:

Child: I would really like to have a horse.

Adult : (Thinking of the cost and trouble of owning a farm animal) Well, Johnny, horses are expensive. And, who would clean up after it?  Are you going to get up in the morning and feed and brush it?   End of conversation.

Maybe it should go like this:

Child: I would really like to have a horse.

Adult: You really like animals don’t you? What would you name your pony?

Child: I would name him Blackie.

Adult: It sounds like you would like  a black horse?  Where would Blackie stay?

Child: Oh, he would have his own stall and I would buy him a black saddle.

Adult: Did you know that all the things you need to take care of a horse are called tack? Should we look that up later so we can learn more about horses? And, why don’t you draw a picture for me of you and Blackie going for a ride in the country?

Child: Yes, I can do that.

This conversation didn’t promise the child a horse, it simply acknowledge the child’s desire.  And, there is little danger of the child emptying his piggy bank and buying and transporting a horse to live in your garage on his own.  This convesration sends the message to our child or grandchild that we are safe.  They can share their dreams with us and we will treat those dreams (no matter how childish) with gentleness and respect.

As a Christian counselor, I have noted that adolescents who are struggling with depression are often the very ones who have no dreams or goals.  If we encourage their dreams, we can add purpose and meaning to their lives.

For all of us, our motivations begin with a dream.  We dream of being a teacher that makes a difference and we enroll in  college.  We dream of being a loving mother and we read every book on parenting we can find. We dream of creating artwork and take art classes and visit galleries.

It is hard to fight our practical side.  We are fearful that our children will not be able to support themselves or will have lives that are unsatisfying or stressful.  So, of course we point out the dangers.  Knowing when it is appropriate to redirect a child isn’t easy.

Here are a few things we can do to encourage our children to dream:

  • Continue to dream yourself.  As the years roll by, it is easy to stop dreaming.  When we stop dreaming, we stop setting goals and we often stop learning.  Of course, our dreams have to be realistic.  But, allowing ourselves to dream and sharing them with our families teaches them that it is never too late to dream.
  • Resist the urge to be practical.  Pointing out every potential obstacle is often unnecessary.  A child’s dreams can change as the years go by as new areas catch their interest.  While they may forget that they wanted to work in the rodeo, they may never forget that you squelched their dreams.
  • Look for their strengths.  Often their wishes, hopes and dreams reveal a hidden strength.  A child who says that someday she will have ten dogs, a houseful of  cats, a monkey and a parrot is telling you something important about herself: I love animals.  I am compassionate. A young man who wants to be a mountain climber  may be telling you I love nature. I love a challenge. When a little boy announces he wants to be a cowboy when he grows up, we immediately envision him sleeping in a bunk house with six other snoring cowboys and eating out of a cast iron skillet for the rest of  his days.  But, he may be really telling us I love adventure. I love the feeling of freedom.
  • Affirm the strengths you hear in their dreams.  When they share their dreams it is an open door to their hearts.  Make the most of it. You must love animals.  You love computers. You have always loved music. You are kind.  You are creative. And the list goes on.

Our son is an adult now.  He is neither a pastor nor a clown.  However, as the years have gone by, he has added his love for computers and his creativity to his love for ministry.  His career in computers has allowed him to be of help in an organization that cares for the practical needs of people. He also creates websites for churches and ministries. He still has a pastor’s heart. We are very proud of him.

Our children’s dreams are important. Rejoice in  and affirm their wishes, hopes and dreams.

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8 Responses

  1. Susan Adcox says:

    Excellent post. I’m afraid that I am the one who is always pointing out the practical downside to the kids’ dreams. The conversation you model is a good way to avoid doing that.

    • Kay says:

      Thanks for the comment, Susan. With my own children, too often I outlined the reasons to be cautious. It saddens me that I may have squelched a dream. But, it is never too late to learn, right?

  2. Katie nelson says:

    I agree, excellent post! Its such a great reminder of how to talk to our kids!

  3. Jenn says:

    What a wonderful post–and an absolute brilliant way to encourage a child to dream!! I have to remember this one the next time my kids ask me for the impossible!! LOL :)

    Cheers, Jenn

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