Why I Don’t Want a “Well-Rounded” Child


Are you familiar with the philosophy that effective parenting leads to raising a well-rounded child?  Of course, the definition of “well-rounded” is vague and subjective. Does this mean your kid needs to be both outgoing and politely reserved?  Or should they, perhaps, be fluent in both the romance  and computer programming languages?  Maybe an accomplished athlete and artist should be thrown into the rounding mix as well. Naturally these children should also know how to eat healthy, volunteer in the community, and keep a tidy room. On and on the “shoulds” flow. Writing the list stresses me out.

No wonder we are always looking for “balance” – we load our lives up with so much movement we are like spinning tops; slowing down feels threatening.

And yet, we don’t consider the alternative.

What if we pass on having a well-rounded child and instead focus on letting our kids grow fully into their strengths?

What if we acknowledge our child may never hit a home run, but they may paint a masterpiece? What if we accept our kids as quiet or contemplative and in need of more down time?

We don’t force our children to write with their right hand if they are more comfortable using their left, and yet we don’t show the same flexibility when it comes to their broader skills. The greatest opportunity for our children to excel isn’t by spreading them thinly across multiple disciplines, effectively asking them to be ambidextrous, but to leverage their gifts as they are naturally wired.

There are three steps for not having a well-rounded child.

1. Recognize the gift

Every child has a gift. As a parent, your job is to know your kid well enough that you recognize what it is. Are they creative,  dreamers, analytical, or empathetic? Are they deep thinkers or social butterflies? What is your kid doing when they are at their most joyful and relaxed?  Watch those areas and you’ll probably find where your child excels.

For instance, our daughter is creative and drawn to understanding the “why” behind how things work.  As a strength this curiosity leads her to constantly explore her world (and by “explore,” I mean, follow, touch, manipulate, and disassemble the object of interest) and seek involvement and influence on our activities.

2. Promote the gift

After you recognize the gift, you have to cultivate and grow it.  This may mean saying “no” to opportunities which distract and going out of your way to train the gift. In our home, our son is drawn to designing and building things. As a result, my husband spends more time teaching him the proper way to handle Exacto knives, hammers, and spray paint than he does at the batting cage.  Whatever your child’s gift is, lean their way, not towards a predetermined “norm.”

3. Care for the gift

Every strength, when overused has the potential of turning into a weakness. Talent still needs to be tied to responsibility.

A parent’s job is to recognize the danger zones and make necessary adjustments. My daughter’s curiosity threatens to derail her focus, so she requires structure and boundaries around her creative endeavors. My son’s building mentality (particularly without better mechanical engineering skills) threatens to derail all manner of wobbly structures, so he needs close supervision.

In all of these areas, the specifics for your child will be different. Customize and adjust, but start with their natural talents. Don’t let the mythical ideal of being well-rounded distract you from what kids really need: to find a way to fully leverage their gifts.