‘Is your child ordinarily bright, able or gifted? Many parents are uncertain about just how clever their child might be. If you don’t know many other children, you can have little means of comparison. Your child is reading at 4, is this genius, or do other children do this too? What should you do next? If he is really clever, possibly gifted, what can you do to help? Should you push this child into University at 9? If he is less clever than you thought, will you be hurting him with excessively high expectations?
The stereotype of a gifted child is sometimes that of a miniature boffin, born with glasses and a fringe. The reality is usually very different. Nowadays we talk about children as Gifted and Talented and there is some difference between them. [But remember that in many schools, ‘being a ‘boff’ is very much frowned upon and children go to a lot of trouble not to seem ‘clever’.
The talented child shows skills in some or many areas. They might be good at sport or music or art or any one of the things that seem to follow on from a natural aptitude. There is a theory that the musical or sporting prodigy is someone who shows talent and then practises and practises until they are amazingly good for their age. It has been estimated that Mozart had practised as much by the age of seven as most people have by age eighteen – no wonder he was good. Similarly, chess and tennis players have often devoted all their energy and enthusiasm to one activity until a precocious skill becomes something quite exceptional. This demands a tremendously high level of motivation from the child but also considerable support and encouragement from the parent. Parents cannot expect a child who is not truly dedicated to put in the necessary effort to become exceptional. But the natural talent has to be there too. Countless parents have cajoled and even bullied their children into enormous effort with no apparent outcome because their basic skill or motivation simply wasn’t sufficient. The talented child can do very well alone, though most will require an exceptional teacher who can attune himself to the child and help him to optimal achievement, and allow him to become Mozart or Nijinsky or Picasso. But if you have not met a child before, it can be hard to know how bright your child is.
Exceptionally bright children often achieve most milestones early – but it is said that Einstein didn’t talk until he was three. Gifted children are insatiably curious though, and constantly want to learn, devouring information. The two year old who amused himself by counting in 5s, was gifted, so was the child who enjoyed complex engineering at five. Does it matter whether a child is gifted or ‘just’ very bright? I think it does. The gifted child tends to have concepts and ideas way beyond his peers. He can feel totally isolated as a very young child, and quite lonely for most of his childhood.
Teachers will either not accept he is exceptional – I told a head teacher that the eleven year old girl was quite exceptional, she had scored off the top of every subtest of the intelligence test, and he said ‘we have lots of children as bright as that’. Unsurprisingly, she was bored at school. Teachers may feel intimidated and that they can not meet the needs of a gifted child.
Gifted children challenge people and that can be threatening. They can have a precocious grasp of something – one five year old boy shocked a teacher by identifying a machine that eighteen year olds had previously failed to recognise. Such children might exhaust the material presented to them almost before the lesson has begun. The gifted child doesn’t have to try at all, and so might just drift off into a private world instead of listening in class. Although emotionally like his peers, his interests and vocabulary can mark him out as different. The bright child does have to try – a little. He is likely to find one or two others like him, he remains within the remit of the teacher who feels the satisfaction of teaching the child something. He can play alongside other children and not seem strange. Children usually develop emotionally at more or less the same rate, so that accelerating a gifted child to a group, perhaps three years his senior, which can support his intellectual development, may leave him with children with whom he can’t play.
How do you help your gifted child?
Gifted children require a lot of nurturing. The gifted child may be brighter than his parent and that might prove difficult. Fundamentally, you should follow the rule that works for all children: love your child, be proud of him, and help him to maximise his potential. Then he can be happy, and that’s what we all want for our children. If you feel your child is gifted, there are a lot of activities you can do to help him to develop his enthusiasms and potential in a constructive way. Help him to broaden his interests, to learn some things in depth but not necessarily to move forward in a school subject.
Acceleration to an older class might work, but it is generally felt that children do not do well socially with children who are more than a year older. His personality might mean that he is happy in the limelight, leading others and expressing his own ideas, but he might prefer to stay quietly in a corner and get on with things. Intelligence is only part of the whole child. There are other things that will help school to support him. Get in touch.