Encouraging our Kids to Dream Big (Despite our Fears)


My friend Jill recently posted a link on her Facebook page to How to Mentor a Kid with Big (Possibly Unrealistic) Dreams by Lori Pickert from Project-Based Homeschooling. The article touches on something that I’ve struggled with in the past. What’s the “right” way to respond to your kids when they have dreams that are beyond what you think they can accomplish – either now or ever? Do you encourage them even though you *know* it’s not going to work? Do you attempt to let them down gently to avoid disappointment and tell them you don’t think it’s possible? Maybe we are trying to save them from embarrassment or even save ourselves from embarrassment. Maybe we are afraid of failure — either for ourselves or our kids.
What’s a mom to do?

For example, my 6-year-old son has often said when he grows up he is going to invent a machine that makes him become a kid again or he’s going to time travel or become a super hero that does X, Y, or Z. When he first started voicing these lofty goals, I wasn’t sure how to react. My first thought was, “that’s probably not going to happen, buddy” but I didn’t say that out loud. Instead I’d try my best to encourage him, even if I felt like his ideas weren’t based in reality, but it was a struggle for me. Was I doing the right thing?

Pickert says:

Before you move to stop your children from trying to do the impossible, take a breath and remember what your job is: to mentor and support, to brainstorm and listen, to remind and reflect. Your job isn’t to step in and tell them their ideas won’t work and their plans are doomed.
Remind yourself:
You don’t know what your kid can do.

One example shared in the article is about a child who wants to write a novel and have it published by a real publisher. Something similar came up for my daughter a few years ago. Unfortunately, I hadn’t figured this all out yet and rather than encouraging her and then (potentially, but who knows?!) see her fail, I thought I was being a good mom and tried to prevent disappointment by explaining how hard it would be to do or something along those lines.

Pickert points out that when you respond that way, “You haven’t prevented disappointment — you’ve only brought it from the misty future to the right now, and you also killed all the learning and skill-building that would have happened in the interim.

Choose to deliver your bad news — that her dream is statistically unlikely — and what will happen to her ambitions? What will happen to her idea of herself as a writer? Will she wait and start her writing career at 15? At twenty? Never?”

Had I encouraged her, who knows what would have happened. But I’m not beating myself up over this either. I live and learn, just like the next person. All I can do is hope to do better the next time.

There are a lot of great examples and quotes in Pickert’s article (and comments following it). So many that I want to quote here, but I will just recommend that you click over and read it yourselves. If you have a big dreamer in your life, it is worth the read.

You cannot predict the path an authentic, self-motivated learner is going to take. When you guess — and then decide to go ahead and pull the plug because you know it won’t work out — you eliminate all the learning that happens along the way.

It really goes along with the quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” The journey is all about the learning, the trials and tribulations, the mistakes and the triumphs, the tears and the joy. When we tell our kids, “This just isn’t going to work,” we remove the opportunity for them to experience all of those things.

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4 thoughts on “Encouraging our Kids to Dream Big (Despite our Fears)

  1. I found that to be an important post too, as my daughter dreams big–and I want her to. Several weeks ago she told me she was making a pair of wings (along with a little tail feather) so she could fly. She even tied a string to herself so she wouldn’t float away. I hadn’t read that article yet and did tell her that it was hard for humans to fly, but when she went outside and tried to take off and didn’t, she was still upset and disappointed. However, it did make for a great social studies/science lesson the next day. We read about the Wright brothers and watched documentaries about human flight, the evolution of aircraft, and hang-gliding.

    I think it’s important to let our kids dream big because if we tell them they are foolish to have these childhood dreams, like flying or becoming a movie star, they may grow up to tell *themselves* they are foolish for having dreams that very well could come true if they believe in themselves and try hard. Amazing things that DO happen, like getting into that really prestigious university, becoming a doctor or a lawyer, running a marathon, having a homebirth, traveling the world… Or maybe they WILL become movie stars! Heck, somebody’s got to do it! When I think of all the things I’ve talked myself out of even trying for, it makes me really sad, and I definitely want my kids to just go for it. Better to risk a little embarrassment than to risk never knowing how awesome you really are.

  2. Thanks for sharing that, Jenny. That’s such a great example of a big dream! We try so hard to protect our kids from disappointment, but you are right – it could totally backfire and we don’t want them to believe they are foolish for having those big dreams. Think of all of the things that never would have happened/been invented if it weren’t for someone’s big dreams either as a child or an adult.
    Keep on being awesome! :)

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